Notes of speech given by Kevin Brennan MP, Shadow Schools Minister at the Comprehensive Future AGM, 6th November 2012
- Kevin has a long association with and personal support for comprehensive schools. He went to one, taught in one and sent his child to one.
- His major concern about Michael Gove’s policy on education is that it is a process of softening up towards his real aim of privatisation of state schooling. Also that Gove is willing to see an expansion of selection, illustrated for example by his saying at a recent meeting of the Friends of Grammar Schools that his foot is ‘hovering over the pedal’ towards introducing more grammar schools.
- The question is what can Labour do now and if elected in 2015? Labour strongly opposed the recent softening of the Code to allow grammar schools to expand and the weakening of the Code for example from a clear requirement that catchment areas should reflect the local area to a mere requirement that admission authorities should be ‘reasonable’ in drawing them up. But without a parliamentary majority it cannot outvote changes made by the Coalition.
- The education landscape in 2015 is going to be very different than the one when Labour left office. Changes being introduced by the Coaltion risk reintroducing a free for all in admissions.
- Both Kevin and Stephen Twigg are clear that comprehensive schooling is not dependent on there being municipal schooling. That is that the ideal of comprehensive schools does not depend on local authorities running schools.
- However Labour would reaffirm its commitment to fair admissions and introduce a fairer system. He welcomed the Comprehensive Future proposal of a commitment to an independent review of secondary school admissions immediately on taking office.
- Labour will introduce some means of local accountability. But while a review of the middle tier is taking place no commitment to what that should be will be made. There are several interesting developments, not least the introduction of Cooperative Learning Trusts. What is important is that all systems of local accountability are based on shared values.
- Good quality leadership and governance and accountability are crucial to an education system.
- Kevin does not believe in a school system ‘based on selection at 11’. However in response to questions on how selection might be ended he said that Labour policy remains the same, ie petitions and ballots and is ‘not an easy political nut’ for Labour to crack.