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Green: ‘Messing’ with school structures not priority

Freddie Whittaker
September 25, 2020

“Messing around” with school structures should not be a Labour priority, the shadow education secretary has said. 

Speaking at an online event at Labour’s “Connected” party conference, Kate Green said she would not be “scrambling successful schools for the sake of having perfect structures”, indicating the party would not move to bring all academies back under council oversight.

Green’s comments suggest the party will not stray too far from its existing position on academies, despite Sir Keir Starmer, the party leader, telling Schools Week in March that he wanted “all schools” under “local democratic control”.

Green, who has been in post since June, told the Socialist Educational Association event that schools should be structured and resourced to be “the centre of communities”, and spoke of the need for “a lot of work to be done” on the party’s national education service policy.

But the LabourList website, which reported on the members-only event, said that when Green was asked about academies and free schools, she said: “I don’t want to spend the whole of the first term…messing around just with structures. I want to get to the equality of what’s going on in class.

“On scrambling successful schools for the sake of having perfect structures, that isn’t where I’m going to start. We want to start with a different set of values and objectives that aren’t about pitching schools into a competitive situation.”

Since her appointment, most of Green’s interventions have been about the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But her comments at the conference offer a glimpse at what Labour’s policy platform will look like during her tenure.

Like her predecessor, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Green has re-committed the party to its national education service, a flagship policy of former leader Jeremy Corbyn that proposes free education for all from “cradle to grave”.

And like Long-Bailey, Green acknowledged there was “a lot of work to be done to fill out what it looks like, what the detail of it is”. 

“I think everybody would acknowledge we didn’t have the time to do that before we were bounced into the early election. But of course we want a guarantee, if you like, a national offer for everyone.”

Green’s comments follow those of Angela Rayner, a former shadow education secretary, who told Schools Week in 2017 that she wanted Labour to “move on” from the debate over academies and focus on campaigning for greater controls over the way they were run.

The following year, the party announced it would stop forced academisation and the free schools programme, allow councils to open schools and take on failing academies, reintroduce national pay rules and ban related-party transactions. 

However, it stopped short of saying it would return all academies to local authority oversight, something its annual conference has repeatedly pushed for.

Green is also facing calls to apologise for her comments at another conference event that coronavirus was a “good crisis” and that Labour should “use the opportunity” to make a point about the problems in education the pandemic had exposed.

“We can really see now what happens when you under-resource schools, when you under-resource families and communities.”

Amanda Milling, the joint chair of the Conservative Party, has written to Starmer that Green apologise for her “appalling” comments.

Green has not said whether she will apologise, but a source close to the shadow education secretary said she had been “making the point that this awful crisis has shown how important it is that the government invests in education”.