The NASUWT hosted a fringe meeting at the Labour conference entitled ‘What contribution should schools make to social mobility’. The panel included Kevin Brennan MP, shadow Minister for Schools.
Polly Toynbee chaired the meeting and the panel also included Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT and Nick Pearce, the Director of IPPR.
Nick Pearce said that all politicians including Major, Blair and Brown aspired to have a classless society. The fact that children on free schools can go on and study at top universities was a crucial step forward but ignored the majority of children.
The GCSE announcement was criticised because of lack of dialogue with teachers and other stakeholders. The GCSE was brought in following work by Shirley Williams and later Keith Joseph which showed the cross party support it had. Pearce argued that is was not the case with Michael Gove’s reforms.
He said that the budget cuts extending after the 2015 election meant education would probably not receive the funding it did under the previous Labour government.
He concluded by saying: “The number one priority has to be early years” and that we should copy the Scandinavian model where atleast 50% of children receive some personal one to one tuition.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT said that when Michael Gove addressed social mobility, he was primarily concerned about children from poor backgrounds on free school meals getting into Oxbridge.
This only amounts to 1% of children, but she said: “what about the other 99%?”.
She also said that Mr Gove had downgraded vocational subjects and “contaminated the principle of education free at the point of need”. She continued, that she wanted not just social mobility but social equity. Social mobility will only be achieved when we have a more equal society.
Shadow Schools Minister Kevin Brennan is himself a former economics teacher. He explained that teaching should not be overlooked as a profession, and that teachers are themselves wealth creators, developing the potential of every child they teach.
He argued that children should be studying some level of maths up until 18 to ensure they can manage their own personal finances better. “It should no longer be good enough to say I’m no good at Maths” as we would not tolerate this with rewgards to reading and writing.
Mr Brennan praised the work of Stephen Twigg in terms of creating a ‘gold standard’ of technical education with proper consensus with employers. This could use the existing framework of the BTec rather than creating a new system.
He was clear about the latest GCSE reform announcements:
“We are clear we don’t support the reforms that Gove has brought in, with no plans to pilot it and no discussion with teachers.”
Whilst much of the preparation for the new English Baccalaureate will have been made by 2015, the courses themselves will not have started, so the reforms might change after the next election
He also said that it was unacceptable for the chief executive of Ofqual to accept that “some kids got lucky this year” with regards to GCSE grading. He supported the work of the Welsh government to look into this matter further.
He concluded by saying that whilst he was proud that his parents had both left school at 14, he still managed to get into Oxford University, this should not be the only measure of educational success.