27 years ago, Kenneth Baker’s 1988 Education Reform Act changed the direction of travel of English education. It introduced an element of school choice and Local Management of Schools, established more autonomous City Technology Colleges and Grant Maintained Schools as well as the national curriculum and abolished the Inner London Education Authority. It started the move towards a more marketized education system.
27 years later, it’s time to recognise that marketization is not the answer and that we need a new Education Reform Act to set a new direction of travel and establish a public education system in England which is truly egalitarian and comprehensive and serves the interests of all.
The outlines of such legislation are laid out in the Reclaiming Education Bill 2015 drawn up by Graham Clayton on behalf of an alliance of seven organisations: The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Comprehensive Future, Information for School and College Governors, Socialist Education Association, Campaign for State Education, Forum, New Visions for Education.
The Bill was presented at an open meeting on 25th February and received strong support from all those present. The key aims of the draft bill are to establish a fully comprehensive system by ending selection by ability or aptitude, restoring democratic accountability to state education, ensuring that all schools work co-operatively as part of a national system, are fairly funded to provide quality inclusive education for pupils without selection and that all schools are fully staffed by qualified teachers assisted by an inspection regime which is both rigorous and supportive.
The draft Reclaiming Education Bill represents a vision of a very different future for education. No one at the meeting was in any doubt that such reform cannot be achieved through legislation alone or that it won’t be hard fought. But by providing a concise set of reasonable and potentially very popular demands, the draft bill provides a useful single focus for campaigning by all those concerned about the fragmentation, marketization and inequities of our current ‘non-system’ in the run up to the election.
Agreeing such a bill isn’t a destination, it is the start of a process. Now that we have a single overarching document to work for, the campaigning needs to begin. Clearly, we need to achieve a political majority in favour of such a change of direction. We also need to work through all the important details and this will require a high level of involvement by all those committed to education as a public service; communities, parents, students, education workers and their unions.
So let’s celebrate the bill, disseminate the bill and use the bill to set the terms of debate. This bill represents the hope that many people have that we can at last break away from the market consensus in education and start building a public service consensus. It’s not too late for education to have its NHS moment.