Programmes for a Corbyn-led Labour Government

A National Education Service for Schools

IN THE AFTERMATH of years of neoliberalism, a Corbyn government, when elected, will face a raft of fiendishly complex crises. An immediate test will be which of the manifold Tory disasters to prioritise for treatment. The scale of the assault on the public sphere through privatisations, cuts and neglect has been too great to expect that everything could be put right at the drop of a hat. I want to make the case here why education is crucial for the much needed recovery. The cutting edge of the Tory Party has always understood the rôle that education plays in shaping lives and the future of the country. Consciously or otherwise, they have always seen it as creating winners and losers and their management of the education system, at least since the 1980s, has focused on giving reality to that win-lose structure. It reflects the way they think about the world and it confirms them in their self-belief as the only party entitled to govern. Labour’s 2017 Manifesto promised “a National Education Service” which would aim to “give people confidence and hope by making education a right, not a privilege”. This view of education as a universal entitlement is diametrically opposed to the dominant Tory philosophy but it will need careful planning and patience to move the country anywhere near that goal.

The fragmented system Labour will inherit will be what the Tories have deliberately designed. A system severely under-resourced that forces people to compete for a privilege which ought to have been an entitlement. Better still from the Tory point of view, a system that parents are prepared to pay to get out of (using public schools) or pay to negotiate (by moving house) if they can. Up to a point, it works for the few but it leaves most children and parents and the wider community, who would all benefit from being part of an educated populace, short-changed. The crude use of league tables and a punitive monitoring/accountability system (Ofsted) compel schools to compete for easier-to-educate students so that many schools overtly or covertly select their intake.

In its very nature, the act of selecting the few is also the act of rejecting the many. From a Tory point of view, this is integral to cultivating the life-changing self-images of failure and lack of worth that has been so essential for maintaining the English way of life. Failure is not seen as something to remedy through constructive help but rather to be demonised and punished. Local authority schools deemed to be “failing” are not helped with advice and support. They are privatised to become an academy or part of a multi-academy trust (MAT). This is a one-way ticket. Failing academies and MATs are just passed on to other MATs. Returning schools to an elected local authority is expressly proscribed by the DfE. With selection, it is not just the 164 grammar schools and their concomitant under-resourced secondary moderns that are the problem. Faith schools and some schools with “good reputations” also select by massaging the School Admissions Code that is supposed to prevent this happening. The reality in this pseudo-market is that schools choose students and parents – not the other way round.

Local Authorities have been in the firing line since 1988. In terms of educational performance, they are a mixed bag. Of the 152 local authorities, some (e.g. Hackney and Hampshire) have good reputations. Others like Barnet and Westminster have outsourced their educational obligations. Others like Kent, Buckingham and Lincoln have maintained a highly selective grammar school system. What they have in common is that they all have statutory educational responsibilities and they have all been elected. They will all have methods by which parents and other residents in the area can raise issues or make complaints regarding education. Unsatisfactory local authorities can, in principle, be replaced at the next election. Contrast that with the 1300 or so multi-academy trusts into which it is Tory policy to drive the remaining local authority schools. Although they are designated as non-profit making, they are in reality private companies under no legal obligation to respond to parental or community complaints. An unhappy parent only has recourse to the secretary of state or, if the parent is rich enough, to the law courts.

Inclusion and equal opportunities need to be at the heart of education provision. That should mean that an ideal national education service would base itself on what should be every child’s educational entitlement and ensure that every individual child gets that entitlement. Defining that entitlement, however, clearly requires a national discussion independent of political manoeuvring. It should not be dependent on the whim of individual prime ministers or secretaries of state. The curriculum – what children are taught - would obviously be part of that discussion. Even for the most basic levels of literacy and numeracy, there have been idiosyncratic ministerial interventions, sometimes to promote commercial packages while ignoring the depth of experience of the practitioners who actually have to teach.

The National Curriculum, introduced in 1988, has become more and more of an oxymoron as more and more institutions are exempted from teaching it. The curriculum should be a balance of knowledge and understanding, the former implying content and the latter implying ability to make use of and apply what has been learnt. It is, however, much easier and cheaper to test retention of content (think pub quiz) than it is to test the ability to apply understanding in new situations i.e. problem solve. The tendency towards snapshot inspections by Ofsted and commercialised testing has helped the curriculum into becoming more content based and less concerned with developing innovative thinking.

With or without a consensual definition of entitlement, there is a growing crisis for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). These children require more resources allocated to them if they are to achieve the same entitlement as other children. Funding for additional support for SEND children used to be paid directly to the local authorities, who would be able to establish support services for all the schools in their area. Now that the funding has been taken away from the LAs and passed directly to the schools in the LA area (including the academies and free schools) the loss of the economy of scale provided by the centralised fund has placed more funding pressure on individual schools so that the ability to support SEND children has been seriously weakened. The changes to the National Funding Formula have slightly improved the balance of funding for SEND compared with the basic pupil allocation but the improvement is completely overwhelmed by the government’s inclusion of “just managing” families in the pupils considered to be deprived (so the money is to be divided among more pupils) and by the sixth year of real terms cuts to per pupil funding. Those cuts are planned to continue until 2020. The site has already flagged up the thousands of teaching posts to be lost this autumn because of the government’s underfunding (about £3 billion this year). Continuing austerity to 2020 can only accelerate the school system’s collapse into the privatised asset stripping that calls itself the academies and free schools movement.

Cooperation between schools has rightly been identified as a means of improving education in an area as schools share their experience and solutions found for local problems and for teaching issues in general. When funding is scarce, pooling resources can also help to ameliorate difficult situations. That of course was always one of the overriding arguments in favour of local authorities. Replacing LAs with MATs has made meaningful cooperation unlikely since these businesses are in direct competition with each other. An incoming government should be prepared to stop any further privatisations on its first day in office but should also have worked out how to facilitate meaningful cooperation between all the state-funded schools in a local authority area. It should not be forgotten that academies and MATs are state-funded. A competition system must produce losers. A National Education Service worth its name should stress that cooperation optimises the use of resources and that as more children achieve their entitlement, the whole country benefits.

An education service needs teachers. One of the many acts of vandalism committed in the interests of privatisation has been the pressure to move teacher education out of universities and into on-the-job training in schools. It reveals narrow-minded thinking that sees teaching as little more than learning to drive a car. University education departments have been forced to close and members of experienced university teaching departments have become scattered. The problem of maintaining high standards in teaching has been further compounded by allowing people without qualified teacher status to teach in academies. Rebuilding the supply of properly qualified teachers and remunerating them at a level that enables them to live and work in any part of the country will be an urgent priority from day one but it will take years to put right. There will also need to be appropriate professional development for those who have shown an interest in teaching and have taught before becoming qualified.

Changing education for the better will be a slow expensive business. The current situation has taken nearly thirty years to develop and cannot be put right in days or weeks. It will be easy for an incoming government to downplay education when there will be so much fire-fighting to be done but if there is to be a better world created than the one we live in, it will be the children in our schools now who have to be ready for it. They should not be forgotten. On day one a Corbyn government should issue a statement of intent to develop a fully inclusive education system. That will mean phasing out selection in all its forms, restoring locally elected accountability for the school system which necessarily means halting further academisation but also means bringing all the schools in a geographical area under the same administrative monitoring and guidance. We used to call such organisations local authorities. It should also have given thought to structuring a national discussion about what educational entitlement should mean and how it should be monitored. In the interim, the curriculum should not be changed again and teachers should be allowed to let it settle in and find ways to cope with its anomalies. There is an urgent need to establish a fair funding system that supports every child but that recognises that different children with different needs in different parts of the country cannot be supported in a simplistic formulaic way that ignores local input. Whatever the changes, children in existing schools should not have their educational lives disrupted – Peter should not be robbed to pay Paul.

Keith Lichman, Secretary, Campaign For State Education

Social Care is Broken Beyond Repair - So What Should Replace it?

A RIGHT TO INDEPENDENT LIVING and a universal national independent living service paid for from direct taxation and free at the point of delivery, alongside the NHS, is the only way to solve the social care catastrophe that faces people of all ages in England and Wales.

The government has no credible proposals to offer following the dementia tax debacle during the election campaign. The long awaited Green Paper on social care has been delayed again until next May.

The panel of expert advisers appointed by government includes no disabled people or disabled people’s user-led organisations in open defiance of the UN disability committee and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Meanwhile local authorities (LAs) who are responsible for delivering social care face hundreds of millions of pounds in extra cuts to their budgets over the next four years. This is on top of the near 50% cut already made since 2010. New research from the University of Oxford has linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 'excess' deaths in England since 2010. Most of the deaths were among the over-60s and care home residents.

The situation is so bad LAs are now putting poor people’s personal contributions up so high that they are giving up their social care because they can’t afford it. So we have the dangerous situation where people who have been assessed as needing care under the mis-named Care Act are losing it because it is too expensive. They are having to make appalling choices like: do I eat and pay my rent, or do I give up my care and independence? How can this be justified in a 21st century advanced western society with any claim to being civilised?

This is happening in Labour-controlled authorities as well as Tory ones. They are choosing to obey Tory austerity policy and financial legislation over their legal duties to disabled and older people under the Care Act. The political choice for elected councillors in austerity Britain in 2017 is whether to break the law. At present the penalties for not meeting legal duties under social care legislation are non-existent while for passing ‘illegal budgets’ they are high. So LAs pass balanced budgets which result in disabled people becoming prisoners in their own homes, being told to wear nappies overnight because night care is too expensive, or going for days without human contact and ending up in hospital or dying.

We currently have a social care system based on the Poor Law principles of means and needs testing. The bottom line trumps everything. As council budgets are cut, so needs are no longer recognised or met. It is currently estimated that about one million people with social care needs don’t get any support.

Disabled people of all ages are in the process of designing a new vision based on rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). We, the users of social care, are planning a service that will be led by us, not service providers whose main focus has become to meet budget targets (cuts) and ration the care based on neo-liberal ideology - not rights or need. Personalisation policy is dead. The Care Act is as useful as a wet paper bag.

So what will address the requirements of an ageing and increasingly disabled population, with a complex mix of health, social care and poverty issues?

We start with the notion that we are disabled not by our impairments or long term health conditions, but by the barriers created in society that prevent us leading full and equal independent lives. This is called the social model of disability. We are committed to an inclusive definition of disabled people that includes people experiencing distress, with learning difficulties, long term and life-limiting conditions as well as physical and sensory impairments.

It also recognises the rights and interests of disabled children and disabled parents. From this follows the philosophy of independent living, based not on compensating for people’s ‘dependence’ but instead on making it possible for disabled people to live lives as equal as possible to non-disabled people.

Increasingly the biggest barrier is the rationed, privatised and failing social care system which is being starved of funds. We start from our lived experience - we know what works best for us.

So we are proposing to co-create a new universal right to independent living, enshrined in law and delivered through a new national independent living service managed by central government, led by disabled people, but delivered locally.

This local service will be shaped and delivered by user-led disabled people’s organisations, co-operatives and social enterprises. It will be for need not profit and will not be means tested. It will be independent of, but sit alongside, the NHS and will be funded from direct taxation. There is a much bigger job to do in helping the NHS move to adopting a social model of disability, distress and ageing. It will also demand an end to current discriminatory and cruel approaches to ‘welfare reform’ and instead advocate a new independent living based approach.

It will be about independent living in the broadest sense, not just social care and health. It will therefore need to be located in a cross-government body which can oversee implementation plans, whether it be in transport, education, housing, or social security.

This will ensure that independent living is mainstreamed in every area of activity, not just ghettoised in the DWP as the Office for Disability Issues is at the moment.

The social care element will need to have its own identity in a national independent living service. This will build on and learn the lessons from the Independent Living Fund, closed by the Coalition government in 2015. It will also learn from the experiences of user-led disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), user-led social enterprises and co-ops which have innovated and developed exciting models of self-organised and self-directed care through personal budgets and peer support. It will work with non-disabled allies who share the critique of the existing system and who work to the social models of disability and distress.

It’s also time we stopped thinking of supporting people to live independent lives as a ‘burden’ and instead as a wealth creator. This was the basis on which the NHS was created and it has been shown to work, improving the nation’s health, well-being and productivity. We know that a pennypinching approach to social care funding has disastrously perverse results: it undermines policies for prevention, leaving people’s health and wellbeing to deteriorate at even greater cost to the exchequer (even if we discount the costs to human happiness). We are also seeing its wasteful effects on the NHS, on accident and emergency departments and in so-called bed blocking.

Instead we can see social care as a social and economic generator. Rather than treat its 1.5 million workforce as a marginal pool of low grade, low skilled and low paid workers, we can begin to grow it as jewel in the service industry crown. Such support work could take its place as a source of valued jobs, skills and opportunities. Such employment would create wealth directly as well as indirectly, by providing support to enable people to maximise the quality of their lives and contribution to their communities.

Reconceiving social care in this way - with the primary concern being people’s wellbeing and independent living - also offers the prospect of an economy that is no longer reliant on jobs which robots will be able to do in the future or based on consumerist growth, with all the environmental and social problems these bring in its wake. It would take account of changing demographics and our increasing requirements for support during life’s course. Supporting, maintaining and improving people’s wellbeing would become a central aim of economic activity. Such a needs-based and person-centred approach would value us equally and be concerned with our needs whatever our role - worker, service user or citizen. It would offer the prospect of a truly sustainable and rightsbased economy and society.

These early ideas are being developed in conversations initiated by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the DPOs in the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), including Shaping Our Lives. Our demand is that going forward, the dual principles of the disability movement are applied - Nothing About Us, Without Us and Professionals On Tap, Not On Top!

  • Peter Beresford is co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, the disabled people’s and service users’ organisation and network, and Professor of Citizen Participation at the University of Essex.
  • Mark Harrison is CEO of Equal Lives, a user-led disabled people’s organisation in the East of England, and senior research fellow of Social Action at the University of Suffolk.