Socialist Educational Association

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
It was a driving force in the Labour party for decades, but the Blair era prompted the SEA to split from its erstwhile comrades

What is it?

The SEA started out as the National Association of Labour Teachers in the 1920s and for the next 75 years was one of the Labour party's largest affiliated organisations. The prime mover of education resolutions at party conferences, it had members in high places.

But not now?

Not really. It calls itself an "independent socialist educational organisation" and "a critical friend" of the Labour party.

Why?

The split stemmed from a row just before the last election, between old and new Labour factions. Graham Lane, general secretary during Labour's opposition years, and some allies, wanted to stick to party policy; but former National Union of Teachers' president Max Morris, then the chairman, and his supporters, wished the SEA to become independent, not "pager slaves like MPs".

There followed a year of conflict before Lane, education chair in Newham, London, resigned in March 1998.

Who's in charge now?

The SEA's 1998 elections ended with victory for the Morris faction. Tony Pearce and Peter Holland, both from Staffordshire, bacame general secretary and chairman, respectivly. They are still there. So is octogenarian Max, who lists "baiting the Department of Education (sic), and ridiculing Trotskyists and trendies" as his recreations in Who's Who.

Who belongs to it?

An impressive list of members included 19 ministers at the last election, including Gordon Brown and David Blunkett. Stephen Byers and Roy Hattersley are still vice-presidents. Caroline Benn (wife of Tony) was president from 1973 until her death last year. By 1997 numbers had halved from 1,500, but have struggled back to 900-plus. "We are in good heart," says Peter Holland.

What does it do now?

Its manifesto for the next election calls for an end to selection; a complete network of neighbourhood comprehensives; withdrawal of charitable status from independent schools; and the abolition of OFSTED (in other words, everything that isn't in last week's Green Paper). It organises conferences and produces a bi-monthly newsletter and pamphlets. "We work quietly rather than seeking headlines," explains the chairman.

Future prospects Unlikely to get back to the heart of government under this regime. But could regain influence if Labour loses.

Any modernising tendencies?

Has a website: http:welcome.toSocialistEducation


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