Starmer pledges ‘education system reform’, but few details yet

Labour leader promises long-term missions would end 'sticking-plaster politics', but union says more cash needed too

Labour leader promises long-term missions would end 'sticking-plaster politics', but union says more cash needed too

23 Feb 2023, 12:52

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to reform the education system if his party wins the next election, promising “real-world impact” and consultation with experts and frontline staff.

The opposition leader used a speech in Manchester this morning to set out five “missions” that will shape a Labour manifesto and the party’s focus if it gains power.

The fifth mission in a document published alongside the speech focuses on education. It promises to “break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage, for every child, by reforming the childcare and education systems, raising standards everywhere, and preparing young people for work and life”.

But neither the speech or document included further details on specific reforms, and there was little mention of schools.

Labour has promised more information on each mission over the coming months, including “measurable ambitions” and “some of the first tangible steps” planned.

Labour to consult frontline staff

Starmer said his shadow cabinet would meet both “frontline practitioners” and experts – “we still believe in them” – to shape each mission.

“We’re going to ask them, what will it take? What are the barriers? What needs to change to bring these missions alive? And crucially, how do we make these missions a vehicle for hope for you, your family, your community?”

Starmer also vowed missions would be “long-term” and end “sticking-plaster politics”, as well as supporting a drive for economic growth.

The opposition leader was asked by a reporter following the speech if the missions were “just a way of telling the public – sorry, there isn’t more money.”

He replied that this was “not right”. While some missions will require funding, “reform as as important as the money we put in”.

Unions to ‘press Labour’ for cash

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it would “press Labour” to make education investment an “urgent priority”. But he welcomed Labour’s willingness to consult a “far cry from the present government”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said it was looking forward to more detail after the “broad-brush” speech.

He also warned achieving Starmer’s ambitions “will not be possible” without investment, improving recruitment and retention, and reforming a “harsh and counter-productive” accountability system.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the pledge to listen to frontline staff was “welcome”, but all politicians had to go beyond “warm words” and secure real improvements.

Labour’s shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan also said today: “Too many children arrive at school behind their better-off peers and that gap widens. Too many children do not get the opportunity to experience music, art, sport or drama which enriches lives and embeds a love of arts and culture which are so important for our heritage.

“This has to change. Which is why I welcome Keir Starmer’s five missions for a better Britain.”

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