Starmer writes: teachers are being badly let down

The Labour leadership frontrunner proposes raising teachers' pay, rethinking primary assessment, making private schools irrelevant and returning academies to local democratic control

Keir Starmer

The most important duty we have as a society is to give all our children the best start in life. 

It’s a duty the Conservatives have failed. They have allowed inequality and poverty to hold children back, they have underfunded our schools and they have undermined the teaching profession. 

We cannot separate our schools from the grossly unequal economy and society in which they sit.

On average, nine children in a class of 30 live in poverty. As any teacher or parent will tell you, children who are hungry find it harder to concentrate and suffer from fatigue, making it near-impossible to learn. 

A national strategy for childhood

Overcrowding in the private rental sector has doubled in the last decade, making it harder for children to have the privacy and quiet they need to get on with their homework. 

To help the next generation succeed, we must end the housing crisis by building council homes. We must build a new social-security system, which supports families by scrapping the two-child limit and the benefit cap. 

And we should work with young people and families to develop a national strategy for childhood, setting out clear entitlements that every child can expect.

I believe in our state-school system. I received a brilliant state education, and my children are having an outstanding education at local state schools. 

I want every child in the state sector to have the same, so that we can make private schools irrelevant and family wealth immaterial to educational opportunities

Most valuable assets

In that cause, our schools and our teachers remain the most valuable assets the next generation have, but they’ve been let down badly over the past decade. 

The School Cuts coalition has done an incredible job raising awareness of school funding during the past two elections. On top of a decade of cuts, the Conservatives offered the least financial support for schools at the last election. 

Labour must hold them to account and demand more. There remains a significant funding gap for special educational needs and disabilities, putting up a barrier to the sort of inclusive education we need to see. 

After a decade of punishing austerity, a third of teachers leave the classroom within five years because of low pay, long hours and excessive workload

We must increase teachers’ pay to reflect the importance we place on educating a child for life and – given the social consequences of our broken economic model – ensure that school funding follows need, not votes. 

Democratically accountable schools

If Dominic Cummings completes his project, we face the farce of 25,000 schools in England being accountable only to Whitehall. The academisation of our schools is centralising at its core and it has fundamentally disempowered parents, pupils and communities

That’s why I want all schools to be democratically accountable to their local communities, not to politicians in London. We need our schools to be working together as one family, to serve their communities, rather than competing against each other. 

Schools are places where children develop the skills and interests that enable them to live successful, happy lives as fully rounded adults. The exam-factory culture in schools works against this, and so does high-stakes primary testing

The skills children need to thrive in tomorrow’s world of work include problem solving, teamwork, creativity – none of which is being nurtured enough under the current straitjacketed assessment system. 

I will work with the education profession to shape a formative assessment process that trusts teachers’ professional judgments, makes more careful use of national tests and uses assessment data to support learners and keep parents informed.

We owe it to every child to give them the resources, the opportunities and the support to make the most of their life. 

Inequalities of health, wealth and education are not inevitable. We can choose to build a fairer world. That is the choice Labour would make under my leadership.

Sir Keir Starmer is shadow secretary of state for exiting the European Union. He is a candidate for leader of the Labour Party 

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