Labour made what many delegates may consider to have been a great start on education at the party’s annual Conference in Brighton. Gordon Brown promised no cuts to the schools budget.
Later Ed Balls Secretary of State detailed the party’s balance sheet on children’s services; highlights include the establishment of a sure start children centre in every community, free nursery places for 3 and 4 year olds and, the guarantee of a place in sixth form, college or training for every school leaver this year.
Despite such an upbeat start there were few new policy announcements. The renewed commitment to tackle racism in schools is welcome and a review to consider preventing BNP members from teaching. The Behaviour Challenge will mandate discipline in every school and parents too will be expected to cooperate so that teachers can teach and all children can learn. Reference was made to the proposals in the Education White Paper, Your child your schools, our future(June 2009) reinforcing the measures geared to improving schools through pupil user participation namely the School Report Card and the Pupil Guarantee.
The government is setting out a new ambition that all schools should have a good or outstanding Ofsted rating on behaviour by 2012. Gordon Brown promised to “aggressively turn round schools so that your child will have a good local school no matter where you are”.
The education debate at Labour Party conference reflected some excellent gains for children’s services over the last 12 years and the few new ideas that they have look interesting. But when it comes to future vision it is sadly lacking. The government has some good proposals in the White Paper to strengthen the learning experience for pupils in schools. What about those missing from education, like too many children in care, and asylum seekers? Unless this is addressed the achievement gap between the richest and the most disadvantaged children will continue to grow.