In My View… By Pete Nash of South East Cornwall Labour Party
I am a father and grandfather and in common with most people I care deeply for my family. Our children and their future well-being is what matters most to all parents and carers.
It is every parents’ hope that their children have a better and more fulfilling life than their own and that their children grow up to be content, happy, caring individuals who realise their full potential and play their part in a just and compassionate society.
Those old enough to remember Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister may recall her infamous quote that, “there is no such thing as society, only individuals”. This kind of thinking runs through the veins of the Tory party and has led to some of the gross inequalities that we find today; with there now being over half a million families dependent on foodbanks, in-work parents still dependent on benefits and real terms wages lower than at any time since the previous century. More than 300,000 people are homeless (many of them young people), mental illness is increasing as each day goes by, whilst our NHS struggles to meet demand. Knife crime amongst our young and often most vulnerable people has reached epidemic proportions in some towns and cities. This is not the future I wish for my children and I’m confident most parents wish for something better for their children too.
Unlike Thatcher, the Labour Party does believe in society and we recognise that all people matter and investment in them and the institutions that support them is critical, if we are to create a more equal, just and caring society. When the 1945 Labour government established the NHS, it created one of the central institutions of fairness of the 20th century. In power it has plans to create a National Education Service founded upon the same principles as our cherished NHS – cradle to grave and free. Like our NHS, schools have been starved of funding and the ideology of the free market has led to the fragmentation of local control and accountability and the growth of Academy chains. Having worked in the school sector for 37 years I have seen the introduction of many so called initiatives – base line assessment for five-year-olds, SATs for 7 and 11 year olds, continuous assessment and numerous changes to GCSEs and A Levels – in fact our children are tested beyond compare to past generations and other advanced countries. Meanwhile, teachers are working harder with fewer resources and similarly face the continuous pressure of excessive accountability measures, both within school and externally through school league tables and OfSTED. Is there any wonder that there is a recruitment crisis – many newly recruited teachers leave the profession within five years. State schools under this and previous Tory governments have become highly pressured institutions where support for children has diminished. There are less educational psychologist and mental health support professionals even though the need has grown exponentially. Crisis is only averted by the dedication of those teachers and support staff who give of themselves tirelessly and unselfishly.
This all sounds rather grim but it needn’t be like this. Our children deserve better. Labour is committed to give all children the best start in life and reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five-, six-, and seven- year-olds, and seek to extend that as resources allow. To aid attainment, they will introduce free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees. They will abandon plans to reintroduce baseline assessments and launch a commission to look into curriculum and assessment, starting by reviewing Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs. The world’s most successful education systems use more continuous assessment, which avoids “teaching for the test”. They will extend schools-based counselling to all schools to improve children’s mental health.
And it doesn’t end there, the average student now graduates from university, and starts their working life, with debts of £44,000. Labour will reintroduce maintenance grants for university students, and abolish university tuition fees. University tuition is free in many northern European countries, and under a Labour government, it will be free here too.
As a society we need to give our young people hope, we need to show them we care and that they matter and more importantly that they have a future that is even better than the one our parents gave us. In so doing, it is hoped that they too will seek to do the same for their own children. Labour believe that investing in people will lead to a fairer more just society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
First published in The Cornish Times, 05/04/19