Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is set to address the Labour Party Conference in Brighton tomorrow on the party’s latest education policy. But what do we know so far about Labour’s plans for schools?
Reform of Ofsted
Labour policy chiefs have been “poring over” the issue of radically reforming Ofsted, including the option of abolishing it altogether, as part of a plan for local, democratic accountability of schools, as revealed by Tes this summer.
Not only are there concerns about Ofsted’s reliability, but also the impact it has on workload and teacher retention.
There is said to be union pressure to make a big statement by abolishing Ofsted.
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Pledge to abolish Sats and baseline tests
Labour has already announced that it would abolish Sats and baseline testing, and that it would consult teachers and parents on developing a “more flexible and practical system of assessment”.
There have been concerns that the high-stakes nature of the assessments has increased the strain on teachers and put pressure on pupils.
Addressing the NEU conference at Easter, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Sats and the regime of extreme pressure testing are giving young children nightmares and leaving them in floods of tears.
“I meet teachers of all ages and backgrounds who are totally overworked and overstressed. These are dedicated public servants. It’s just wrong.”
Mr Corbyn has said Labour’s alternative would be based on two principles: understanding the learning needs of each child, and encouraging “a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education”.
Is there a war on private schools?
Labour plans for private schools would not be better for teachers in them, it seems.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has this week publicly backed a campaign to integrate all independent schools into the state sector, saying that “private schools don’t need to exist, and should not exist”.
McDonnell’s endorsement is likely to be a significant boost to the Labour Against Private Schools campaign, which hopes to pass a motion at the Labour Party conference. The motion calls for “endowments, investments and properties held by private schools to be redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.
A leaked document from McDonnell’s office shows that Labour's plans to impose VAT on fees for private schools and abolish business rate exemption for private schools could bring in an additional £1.64 billion in tax revenue annually.
But independent-school leaders say this plan would force smaller private schools to close and simply pile more pressure on state schools, which would be forced to take more pupils.
What is the National Education Service?
The abolition of private schools might fit in with the Labour policy of having a National Education Service (NES), which would be “a unified service for England to move towards cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use”.
The Labour 2017 manifesto says of the NES: “It will be built on the principle that ‘Every Child – and Adult Matters’ and will incorporate all forms of education, from early years through to adult education."
But how does this plan differ from what we already have?
Critics have complained about a lack of detail. However, the plan does spell out that it is against “the Conservatives’ market-based approach” and says “we need the education of our citizens to be seen as a collective endeavour, something in which we all have a role to play”.
Labour is also clear that it wants more local democratic accountability, saying “local communities will be empowered to influence change where it is needed and guarantee that the education system meets their needs”.
Ms Rayner’s conference speech last year set out details on academies, but still left many questions unanswered.
She said no new academies would be created under a Labour government, and that existing academies would be able to return to local authorities, “assuming there is capacity and a desire to do so in the relevant local authority”.
But Ms Rayner was careful not to commit the party to abolishing academies or putting them back under the control of local authorities.
The party also reiterated its existing policy of ending the free-schools programme and says it will not "waste money on the Conservatives’ grammar schools vanity project".