Election 2024

Phillipson: ‘It’s my job to get education back up the agenda’

The shadow education secretary on why private schools need to cut their cloth, emulating Gove and curriculum change

The shadow education secretary on why private schools need to cut their cloth, emulating Gove and curriculum change

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has said it is her job to get education “back up the agenda”.

Phillipson was quizzed on the popular Rest is Politics Leading podcast by former Labour press secretary Alastair Campbell and ex-Conservative minister Rory Stewart.

She talked about why private schools need to cut their cloth, the areas she wants to emulate Michael Gove and what Labour’s curriculum change might entail.

Here’s a round-up of the best bits … 

Private schools should consider ‘how to cut their cloth’

AC: What is your overall attitude to private education?

BP: So I think parents can make decisions about where they educate their children and that can include private schools. Personally, that’s not a choice that I would ever make. I believe in state education, my children go to state schools.

My focus as shadow education secretary and going into government if we win the next election would be on driving up standards in state schools, but we’ve got to raise some money to do that. And that’s why I think it is the right decision to end the tax benefits that private schools enjoy.

RS: Would you prefer to be in a world in which there are no private schools?

If we were to start from scratch, I don’t think I’d start with either selection within schools or private schools overall.

But I think it’s hard to get away from the need for parents to have choice in where they educate their children. I just happen to believe that the taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidising that choice.

RS: Are you thinking about how to support those children as they make that transition?

So I’ve looked very carefully at the report that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has done on this policy. And they conclude that our policy would raise £1.3 to £1.5 billion net, and that takes effect of any change as you described.

Although they anticipate little effect from the policy, mainly because private schools have whacked up their fees way beyond inflation year after year and there hasn’t been a shift in the numbers. And increasingly, they price themselves out of the middle class market.

When I was growing up, even in the North East, I knew people that went to private school. I think I would, in similar circumstances now, struggle to find similar numbers of people, partly because the fees are so much higher than they were.

Schools can seek to absorb that cost. So the schools have choices in terms of how they price their fees, what level of provision they offer.

There has been, frankly, an arms race where it comes to capital expenditure around many private schools. State schools in recent years have had some really tough choices to make and I think private schools might like to consider how they cut their cloth. 

We’re actually in a situation right now where we are seeing big falling rolls right across the country because of the falling birth rate. I don’t accept that there’ll be large numbers of children leaving, but we’re already in a position where schools are merging and closing because of the falling numbers of children coming through the school system.

RS: It’s disruptive to have to move school in the middle of your time. So a lot of the conversation seems to be around finances and numbers, but not very much around the actual children.

I just gently observe that 93 per cent of children in our country go to state schools. And I think this is the right thing to do. It sucks up an enormous amount of interest for what is a relatively small part of our school system.

And I think it’s absolutely right that I’m asked questions about the impact of policy, have we considered all the implications, which absolutely we have done.

But I want to make sure the 93 per cent of children in our state schools have the teachers they need, the support that they need, and the mental health provision that they need. And we would use that money to deliver more teachers, more mental health support, better training and development for teachers within the state system.

My job to get education ‘back up the agenda’

AC: We interviewed [former Labour education secretary] David Blunkett on leading recently and he said that he felt education had gone down the political agenda. Would you agree that education has come down the political agenda and we need to get it back up?

BP: It has and it’s my job to get it back up the agenda. I think that’s easier to do from government than from opposition. 

And when I’ve looked at the salience of education as an issue in the run into [19]97 and beyond, it was actually when Labour were in government where we were doing a lot around schools that the salience of education as an issue particularly started to increase and there were kind of key moments where policy was announced, where changes happened that really cut through with the public.

Phillipson learned from Gove’s ‘focus and drive’

RS: What do you make about what was good and what was bad about what [former education secretary] Michael Gove and [former schools minister] Nick Gibb, did with their education reforms?

BP: So what I would say about Michael Gove in particular was that he brought a real sense of drive and determination. He was clear about what he wanted to do right from the outset. He got on with it and he made it happen.

And there is a lesson in that, I believe. They also took the evidence of what was working and developed it further. 

So the Conservatives will talk a lot about the rollout of phonics across schools – absolutely – and I’ve had this conversation with Nick Gibb as well and gently pointed out that it was under Labour that first started that, they then continued it. I think that does show the benefit of continuity of policymaking in areas such as education.

It was the Conservatives who brought in a national curriculum. That, I think, was a fine development. I believe we need to reform the curriculum that we’ve got at the moment.

But that sense of focus and drive, I think Michael brought education far more central to the work of the Conservative government than would have been the case otherwise. And that’s certainly a lesson I take away.

Issue with creative curriculum in state schools

AC: Give me a couple of changes you’d like to see in the curriculum.

BP: I think there is a real issue around creativity in our state schools and the lack of access that state school students have to music, sport, art and drama. I don’t think that should be the preserve of just those whose parents can afford to pay for extras on a weekend or after school.

And I want to make that a really important part of the curriculum in the future. Also it feels for all we’ve had a focus on reading and on phonics and I support that – we’ve kind of forgotten about early maths in particular.

So a real focus on early maths, on numeracy and on making sure that our children have got a solid foundation there. We’re slipping behind as a country on that.

Latest education roles from

Procurement Officer

Procurement Officer

RNN Group

Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment

Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment

Barnet and Southgate College

Professional Practice (TLA) Lead

Professional Practice (TLA) Lead

RNN Group

Health & Care Coordinator

Health & Care Coordinator

MidKent College

HR Assistant

HR Assistant

MidKent College

Principal, Cedar Mount Academy Bright Futures Educational Trust

Principal, Cedar Mount Academy Bright Futures Educational Trust

Satis Education

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Navigating NPQ Funding Cuts: Discover Leader Apprenticeships with NPQs

Recent cuts to NPQ funding, as reported by Schools Week, mean 14,000 schools previously eligible for scholarships now face...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How do you tackle the MIS dilemma?

With good planning, attention to detail, and clear communication, switching MIS can be a smooth and straightforward process, but...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

Election 2024

Former science teacher and her ex-pupil elected as new Labour MPs

'It's just lovely and I feel like a bit of a proud mum, I'm just so incredibly proud'

Samantha Booth
Election 2024

SEND moved into schools minister McKinnell’s brief

Move to align special needs with schools responsibilities comes after education secretary said she's 'gripping the issue'

Freddie Whittaker
Election 2024

SEND crisis must be ‘first order issue’ for new government

Labour has inherited a system on its knees with councils facing bankruptcy, parents forced into court and schools crying...

Freddie Whittaker
Election 2024

Catherine McKinnell: 9 facts about the new schools minister

Roles have not been officially confirmed, but one of McKinnell's colleagues has said she will cover schools brief

Freddie Whittaker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment

  1. Sarah Sheed

    The interview was a missed opportunity overall. It would have been interesting to ask Bridget Phillipson about her position on faith school admissions. There are several reasons for asking this. Firstly, the current government proposes dropping the 50% cap on filling places using faith-based admissions criteria. What would Labour do? Secondly, while Phillipson declares that private education is not a choice she would ever make, as a practising Roman Catholic her schools options are not the same as the choices faced by the average voter. Thirdly, there has been some controversy over faith based admissions and whether these act as in effect as a social filter. On private schools, Phillipson has not in fact visited any as shadow education minister. This may partly be why she imagines them all to be like the famous, prestigious institutions who could ‘cut their cloth’. The sector is, however, diverse and the impact of VAT will not be felt evenly across all schools. Lack of familiarity may also account for the recitation of the 93% figure. This glosses over the very large attrition (up to 40%) at age 16. Among 6th formers, almost 1 in 5 are actually educated in the private sector. The consequences for post-16 education of the policy could, therefore, be serious. Lastly, Phillipson was not asked if she would have preferred Starmer to have stuck with his pledge of abolishing charitable status altogether.