Long-Bailey: Lack of ‘overarching message’ on education contributed to Labour’s defeat


The lack of an “overarching message” from Labour on its flagship national education service was one of the reasons it lost the last general election, the new shadow education secretary has said.

But Rebecca Long-Bailey said the “fantastic” policy will survive and be developed by Labour under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership. She has pledged to “flesh out the detail” in the “next few years”.

There are a number of reasons as to why we lost, we know that, but one of the reasons is that we didn’t have that overarching message that explained to people what the national education service was for

A flagship policy of Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s former leader, the service was an umbrella term for a free “cradle to grave” education system, with proposals such as scrapping tuition fees, replacing Ofsted and abandoning primary tests.

But although elements of the policy were extensively covered in the media and seemed to reach voters, many felt the overall vision did not hit home.

“There are a number of reasons as to why we lost, we know that, but one of the reasons is that we didn’t have that overarching message that explained to people what the national education service was for and what a Labour government was for,” said Long-Bailey in an exclusive interview with Schools Week.

But the former party leadership candidate believes the NES was key policy “for a reason”, adding that that the coronavirus crisis has highlighted the “huge role” schools play in society

“If we’re going to make sure that we don’t just see social mobility, the odd few climbing the ladder and doing very well for themselves, but everybody rising up and realising their potential, then we’ve got to have a cradle to grave national education service that means education is a right to all.”

Although Long-Bailey and Starmer are from different wings of the party, they are on the same page on most education issues. They both oppose academic selection, favour replacing Ofsted and primary school tests, and want to close tax loopholes for private schools.

Starmer told Schools Week during the campaign that “all schools should be under local democratic control”.

Long-Bailey agrees, and says Labour will not change its policy, which proposes that no more free schools and academies and existing academies brought back under the control of “parents, teachers and local communities”.

However, with most secondary schools now operating as academies, the new shadow education secretary acknowledges there needs to be a “discussion about how quickly we can make that local accountability happen”.

“It’s not a secret that I oppose academies. That’s not to say that we don’t have fantastic teachers and fantastic leaders in many of our academies, because we do. It just so happens that they’re in an academy school.”

Long-Bailey says she has problems with their accountability. They can become “heavily commercialised” with their own terms and conditions for staff. This is “not acceptable”.

“We need to have harmonisation across the sector so that good academies can’t cherry-pick the best staff in one particular area.

“We need to have a standardised education system. So wherever you are, in whatever part of the country, as a parent you can be guaranteed that your child is going to have the gold standard education that they should be entitled to.”

Long-Bailey’s first task before she can flesh out Labour’s education policies is to hold the government to account for its coronavirus response.

She believes “clearer” communication is needed about plans to reopen schools, and warns of “a lot of concern” among school staff about a rushed return.

It follows a Sunday Times report that ministers are considering three dates for schools to reopen, with the earliest in just three weeks’ time. The report was later dismissed by Gavin Williamson, the education secretary.

Long-Bailey added: “Schools, teachers and staff are worried that they’ll be asked to reopen in a matter of days in the same way that they were asked to close, and that can’t happen.”

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  1. Mark Watson

    It’s beyond parody that SchoolsWeek faithfully regurgitates whatever the Labour Education Secretary comes out with, without applying the same degree of analysis and critique that it (quite rightly) uses whenever a Government minister speaks.

    “We need to have harmonisation across the sector so that good academies can’t cherry-pick the best staff in one particular area.” Now given that academies don’t actually kidnap the best staff and force them to sign employment contracts at gunpoint, what Long-Bailey is saying here is that she wants to make it impossible for schools to offer higher salaries to staff than they might be offered elsewhere. Doesn’t this mean that taken as a whole teachers pay will go down?

    I could go on.

    “Existing academies will brought back under the control of “parents, teachers and local communities”.” What does this mean? SchoolsWeek have reproduced this worthy soundbite numerous times without once actually trying to get to the bottom of what it would mean. Can anyone give an example of any English school, academy, maintained, voluntary-aided etc., that is “under the control of parents, teachers and local communities”?

    And if schools were indeed controlled by parents, teachers and local communities, does this means these groups would be able to change term-dates, determine their own employment contracts, set pay levels etc.?

    Given that academies operate under the basis of legally-binding agreements, which cannot be unilaterally ended by Government without giving seven years’ notice, how exactly does Long-Bailey intend to achieve her aim?

    Indeed, as I’ve pointed out before, given that all fifteen odd thousand local authority maintained schools aren’t under the control of parents, teachers and local communities, is Long-Bailey planning to change their status too?

    All I’m asking for is a little more analysis and holding to account.

  2. christina evans

    The tories last time were in from 1979 to 1997. Even though they hurt ordinary people. Labour only won after the war because contrary to the good old wartime spirit people were fed up to the back teeth with having to make do. Even though the Daily Express said if labour got in it would be a gestapo state. Its always been the same even though contrary to what the public think labour borrow less and pay back quicker. We are a nation with predominantly the conservatives in power. Over the last one hundred years the conservatives have been in 70% of the time. Every so often labour are allowed into power. Its not the public but as the Sun proudly trumpeted when Blair got it it wos the Sun that done it. Along came a real labour leader not one just playing lipservice to socialism but a real live politician who said the people have the say. The people dont want that they would rather be like lemmins all falling over the cliff. We are hostile to places like China and Russia and yet we are the same. Just making out we have a democracy. I heard a person say they had always voted labour but would not vote for a man who never sung the national anthem and didnt like the queen. They voted conservative. We are now expected to forget the terrible lies told about Jeremy Corbyn and not be sour puss. Its no good tories only been in 10 years they will probably win the next general election because well Boris is a chip off the block. What a cop out.

    • Mark Watson

      What a ludicrous rant.

      Perhaps you misunderstand what democracy means. You complain that we are a predominantly conservative-in-power country and lay the blame for this at the feet of the electorate because that’s who they vote for. Yup, that is indeed how democracy works. If the people are indeed like lemmings (always revealing when someone starts insulting the electorate) and didn’t want to vote for Corbyn then democracy means that Corbyn doesn’t get into power.

      You then follow this by hilariously saying we are the same as China and Russia. So on the one hand you say that we’re awful because the person in power is who the people voted for (although you think they voted for the wrong one), and then you say we’re the same as countries where the people don’t get to vote for who they want at all. Not really following that argument.

      Also rather revealing that in order to bolster your argument you refer to an edition of the Daily Express which, if my quick googling is correct, was published on 5 June 1945. Not quite sure of the relevance of that either.