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. Steve Adcock was on the opening cohort of Teach First in 2003, and since then has served on two senior leadership teams in successful London academies. He now supports academies throughout the south for a large multi-academy trust.
I was a member of the Labour Party until Ed Miliband secured the leadership in 2010, a moment when Labour vacated the centre ground where my own political views lie: strong state services funded by a competitive and open economy within a liberal society in which the government limits its efforts to those things that people can’t do better for themselves. Below I’ve outlined two education policies which might encourage me to vote Labour next time.
Firstly, the Labour Party should recognise that the new battleground in education is not the big urban centres but dispersed and isolated communities, particularly those on the coast. Labour should address educational disadvantage in these areas by fixing the funding gap which currently favours schools in our big cities. The Pupil Premium is a welcome addition to the funding formula, but Labour should direct it to those parts of the country where poor children really are struggling. I’ve worked in generously funded London schools where there’s a negligible attainment gap between Pupil Premium students and non-Pupil Premium – there’s no need to throw extra money at these schools when no problem exists, and this money could make a huge difference in isolated towns.
Schools in such towns are often a big part of the local economy. I work with a brilliant school in Bognor Regis which I’m told is the second biggest employer in the town – behind Butlins. Labour should encourage these schools to become true community hubs, giving them financial incentives to share their facilities, provide access at evenings and weekends, open their libraries and teach computer skills and literacy to local residents, particularly the elderly. Schools can be engines of enterprise in depressed coastal communities.
Secondly, and more controversially, I would be attracted to a Labour Party which committed to prescribing a common curriculum for all schools in England. As with citizens, governments should only seek to do for schools those things that schools can’t do better for themselves, and nothing passes this rule better than curriculum and assessment. It’s difficult to design an excellent curriculum, and even harder to devise an assessment framework to go with it, and it’s a tragedy that schools up and down the country are currently grappling with their own solution to life after levels.
A common curriculum for all schools would work wonders for social mobility, as it would ensure that students from council estates on the Isle of Wight are given access to the same knowledge-rich curriculum as their peers in the leafy suburbs of the big cities. By taking the curriculum off the table, teachers and heads of department can focus on perfecting its delivery in the classroom. 12 years into my career as a history teacher I found myself teaching new topics for the first time. There would be huge benefits for teachers’ workload and classroom delivery if we left curriculum and assessment design to a national panel of experts, then locked the curriculum in place for five years.
Wrap these two measures in a narrative of aspiration and ambition for our young people, and Labour would get my vote in 2020.