Labour will pay teachers “properly” if elected to power, according to the shadow education secretary.
Following the government’s focus on traditional subjects, Angela Rayner also said she wanted all people to access a rich curriculum, insisting that knowledge “belongs to the many, not the few”.
However, she did not outline any significant new schools policies or spending in an impassioned speech which was met with a standing ovation at the Labour Party conference this afternoon.
Instead she reasserted pledges Labour had either made during the election or has since announced.
The only new proposal was a charter setting out the principles behind Labour’s flagship National Education Service, in a speech that focused on school funding, further education and the early years.
The shadow education secretary barely touched on grammar schools, despite hinting on Sunday she would announce new reforms, when she told a fringe event that she wanted to “change” the way selective education systems worked, and that she hoped to set out in her speech how she could instead create a “system that works for everybody”.
Instead, she promised the party would lift the public sector pay cap, giving all teachers and support staff a pay rise. She also vowed to improve working conditions for teaching assistants and school support staff.
“Learning needs teaching,” she said. “Teachers would be at the heart of the National Education Service. And we will pay them properly to do it. That is why we will bring an end to the public sector pay cap, [for] teaching assistants and support staff too. Many have lost so much that they are on the minimum wage. We will bring back national standards for them too. They look after our children, we should look after them.”
She also pledged to make schools safer in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Part of the £13 billion pledged by Labour to fund improvements to the existing school estate would help protect schools from similar incidents, she said.
“Instead of wasting millions of pounds on an inefficient free schools programme, we will provide funding to ensure our schools are safe – that flammable cladding can be removed, sprinklers installed and asbestos cleared,” she declared.
Rayner also discussed “period poverty”, which she said would be tackled with a £10 million transfer from the free schools budget to pay for free sanitary products for school pupils.
The speech received plaudits from school leaders despite the lack of major new announcements, though a promise to spend £500 million reversing cuts to Sure Start children’s centres was broadly welcomed.
The additional cash plans for schools mentioned in the speech hark back to the party’s general election manifesto, while the period poverty policy and pay cap have both been promised before.
Kevin Courtney, the joint leader of the National Education Union, called the speech “inspirational”, while Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT, said Rayner had set out a “completely different proposition on education” to the Conservatives.
“The most acute problem facing schools is lack of money,” he said. “The vision has to begin with full and fair funding for all schools, so it is welcome to hear this promise from Labour.”