The Daily Telegraph online headline today states that Labour are calling for an education ‘overhaul,’ as former Chair of the Education Select Committee Barry Sheerman MP is commissioned to look into how to bring the school day in line with the working world and modern family life. Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg suggests that “an extended day would keep children off the streets, stop them being sucked into local gangs and give the most deprived pupils a place to study away from “chaotic” home lives.” Sounds good to me, sounds familiar too.
Let’s look back to March 2010, before the General Election, when we heard very similar soundbites from the now Education Secretary, Michael Gove. He has long argued that “parents would love to have schools start earlier in some circumstances and to be going on later in the afternoon, given the reality of the working lives of many parents.” And many schools are now doing so, with Academies, Free Schools and Faith Schools free to vary the length of their school day and term.
So now, with moves like that of Twigg’s today, we are into debating the scope and structure of education policy rather than the politics of it. This is a vital step forward – with all parties analysing the social and educational impact, rather than the political. We should welcome Government and Opposition wrangling and jostling over the detail in order to achieve the best outcomes for our children.
As veteran education adviser and blogger Conor Ryan wrote yesterday on another hot topic – local authority resistance to academy conversions – “Twigg should (now) be ready to argue the case for primary academies to play a central role in reducing school failure, and to act as a persuader with recalcitrant Labour councils where there is an issue. This is not to say that he should back every imposition unquestioningly but that where it is clear that academy status is best he should work to prevent it becoming a party political football.” The same goes for free schools, where Twigg has already indicated a willingness to give ‘test based’ support, where free schools can prove that they are benefitting the many, not the few.
So here’s to a new era in education. Let’s hope the football stays in the PE cupboard.