Money is not the sole salvation in achieving quality education for all children. However, cutting the money available can have a devastating impact on those schools that have been making the most progress, reaching out and engaging with families and for whom the pupil premium was a lifeline at a time of retrenchment.
That is why I would insist that not only schools but the whole of the education system retain funding in real terms at the present level, reversing the freeze for two-thirds of schools and most colleges and local authorities from April of this year.
I would resist a 10 per cent cut in real terms over the coming parliament and seek to reverse the 25 per cent reduction in funding for the foundation stage. The early years are crucial to providing that foundation on which world-class leadership and excellent teaching can be built — hence the need to restore a semblance of what was the original Sure Start local programmes, particularly in the most deprived parts of the country. This could possibly be done by allowing local authorities to raise, from local taxation, an earmarked amount specifically for early years.
I would, as outlined in my paper of summer 2014, want to put the glue back into the system. We should encourage schools to partner with one another to learn and share best practices, by demonstrating how schools behave towards one another and their local communities. We need to lead by example.
I would, therefore, initiate the posts of independent director of school standards (DSS) across the country. Each DSS would have a remit relevant to all schools, whatever their status, in a light-touch approach with “intervention in inverse proportion to success”.
Schools would be encouraged to continue taking responsibility for their own success or failure, controlling their own destiny, experimentation and innovation. However, there would be common requirements on key aspects.
A light-touch basic curriculum would apply to all schools, ensuring that the values we espouse are inculcated. Citizenship education would be a benchmark for Ofsted in whether a school received a good or an outstanding designation.
Given the enormous drop in teacher training take-up at secondary level, teachers must be kept motivated by extending bursaries, providing other incentives and stepping up high-quality continuing professional development and progression.
I would argue that the whole of the education, skills and lifelong learning agenda should be under one secretary of state and, therefore, one department: a department that offered support rather than overbearing control from the centre and that valued a broad-based education over ideology and dogma.
David Blunkett is author of The Blunkett Tapes: My Life in the Bear Pit (Bloomsbury, 2006)