Every child in this country should have big dreams for their future.
When I was young, I wanted – at various points – to be a scientist, a journalist, a lawyer and, fleetingly, a rock star. Sometimes it was all of these things in combination.
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We all want our children to think big and, whatever their background, for the possibilities open to them to seem endless.
After going to university, I worked and studied part-time, so that I could eventually become a lawyer and realise one of my childhood dreams.
But I was lucky. This wasn’t a route open to many of my friends. Being able to study was a huge privilege, particularly as I came from a working-class family.
World-leading education system
As I’ve talked about in my campaign to be the next leader of the Labour Party, the socialist country I want to build is one in which everyone is able to realise their aspirations – not just a lucky few.
There are many building blocks for this: high-quality housing, a social-security system worthy of the name, well-paid unionised jobs, good universal public services and more.
And a key pillar we need to enable everyone to realise their aspirations is a world-leading education system, free and available to all.
Too many people today – young and old alike – aren’t able to realise their talent and their dreams, however hard they work, because the current education system is letting them down.
Time and again, as I’m meeting voters on the doorstep, education comes up. It’s no mystery why.
In the sixth richest country in the world, 10 years of austerity have led us to a position where headteachers are now forced to beg parents for donations, just to cover the basics: building repairs, staff salaries, stationery, textbooks.
The picture in classrooms
While the media might be talking as if austerity is over, in classrooms across the country, there is a very different picture.
Parents in my constituency are raising serious concerns over the mental health of their children under the strain of constant assessment.
And we see parents, communities and even teachers being shut out of decision making as a result of academisation.
It’s worth remembering these are just the problems facing schools, never mind the rest of the sector.
Millions of adults throughout the UK lack basic skills and are unable to access education and training in later life, as a result of cuts to further education. Apprenticeships have fallen by a fifth since 2017 despite a growing skills gap.
And students going to university face the prospect of unimaginable levels of debt.
Barriers to people leading the lives they want
All of these things are barriers to aspiration and to people leading the lives they want. Put simply: the government is letting the country down.
We cannot accept this. As Labour leader, one of the ways I will take the fight to the government in opposition is by mounting a national campaign on education.
As part of this, we’ll push for a triple lock of protections for schools: for class sizes of less than 30; for every school to have adequate funding; to restore teacher and school staff pay to pre-crisis levels.
Building a national campaign with teachers, staff, parents, students, trade unions and community groups is one way our party can become part of the social fabric once again.
And just this week I’ve been proud to stand alongside members of the University and College Union (UCU), taking strike action against casualisation, pension cuts and other problems that are undermining careers and standards in higher education.
Broader socialist vision
But we also need to go further and talk about our broader aspirational socialist vision for the next election.
Just as I’ve said that we should have campaigned more on our plan for a green industrial revolution, our party could have done so much more to sell an exciting vision for a free and universally available National Education Service, developed by Angela Rayner as shadow education secretary.
These two policies are big ideas that could have been an NHS moment for our generation under a Labour government. And if we campaign on them properly, they are the policies that can help us get elected next time.
A properly funded public National Education Service would join up our education system from cradle to grave, from free childcare to a right to free lifelong learning as an adult.
And, of course, as part of this, we should keep our promises for free school meals, to scrap tuition fees and to restore the education maintenance allowance, which was a lifeline for poorer students.
We should prioritise high-quality apprenticeships, particularly in new green industries, and properly fund further education.
And we should remove tax loopholes for private schools and bring academies and free schools under local democratic control.
Making our country a world leader in education
These things are essential to building a socialist country for the future, and I know we can rebuild our coalition of voters around them.
From parents with young children who will benefit from childcare to workers who will have the opportunity to change course and get skills and qualifications under a new right to free lifelong learning, we can appeal across society with a pledge to make our country a world leader on education at every age.
This is a vision that I feel passionate about, and I know it can inspire people at a future election.
So I’d love to see every candidate standing to be Labour leader signing up to a National Education Service, just as I’ve called for them back the plan I’ve set out for a green industrial revolution, a council house building boom and to restore our trades union movement.
These things are the foundations of an aspirational socialist society, which will bring prosperity to communities and give people control over their own lives.
I was able to realise one of my aspirations when I was young. Now I want to live in a country in which everyone has the ability to do so.
If I’m elected as leader, I will put a National Education Service at the heart of a vision that can be our path to power.
Rebecca Long-Bailey is shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. She is a candidate for leader of the Labour Party