In Floating Voters Week we are presenting views from teachers who didn’t vote Labour at one, or both, of the last two general elections. This one arrived too late, but I’m including it anyway as an extra post, and is by Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress of Michaela Community School, a free school that opened in Brent, London, in September 2014.
I always voted Labour. Then in 2010, I became a floating voter and ended up voting Conservative. In 2015, I might have reverted to Labour had they said the right things and had inspiring leaders. But all I heard from Labour politicians was the sanctimonious belief that they were entitled to rule because they were morally superior to the supposedly uncaring Tories. But as I have got older I have actually met some Tories and found the ones I have met to care a great deal. And in the field I know and care most about, education, there is no contest. The educational policies of the Labour Party represent a depressing status quo which far from improving the life chances of the underprivileged keeps them firmly in their place.
Three specific points on education that Labour gets wrong:
1. Labour politicians never talk about making exams harder. During their 13 years in power they played the political game of claiming results were rising every year, despite the fact that our so-called success was thanks to an insidious dumbing-down process that greatly benefits those who go to private schools and can opt out of the normal set of exams and destroys the lives of ordinary kids who need their GCSEs to mean something. In contrast, Gove, a Conservative, fought tooth and nail to see exam standards restored.
2. Much of the Labour party is anti-free school. What is this about? Free schools are essentially academies after all and the Labour Party introduced academies into the system! Most Labour politicians continually point to the handful of free schools that have been found to be inadequate but ignore the several hundred community schools that Ofsted have found inadequate over the years. Why are Labour politicians not campaigning for these to be closed down too? Again, they play a political game, trying to persuade people that free schools are draining the system of resources to satisfy an ideological hostility to anything free of direct state control.
3. Labour’s close-minded approach to the PGCE. Why on earth it is OK for private schools to hire teachers without one, but it isn’t OK for state schools is beyond me. Tristram Hunt owes his success in part to many inspirational teachers without formal teaching qualifications at his very privileged private school. Why prevent ordinary kids from having the same opportunities he did?
There are some excellent Labour politicians but the party as a whole no longer seems to know what ordinary people want but rather reflects the prejudices of the liberal “caring” public sector professionals or, in areas where they still have some clout, the interests of the unions bosses (in education this helps to explain their dislike of free schools & love of PGCEs).
Labour’s policies in the past brought about gender and race equality, but it is too often accompanied by a lack of moral compass, an “anything goes” mentality and a “society is to blame” assumption that weakens individual responsibility. I feel this especially as a black woman, the daughter of parents from the Caribbean. Labour has a sense of entitlement towards ethnic minority voters. But just because the party stuck up for us more than the Tories did 40 years ago does not mean they still own us today. Moreover, they tend to regard minorities as a kind of inert lump who need the leadership of the benign progressives in Labour to achieve anything. Yet in my experience Labour people understand the complexity and variety of the minority experience no more than Tories. Indeed they are worse than Tories because at least Tories believe in individual responsibility whereas Labour thinks that there is no minority, or indeed white working class, issue that cannot be solved by a bigger state and more public money. In reality this keeps us dependent and does not allow us to flourish.
The outsiders and the underprivileged have their own ideas about how to achieve progress and we are fed up with being told what to think by Labour’s middle class do-gooders who seem to be in politics mainly to feel better about themselves rather than to actually think about what works in a hard-headed way. Labour’s education policy is an all too typical example. Should Labour take a hard look at its policies and put the people before the feelings of their politicians, then who knows, maybe I’ll vote for them next time.