There are those that cheer and those that look on stonily. But Jeremy Corbyn could provide the strong opposition to education policies that teachers need
I was in a meeting of the Socialist Education Association when the news came that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected as Labour leader. The reaction was mixed. Those next to me cheered; those across from me exchanged nervous looks.
But no one could answer the question about what would happen to the Labour party now and what would happen to education policy.
Admittedly, the reaction – from teachers and in the meeting – was more universal when Tristram Hunt announced he was standing down as shadow education secretary.
I’ve met Hunt and found him pleasant; we didn’t always agree, but he was cautiously supportive of some of my ideas about education – although at times his stance could be very frustrating.
Things are looking brighter for teachers
New shadow education secretary Lucy Powell is an unknown quantity, but Corbyn has been clear about his vision for education.
Friends within the trade union movement are hoping for a greater consensus between, for example, the education trade unions’ and Labour’s manifestos – and we might finally see this.
When Corbyn was asked to present his views for the Socialist Education Association’s publication “Education Politics”, he rightly condemned the cuts to education as “staggering not just in its scale, but in its stupidity and gross irresponsibility too”.
Anxious headteachers staring bleakly into a future of cuts should feel heartened to hear a strongly voiced opposition. And, so should those facing cuts in further education. Students have reasons to cheer too, as Corbyn wants tuition fees abolished.
He refuses to “pit toddlers against teenagers” and argues for greater investment in early years, with universal free childcare. So far, so very good. When this is followed by a promise of a pay rise for teachers, ending the “obsession with testing” and reforms to Ofsted so that it becomes an advisory body to schools, you can see why so many teachers believe #JezWeCan.
However, heads and academy principals might feel a little apprehensive about his call to bring free schools and academies “back into the orbit of public education and local authorities”.
Heads who have benefited from increased salaries (increasing in relation to teachers’ pay and so widening the gap) and greater control of neighbouring schools may not like this idea. I’m guessing those who run academy chains may not like it either; let’s be honest, if all schools were returned to local authorities what the public might find out could make very interesting reading.
For teachers, though, things are looking brighter. Whether you agree with what Corbyn says about all policy areas (as a pro-European I’m interested to hear more about this area) what we have now is someone promising genuine investment and genuine reform.
While I am not quite ready to say #JezWeCan to everything, as someone who has fought against cuts, championed teachers, argued against free schools and the closure of Sure Start centres, it would be impossible for a bit of that optimistic wave not to touch me.
But, as I have said before, there is no glory in principled opposition, only defeat and misery. Teachers have had enough misery.
What Labour must do now is unite behind their leader and work together to fight for victory in 2020.
Regardless of my personal feelings about Tristram Hunt’s stance on education policy it would never stop me going out door-knocking and phoning people to gather support for Labour. As always, Alan Johnson puts it better than anyone. When asked if he supported Corbyn, he replied: “of course, he’s the leader of the Labour party”. And so do I.
Just maybe, right now, facing cuts, teacher shortages, chaos in teacher training, increased testing and stress for our children, uncertain futures for “requires improvement” and “coasting” schools, Powell could provide the strong opposition and clear alternative that we so desperately need.
With Labour united and working together, focusing energies on external opposition and not divisions within, teachers might have reasons to join in with the round of applause.
Emma Ann Hardy, a former teacher and Labour supporter, is writing in a personal capacity