What would a National Education Service look like?

Neil Carmichael
Neil Carmichael
The Labour Party has launched a consultation exercise on its proposed ‘National Education Service’ (NES). To cynics this might be seen as an attempt to gain positive publicity as the Party experiences internal strife over attitudes to minorities – it is not the first political party to deploy such diversionary tactics – or, more likely, it is an invitation to others to help populate the big idea with actual policy detail.

Until now, the NES was, largely, an aspiration rooted in the past glories of creation of the National Health Service (NHS). Certainly, publicity material drew parallels with the NHS with such terms as “cradle to grave leaning”, “Every Child – and Adult Matters” and “[] …. making education a right, not a privilege… []” but early announcements were extremely short on detail and even scope.

The overall background for this consultation is characterised by widespread concern over the funding of education and increasing alarm over recruitment and retention of teachers. The recent National Union of Teachers conference – the last one to be separate from the Association of Leaning Technology (ALT) – saw a robust approach to pay and conditions with industrial action in the offing. This should help to generate participation in the consultation.

Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, has noticeably avoided much comment on structures; rather she has concentrated on resources and early years. The consultation highlights children’s services and adult education but avoids any significant commitments in terms of schools and the curriculum. Many backbench Labour MPs are gravitating towards widespread acceptance of there being no return to the local authority school-led system and are even wondering how to develop academies rather than challenge them.

All of this means there is a large canvas available for ideas and assertions. However, if the NES is to replicate the NHS – this is, after all, a flag ship in Jeremy Corbyn’s flotilla of ideas – the role of the Department of Education might change, extra funding will be promised, teacher recruitment could be reformed and a debate about Ofsted is possible (the Liberal Democrats propose its abolition, along with SATs and League Tables).

This consultation is the start of a long journey but the one consistent theme from Labour will be funding for the education system as a whole. The unanswered question about the source of the extra money.

 

A Westminster insight from Neil Carmichael, former MP for Stroud and previous Chair of the Education Select Committee.

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