The teacher voice: why you should vote Labour

Jeremy Corbyn would scrap Ofsted and Sats - and tackle child poverty, writes Labour-supporting teacher Holly Rigby

Election 2019: Teacher Holly Rigby explains why she will be voting Labour

This is part of a series in which politically engaged teachers explain why they support the party they do. The rest of the series can be found here.

For the first few years I spent in the classroom, I took very little interest in party politics. I was content to close my classroom door to the world and was sure that if I poured enough love, time and dedication into teaching, then I could make a meaningful difference to the lives of my students. Today I still believe that teachers have a powerful role to play in our students' lives. But there is absolutely no denying that the dysfunctions in our school system and the deep inequalities in wider society make the job of teachers sometimes feel like an impossible task.

Thirty years of neoliberal consensus in education policymaking has seen punitive accountability and competition mechanisms weaponised to drive school improvement - but has often driven teachers out of the classroom instead. Ofsted, league tables and high-stakes testing has meant teaching and learning in our schools has never felt so narrow and restrictive, and our students and teachers are suffering as a result; one in 10 children now suffers from a mental health condition each year, and teachers have never reported such high levels of stress

The impact of poverty on education

At the same time, economic policymaking has seen the social security net of the welfare state slowly eroded, making it even harder for our students to learn. Our students shouldn’t have to live in cramped, squalid housing, as too many now do. Their parents shouldn’t have to work two jobs as they struggle to simply survive on poverty wages. A free school meal should never be the only hot food our students eat that day. It shouldn’t be controversial to say that if children come to school hungry, exhausted and lacking the care and attention they crave, it makes it more difficult for them to thrive. 

Most of the time, we feel powerless to change many of these things, particularly those that affect our children when they leave the school gates. But during this general election, there are choices that teachers across the country will face, and the choices have never felt so stark; do we continue with 30 years of damaging economic and educational policy consensus or do we break with this model and imagine something radically new?

I am supporting the Labour Party in this election because I believe it will offer the transformations we now so desperately need. On schools, Labour is pledging to unwind the most counter-productive market-based reforms imposed in the past 30 years. It has promised to replace Ofsted, source of so much teacher workload, with a local inspectorate focused on school development rather than punishment. It has decided to scrap the Sats tests, arguing that our children should be more than a score. Its pledge to spend £90 million on schools-based counselling means that teachers will have some of the pastoral burden relieved from them, too. For our students, the promise of six years free further education – whether at university or in a vocational pathway – will be truly transformative. 

When it comes to eradicating the scourge of child poverty, Labour is the only party offering the radical actions required. Labour is promising to end zero-hours contracts and raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour, meaning parents will be free to spend more time with their children. Labour is going to build 100,000 council houses for every year it is in government, so our children can live and learn in dignity and comfort at home. And by nationalising the water and electricity network, Labour will bring down utility bills for families so that they never have to choose between heating and eating again.

Not only that, but the choices teachers make in this election will dramatically shape the planet our students live on. Far from being a Brexit election, this should arguably be first and foremost a climate election. We have 10 years to take the action needed to prevent the most damaging effects of climate change, and our students have inspired us with their protests in the past year calling for adults to take radical action. It is only a Labour government that has pledged to not only meet the ambitious targets to decarbonise our economy but also to do this in a way that creates the green jobs of the future for our students.

There are few elections when we feel like we are on the precipice of history. But with growing inequality, the threat of climate change and an increasingly frightening global lurch to the Far Right, we have a historic opportunity to forge a progressive path. Teachers have the opportunity to vote for a Labour government that will truly transform the lives of teachers, our students and their families. The time is ripe for change, and only a Labour government can deliver the change we all so desperately need. 

Holly Rigby is a teacher and researches the National Education Service at King’s College London

Later today, Tes will be publishing the results of its pre-election survey of teachers. Watch out for the results here if you want to know who teachers are planning to support in December's poll 

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