'A lingering sense of unreality' - Jeremy Corbyn on the stump

Jeremy Corbyn has launched Labour's education policies for the 2017 general election – and spoken of his passion for lifelong learning

Will Hazell

News article image

On Wednesday morning – on what felt like the first day of the summer – the Labour Party launched its education policies for the 2017 general election.

While the bright May sunlight streaming through the tall windows of Leeds City College lent the event a greenhouse atmosphere, the sweltering heat was not enough to wilt a quiet buzz of anticipation among the students who had gathered to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak.

The Labour leader made them wait. Half an hour after the supposed start time he was still nowhere to be seen.

'For the many, not the few'

There were false starts: when local MP Hilary Benn turned up, one of the students furtively asked her friend “is that Jeremy Corbyn?”

The assembled party apparatchiks, pupils and journalists craned their necks to see if Mr Corbyn had materialised at the back of the hall. “We need music to tell us,” Mr Benn was heard to murmur.

Eventually Mr Corbyn did arrive, fighting his way through the throng of photographers to a podium in front of a banner emblazoned with Labour’s election slogan: “For the many, not the few.”

His speech was light on policy, leaving the detail to Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, who spoke about Labour’s plan to build a “National Education Service” – though it remains a nebulous concept.

She reeled off a list of policies including a real terms funding increase for schools, reduced class sizes and free school meals for all primary school children.

Recalling how her own life was transformed by adult education, Ms Rayner spoke passionately and in great detail about restoring the status of further education. 

The audience could find little to disagree with in the speech, and the same probably goes for much of the education community.

But there was a lingering sense of unreality in the room, particularly when Mr Corbyn was introduced as the "next prime minister" and Ms Rayner as the "next education secretary". 

With the Conservatives 15 to 20 points ahead of Labour in the polls, what are the chances these ideas will spring off the manifesto pages and into government policy?

Laughing and energetic

But if Mr Corbyn harbours such gloomy thoughts, he doesn't show it.

He most warmed to his task during the Q&A. Asked about students having to learn 15 poems by heart for GCSE English Literature, Mr Corbyn spoke about his love of poetry, and said he worried such rote learning would “put them off poetry for the rest of their lives”.

“What’s your favourite poem?” he asked the pupil who had thrown him the question.

“I can’t really remember many of them to honest,” she replied hesitantly.

“Take up poetry after the exams, alright?” Mr Corbyn laughed, pointing her in the direction of punk poet John Cooper Clarke and John Lennon.

Lifelong learning

Brimming with energy, it was clear Mr Corbyn was enjoying himself. That’s not entirely surprising – you don’t fight and win two leadership elections in the space of a year if you’re not relaxed on the stump.

“We want people to love learning, not be concerned by it. Because we all learn, all of our lives,” he enthused.

“Lifelong learning, cradle to crave. You never stop being a student.”

Whether Jeremy Corbyn will learn what it’s like to enter 10 Downing Street as prime minister on 9 June, is a different matter.

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and like Tes on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

Latest stories

The Infinite, by Patience Agbabi

Class book review: The Infinite

This enthralling action-fantasy adventure made our reviewers wish that they were able to travel in time, too
Dan Fuge 29 Nov 2020
Inadequate – Priya Lakhani

Book review: Inadequate

Get ready for ‘Education 4.0’, as an edutech entrepreneur takes aim at the schooling system
David James 29 Nov 2020