Comprehensive Future hosted two successful fringe events at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences.

The Labour Party event was organised in association with the Socialist Educational Association (SEA) and explored ‘From social mobility to social justice: the problems with private and selective schooling.’ Thelma Walker MP had to pull out of the event due to parliament being recalled, but Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU, very kindly stepped in at short notice to join the panel. The other panellists were Dr Marlene Ellis, Melissa Benn and Dr Sol Gamsu. Comprehensive Future’s Dr Nuala Burgess was the Chair. There was a packed room and plenty of lively debate at this event, if you missed the event you can watch a video of the meeting below.

The Conservative Party conference fringe meeting was entitled, ‘The Conservative case for comprehensive education.’  We are very grateful to Loic Menzies of the Centre for Education and Youth for chairing the event when Melissa Benn lost her voice! Panellists Mark Lehain of Parents and Teachers for Excellence and  Steve Mastin of the Conservative Education Society both shared a vision for all schools promoting high standards, good behaviour and an ambitious academic focus. They both made the point that comprehensive secondary schools can be just as good as grammar schools and this makes the 11-plus test meaningless. There was a feeling from the panel that comprehensive education has been proven to work, and a test at ten works against the aim for every child to be given an ambitious academic focus. There were positive comments about most Conservative members not being supporters of selective education, the panel felt that only a minority of Tory MPs support expanding grammar schools, with most MPs supporting  comprehensive education.

Karen Wespieser of the Driver Youth Trust was also on the panel, she shared her research expertise and spoke about challenging her local  MP, Theresa May, for evidence suppporting grammar schools – the PM didn’t seem to know what to say! Karen also spoke about the problems caused by the £50 million a year Selective School Expansion Fund in her home town of Maidenhead. Bucks grammar schools are close enough to threaten the balance of pupils at local comprehensive schools when they expand.

Alex Veitch was our fourth speaker and spoke movingly about failing the 11-plus when most of her friends passed, feeling shame that her school blazer marked her out as a secondary modern pupil. She went on to succeed at GCSE and A level, proving this test is not an accurate indication of future academic potential.  Alex has recently graduated from Cambridge and now works to boost social mobility through her work for the charity UpReach. 

There were some interesting views and discussions at both our fringe events, and we’re very grateful to all our panel members and attendees for making these events such a success.