Government has left a void in education, teachers and educators must assume responsibility

The minority Conservative government is teetering. They have no authority, they have no programme and they have no ideas. The Queen’s speech today was thin, the Conservative General Election manifesto has been ditched. The Queen’s speech intended to allow government to cling to power. So weakened is Theresa May and the Conservative government, it looks like they could collapse at any time.

Since we are without an effective government, it is time for educators to act. We have a duty to provide authority in education, to establish principles, uphold values and implement programmes, in the absence created by an ineffectual minority government. This authority must be assumed collaboratively, deliberatively and democratically, underpinned by scholarship in its broadest sense.

We have been restrained by neoliberalism and disciplined through centralised high-stakes accountability and punitive testing regimes. Consent for this has collapsed. Public acceptance of austerity and neoliberalism has dramatically declined. People want the public services to be well-funded and to serve humanity, rather than serving a few who run them as outsourced business.

Educators now have a new responsibility for their profession and for state education.

For those working in schools, further education and higher education it is time to push back against the economic and intellectual oppression that has characterised the last seven years. It is time to become active within unions and start to organise. We need education to be a democratic, values-based and a community-oriented public service.

In the last few weeks we have seen Tory economic legitimacy crumbling. The need to cut spending and impose austerity has been revealed as a mechanism of exploitation. The yolk of austerity and neoliberalism is slowly being lifted from our shoulders as we come to realise that it has no power to exploit us and exploit our public services.

We need to mobilise across education and demand that schools are properly funded. School funding must keep pace with inflation and increasing pupil numbers. We need to ensure that teachers pay and conditions are improved so that the job becomes manageable, enjoyable and a profession that teachers can sustain long term. This will improve recruitment and retention and ensure that children receive high quality education with teachers who are not overworked, tired and stressed.  We need effective democracy in state education so that teachers have a greater role in school governance, operations and in local and national policy. We need to move away from a system that puts the control of schools and policy into the hands of small numbers of people who are not directly accountable to the communities who they serve and school stakeholders.

This is a time of great change. Therefore, it is incumbent on those working in education to take responsibility and wrest control of education from centralised neoliberalism and give that control to communities, learners and education professionals.

Go now, meet with colleagues, organise and start putting forward your collective vision for an inclusive education, for greater democracy and social justice.


Interesting addition to this. Following this post from Geoff Barton.

I recognised the ‘space’ referred to by Geoff as similar to the void I saw develop above.

Rather than trying to respond to Teach Talks in 140 characters, I thought I would do it here, since it reflects the general flavour of this post about the void left by government or as Geoff Barton said, the space created by the Queen’s Speech. I want to address the secondary questions ‘can a weak government lead to greater uncertainty?’ And ‘should we look at a Finnish multi party system?’

The government is weakened and this means that it cannot impose an ideology-driven economic, social and education policy. It is weak in the sense that it cannot set the agenda, it necessarily has to support the democratic demands of the people and show that it is being fair and reasonable in doing this and in managing conflicting interests. It is incumbent on the education sector to define, using deliberative democratic processes, what the range of educational philosophy is and how that will operationalise. This strengthens the hand of the democratic governance of state education. What it is has to be is more defined by what communities and stakeholders (including the teaching profession) want.

In terms of having a cross-party approach, I agree in principle but it is necessary that education has strong democratic governance and is able to negotiate a shared vision for education. The opportunity here for democratic self-governing system can help contribute to this.

There are great opportunities here and organisations like ASCL and the teaching unions will have a pivotal role.

This changes everything

I was feeling numb at five minutes to ten last Thursday. I had been campaigning intensely for the Labour party – both professionally and in a personal capacity – for months. It came up on Twitter, the mainstream media were saying that exit polls predicted a hung parliament. And while the Conservative party were predicted to be the largest party, the result for me marked a major change in British politics. It was going to be an exciting night.

So it turned out. As the results came in through the night it was clear that Labour had increased its share of the vote from April polls of about 25 per cent to 40 per cent in the General Election. This was unprecedented.

What is so significant, is the election result demonstrates strong support for a radically different economic and social policy. Radically different from the consensus that had existed between the major parties since the 1970s.

Keynes is back baby. The manufactured consent around a liberal/ neoliberal political economy which focuses on controlling public-sector spending and facilitating wealth creation has been shaken to its core. Particularly because it was the cause of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and it prompted the austerity approach adopted by the Coalition government and Tory governments from 2010 to 2017. Neoliberalism and austerity has undermined public services and exacerbated inequality.

When I say Keynes is back, I mean that we stop the purblind view of the importance of wealth creators, but begin to look again at the role of government spending in creating demand. Wealth creators cannot attract wealth unless ordinary people have sufficient money to purchase things in the economy.

Government can increase that wealth through redistribution (e.g. progressive taxation), increased investment in the economy (e.g. through infrastructure, health and education) and more robust regulation of the financial sector (addressing exploitation of private debt). Since the UK government has a sovereign currency it can use its capacity to spend, tax and regulate to rebalance the economy.

Keynes is back, but it’s been upgraded by contemporary economists. I have written about it in the following posts:

The consequence for teachers, educators and academics is that we have to start thinking differently. We have to think about what education might look like in a post-neoliberal world. Some of my thoughts are in the following post:

Since the Labour Party’s positive manifesto has been welcomed by the country, we must now go further and think about how we transform our education system. Transform from a marketised, privatised and commodified system into a democratic system that serves communities and the nation in an inclusive way. Paying attention to social justice, peace, environment, community cohesion and individual and collective intellectual development. A system that must effectively serve people more and serve less those that run and control it.

Exciting times, I look forward to the debate.


We all need to get out there and make sure we elect a Labour government

This is a plea, primarily, to those working in education: teachers, teaching assistants, lecturers, professors and administrative staff. This is the sector that I work in. But it is also a plea to all. The General Election, on June 8th, is probably one of the most important elections for a generation.  It may look like the Tories have already got it won with a commanding lead in the polls.  But they haven’t.  There is everything to play for yet.

If the Tories were to win another term in power, there would be further devastating cuts to public-sector education.  It would be privatized, commidified and marketized further.  This destruction would lead to a diminished service and unequal access.  The notion of a quality, free at the point of use, universal education service, from early years through to higher education would be at an end.  Replaced by a poorer outsourced system of provision.

The Tory education system will lead us to for-profit schooling, where the wealthiest will be able to extract profits, subsidized by the state, from our children’s attendance at school and college.  It is called choice, but it is no choice at all.  It is the creation of a market and commodity where there should be none.

On the other hand, the Labour Party offers a public service vision of education.  A National Education Service which will be universal, inclusive and free at the point of use.  No markets, no commodification, no privatisation.

It is not just education, it is health, welfare and the values and principles by which the citizens of the UK want to live their lives.  In the last 40 years, there has been a growing preoccupation with individual achievement and income. Competing with one another has drowned out our sense of community.  It has overridden the essential value of taking care of one another.  People are growing tired of this.  We seek a change.  A better balance between individual and collective.  One in which we can be individually successful, through our endeavours, and collectively successful, through what we share.

Not in my lifetime has the Labour Party offered such a bold, positive and hopeful vision for the future.  One in which the economy works for all, rather than for a tiny percentage of the population.  One in which we have properly funded public services.  And one in which we have full employment which offers fair reward, conditions and progress in return.

This is the vision of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has been the subject of immense personal attack from the media, from other political parties and even from within his own party.  However, he has withstood this without one word of abuse in retaliation.  He has shown steely determination in pursuing a programme of reforms that have the best interests of the majority of people in the UK.

In the past, we have relied on presidential style leadership.  We have expected that, once elected, a political party will act for us all, going about their work intelligently, efficiently and effectively.  But they haven’t, they have focused on soundbite and swing voter. Too often, they have been self-interested or acted in the interests of too few.

In Corbyn, we have a very different kind of leadership.  An inclusive, consultative and collective approach.  It is a leadership style that listens and facilitates, rather than commanding and controlling.  That is not to say, should the need be, decisive action would not be taken.

We are living in a divided society, a dangerous divided society.  We need leadership that is going to bring us together and unite.  This can only be achieved through careful, thoughtful and insightful leadership.  Leadership that is sensitive to divided voices.

For these reasons, Jeremy Corbyn will make an excellent Prime Minister.

The establishment perceives the election of the Labour Party as a serious threat.  The wealthiest in society control much of our media, the financial sector and large corporations.  They will not give up their control, their power or share their wealth without a fight.  People must demand, together, that they do.

It is not like other elections, where you go and vote and express your preference.  It is not like that anymore.  We need to explain to everyone what is going on and how a positive vision for the future is possible.  We need to fight for this.

That is why I ask all educators to get involved, that is if you want change.  You need to do more than just vote.  In a hostile media environment that is opposed to change we need to get out on the doorstep and talk to people, explain to them and reassure them that another world is possible.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have approached this general election campaign with a positive and hopeful vision for the UK.  Already we are seeing people become motivated by this message.  There is growing belief.  But that will not be enough.  We need everyone who wants change, who wants a better education system and a fairer society, to get involved.

Don’t let this election be lost by not acting.  It is an opportunity of a lifetime.  Let’s take it and make it work.

The Labour Party’s radical vision for education: the opportunity of a lifetime

Judging by the polls, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap General Election on the 18 April, you would be forgiven for thinking that the result is a foregone conclusion. And, for that matter, with a resounding Tory victory. But this election is anything but a foregone conclusion. It is set to be closer than commentators predict. People must now make a serious choice, a serious decision — rather than simply express a preference.

And already, after a week of campaigning, the polls have narrowed. Even though the Tories continue to retain a commanding lead over Labour Party, it is evident that the Labour Party have gathered some momentum. Compared with the Tories, the Labour Party have campaigned very effectively in this first week.

The following is the standing ovation Jeremy Corbyn received from the headteachers at the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) conference in Telford 30 April 2017. While I expected him to be given a polite reception, I was surprised by this. There is clearly something in the air.


And so, there is everything to play for.

An end to austerity, neoliberalism and privatisation in education

There probably never has been a more important election for education. The choice between the two main political parties has never be starker. The Tories will continue with academisation, free schools, privatisation, marketisation, a return to selective schools and a school choice agenda. While the Labour Party plans to restore Local Education Authorities and create a National Education Service. The Labour Party plans to bring education back into the public sector.

This general election could mark the end of an education policy consensus that has existed since the 1970s. Since then, education policy has been moving toward marketisation and privatisation. Schools have increasingly come to compete with one another; with an emphasis on centralised accountability (which is frequently punitive); high-stakes assessment and progress measurement; surveillance and performativity; managerialism and hierarchical management structures; intensification of teachers work; and the undermining of teachers’ pay and conditions.

Some argue that these reforms have improved the educational outcomes of many children. They also argue that closer the scrutiny of schools ensures that students make progress and achieve in final examinations. And that this, they claim, has improved the quality of teaching and learning.

These are exaggerated claims, educational reforms have led to more heat than light. There has been lots of noise and increasing demands placed on schools and teachers, yet with very little real insight into the implications of policy. Furthermore, claims made by successive governments are too often based on a selective reading of data. They ignore the complexity of education and identify simple—and frequently overly reductive—measurements to try and determine the impact of policy.

While I don’t personally have a particular passion for international comparisons, the following data visualisation for reading performance in the OECD PISA tests shows negligible change in students’ reading performance in England. There is a similar picture for mathematics and science.

That is not to say that the general level of teachers’ knowledge and skill has not improved over the last 40 years. Education research, theory and practice has developed in that time, comprehensive schools have matured and developed. But this is in spite of policy rather than because of it. I would go as far as to say that marketisation has hindered the progress that teachers, themselves, have tried to make through this time.

A new economics for a post-Keynesian age

It is important to recognise that the Labour Party’s education policy, like its other public sector policies, is based on a different kind of economic approach. All governments in the UK since the latter half of the 1970s have adopted a similar economic approach. An approach that prioritises and privileges the freemarket. The privatisation and marketisation of education is a consequence of this economic thinking. The electorate are encouraged to accept freemarket policy in education because it will supposedly give them more choice. Furthermore, choice and competition will motivate schools and teachers to deliver higher standards. However, there is little evidence to support this conclusion.

Privatisation and marketisation in state education is justified with claims of increased efficiency, higher standards and the advantages of parental choice. These disguise the economic thinking and political choices that drives policy in this direction. The real reason is a response to the problems faced by capitalism more generally. Capitalism is a system of political economy which involves using resources, money and labour to return profits. For 200 years it has been the dominant political economy in the UK.

In the 1960s, capitalism was undergoing one of its periodic crises. Capitalists were finding it increasingly difficult to sustain profit levels. Over the next decade governments used economic policy to make it possible for capitalists to preserve their profits. A key part of which involves reducing the role of the state and the control of state spending. Subsequently, all governments have been preoccupied with reducing public sector deficits. In other words, reducing the amount of public spending and reducing the size of the state. Additionally, and increasingly, governments have privatised and outsourced public services. The argument has been, of course, for efficiency and choice. When in fact the aim has been to preserve profits in the private sector.

A smaller state provides opportunities for private-sector providers to move into providing public-sector services. We have observed this trajectory in the UK, in health, education and even with prisons. While some private providers claim to be not-for-profit organisations, for all intents and purposes, they are capitalist organisations. And necessarily they must accumulate capital. This may not be through generating surpluses or profits, as we might imagine. But it is also achieved through the expansion of their organisation.

In 1988, with the introduction of the Education Reform Act, the process of the privatisation of education was enacted in legislation. City Technology Colleges under Conservative governments in the late 1980s and 1990s were the initiates of privatisation. The New Labour government refined this idea and introduced their Academies programme. The process was further accelerated under the Coalition government where Multi-Academy Trusts were established as private limited companies and billions of pounds of a publicly owned assets were transferred to the private sector. The history of this has been one of cross-party consensus in the privatisation of education by stealth.

This is what is referred to as neoliberalism. It goes under many names: liberal economics, deficit reduction, living within our means and austerity. All these mean the same thing, the preservation of the profitability of capitalism. While I do not intend to go into it in detail here, the reduction in public sector spending leads to increasing levels of private sector debt. In addition, the power of individuals to organise at work and protect pay and conditions is undermined by limiting the powers of Trades Unions. Neoliberalism leads to growing inequalities in society, the rich get richer the poor get poorer and in turn this leads to social unrest . It gives an opportunity for the far right to promote simple divisive answers, attractive to those that have not benefited from neoliberalism.

The following illustrates the trend in wealth inequality in the UK. Notice the upward trend after long period of decreasing inequality in the first part of the twentieth century.

Wealth inequality in the UK


The following shows the growth in wealth inequality (The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 for perfect equality to 1 where one person has the majority of income). Note how this rises in the mid 1970s to the 1990s where it has remained constant subsequently.

The following shows UK inequality compared with other nations based on the Gini coefficient.

This video illustrates the extent of inequality in the UK.

Teachers and schools must cope with the challenges of high-stakes inspection and accountability. Furthermore, they must respond to the social problems created by neoliberalism. The managerial and hierarchical system combined with accountability results in a bureaucratic system. The bureaucracy places further demand on teachers since it undermines their capacity and power to use their judgement in their job. While efficiently run schools are often characterised by systems, rules and procedures, these often become a dominating rather than supporting structure. This limits teacher agency within this environment.

We are in a period of economic change. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008, was the clearest of indicators of the failure of neoliberal economics. Mounting private debt and an unregulated financial sector in the USA led to a truly global financial collapse. Governments, in leading nations worldwide, have subsequently failed to heed the warnings and reform their economies. Instead they have continued with neoliberalism and austerity.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. Governments, like the UK government, can increase public spending with economic justification and keep education within the public sector. The preoccupation with deficit reduction is disingenuous. It is a matter of simple accounting, that as part of the normal operating condition of an economy, where the government has its own sovereign currency, the country will run a public-sector deficit. This ensures that the private sector, that is, people, households and businesses, can hold a surplus. In other words, they can save for a rainy day. The government with its power to create currency does not have to save in the same way, because it has the power to spend when needed.

John Maynard Keynes recognised that when the economy has excess capacity, it is a necessary for the government to inflate the economy through public spending. Currently we have excess demand for health, social care, education and training. By increasing spending, we can fulfil more of this demand, and improve the quality of our education system. This is a necessary and valuable investment in our education system.

Increasing public spending, making taxation progressive (fairer), regulating the financial sector and controlling the movement of capital will reduce the level of wealth and income inequality in the UK.

While the Labour Party has not published its General Election manifesto yet, this has been the essence of the economic policy put forward by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell since they assumed the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015. It is for this reason, they have been vilified by mainstream media and establishment. This proposal for wealth redistribution is an attack on the 1 per cent, the same people who have controlling interest in the media and in establishment institutions. It is little wonder that Corbyn has been subject to ferocious attacks in the media.

Labour’s education manifesto: the National Education Service

There have been several policy announcements. The most important, and the most overarching policy proposal is the National Education Service. This is analogous to the National Health Service, a cradle-to-grave national service which provides education for all and free at the point of use. This provision is from early years right through to higher education. This provides a complete and complementary collaborative service for the provision of education.
It will not be a fragmented system of providers competing for resources or competing to educate pupils and students who require least investment. The National Education Service restores collaboration. It would put knowledge, skills and experience at the heart of its mission. This is because, under a different economic model, organisations would not be preoccupied with narrowly defined outcomes as they are in the current neoliberal system.

There would be less emphasis on bureaucracy, hierarchy and managerialism. The focus of organisational leadership would be on collectives, comprising stakeholders, practitioners and experts. All with diverse views and experience, but with a commitment to developing education through participation and democratic approaches. Leadership becomes important in a different way. No longer will it be presidential or in the style of a chief executive officer. It will be a role in which the leader must convene and ensure effective participation, deliberation and decision making.

The current neoliberal system tends toward bureaucratic processes, which undermine the power of practitioners to use their judgement. The reality teachers’ day-to-day practice involves moral judgement much more than it does logical or scientific reasoning. Practitioners, teachers and education workers need to be empowered to use their judgement. They also need opportunities to develop and test their judgement, they need sophisticated understanding of their professional learning and development. They also need to contribute to the overall philosophy, rationale and principle of the National Education Service.

To support a National Education Service requires first-class research and development. Currently there are calls to make educational research a science. It isn’t a science. But it can draw on scientific principles. But central to the development of educational policy and practice is the relationship between theory and practice. This means that human judgement must intervene in logically derived conclusions. That is not to say that scientific research is not an important part of educational research. Although, it is a mistake to believe that by simply undertaking a randomised-control trial education research becomes scientific. Merely following scientific procedures does not mean that we have been scientific. The process of educational research has much in common with science in that we scrutinise our knowledge of the world, elaborate on existing theory and attempt to make predictions. The key difference with educational research is that it is in the field of complex human relationships, cultures and practice. It is necessary to recognise that a refutation or a new theory does not by itself change behaviour. Advanced educational research acknowledges the humanity of thinking and behaviour.

One of Jeremy Corbyn’s aspirations is to transfer more power to the people. The participatory nature of the National Education Service allows for greater democratic participation of practitioners and stakeholders. It would also see the restoration of the Local Education Authority. This would also restore education to the ownership of local communities, with local democratic accountability.

Jeremy Corbyn speech to the NAHT can be found at the following:

Further details about education policy have been announced. The Labour Party will reverse the £3 billion worth of cuts that the Tory government have planned for schools. They will also abolish tuition fees for undergraduates. They have announced £160 million worth of funding for arts education. There will be universal free school meals for primary children and the introduction of VAT on independent school fees. They will reintroduce Educational Maintenance Allowance for young people still in education. I also expect to hear further support for Further Education, adult learning and part time courses such as those with the Open University. Similarly, I expect proposals for the funding of higher degrees and research degrees at masters and PhD level. I would also expect to see the recent Higher Education and Research Bill, which legislates further marketisation and privatisation of higher education, to be repealed by a Labour government.

Jeremy Corbyn speech to the NAHT can be found at the following:

While the Labour Party’s proposals are still taking shape, an understanding of the underlying economic vision that is driving policy proposals, means it is possible to give a sense of what a future education system could be like. It would be an inclusive system for the many and not the few. It would promote social mobility, and help young people in becoming educated and informed participants in democracy.

Though there will be cynics who will say this is not possible, who will say that it cannot be done and who do not trust the inherent good nature of humanity. It is this cynicism and apathy that is the barrier to an ambitious future of something fairer and better.

For the first time in my life, we are closer than ever to something truly transformative. And it is through working together, and a belief in something better, that this vision can be realised. It is not dependent on a single leader to deliver it, like in the past, but it is dependent on a political leader to facilitate and empower the many to turn a collective vision into reality. As Corbyn recently described his own leadership style:

For many years, I couldn’t see much beyond how so many political leaders manipulated us while giving in again and again to vested interests. I didn’t want to be like that. And it wasn’t clear to me there could be another way. But I’ve learned there is. Whereas insecure leaders want to feel stronger by asking you to give them more power. I recognise strong leadership as equipping you with more power…Because there’s no doubt that these are anxious times. Individually, more of us face uncertainty at work. Nationally, we wonder how we will make the transition out of the EU in a way that protects jobs and living standards. And globally, we wonder how safe we are as extreme right wing movements and violent conflicts spread. I hope you can see now that there is more than one way to respond. We could seek a fragile calm. And hope someone in power knows what they’re doing and will guide us through. That means looking to whoever’s in charge and welcoming their reassurance. We don’t look further, we don’t ask questions. It’s the response the few have bet on the many settling for. I’m in this job because I believe there is a better way to respond. It’s about rejecting fake reassurances or simple slogans from government. It’s about sharing ideas and deciding upon real and lasting answers. We are not going to have free thinking shut down by a hostile media or an elite that scoffs at anyone who dares to step out line. No, each of us has a contribution to make. We have ideas for a better tomorrow and we are going to respond together. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the UK Labour Party, April 2017

Let us not miss this opportunity.