Vygotsky, who is a teacher in a school for pupils with special educational needs, reflects on Labour’s proposed changes to the education system and on her experiences canvassing.
I’ve just returned from an evening’s canvassing in Wimbledon for Jackie Schneider. She’s a teacher and has been working for decades in the constituency. She teaches in the primary school I once attended.
Jackie had invited canvassers over to her house after our session and I thought I’d take her up on the offer and take the chance to ask her about her thoughts on the educational policies in Labour’s manifesto. I was reflecting on a voter on who’s door I had knocked on, who had presented himself as an undecided voter, but gave the game away when he accused Jackie of being a communist indoctrinating her students. I took personal offence as I am a communist indoctrinating my students and resent the suggestion that the Labour party is even a shadow of the border-free, LGBTQ worker-owned global co-op hellscape this old ‘undecided’ tory has nightmares about.
How much closer to the ‘Venezualan nightmare’ of the right-wing imaginary will Labour’s manifesto get us in educational terms? It’s a step in the right direction. I’ve taught in Gove’s academies and been educated in the semi-market that frames education as a hyper-competitive and elaborate branding exercise. The changes around testing aim to address the sorting of the students into ‘goats and sheep’ in Jackie’s analogy and address the tests’ failure when grades are inflated to make schools look better. Labour’s plans include replacing Ofsted with an inspection body that is better suited to drive improvement in schools, returning a lot of the decision and oversight of day-to-day operation and funding to the local level, and scrapping Key Stage 1 and SAT2 testing. These changes I personally feel an acute need for.
Whilst there is an acceptance of the Tory instigated compulsory LGBT representation in lessons, if we consider that they are also the party who brought about section 28 it’s a shame the Labour manifesto wasn’t more explicit on specifically protecting LGBT teachers and students from transphobic and homophobic abuse by outside parties or parents. One saddening concession was the watering down of the conference motion to ban private schools. Most worryingly however was the lack of any numbered spending commitments to supporting the already vulnerable and forgotten SEN students across the country.
Salient to any conversation about the Labour party is what can revolutionary socialists get out of them. Education is and always has been a contentious political ground. I am hopeful that Labour’s nod to teach ‘black history’, referring, presumably to the history of slavery and Britain’s role in colonialism according to the manifesto, and the Holocaust will grant those of us whose struggle is fought in the classroom more scope to tackle the real needs of students. Jackie argues those needs are based around the climate crisis, and I contend the climate is inseparable from the fight against imperialism, racism and class-based pseudo-patriotism. Above all, moving away from the forced mangling of essential services into Frankenstein’s markets will give us an opportunity to fight for the importance of mental health and pastoral care which thousands of working-class and impoverished students are denied.