When in Government, they let down a generation. As Michael Gove said in 2013, the Labour years saw a disastrous decline in Britain’s international competitiveness in education – we fell to 25th in the world for reading and 28th in the world for maths.
They allowed and even encouraged grade inflation to make themselves look good, rather than ensuring exacting exam standards. As Paul wrote yesterday, under Labour’s system “the number of pupils gaining at least two A*s at GCSE increased by 50 per cent between 2001 and 2012″. This wasn’t done to help pupils, it was done to help politicians regardless of pupils’ best interests – a gross betrayal of their responsibility to give millions the best possible start in life.
In Opposition, they publicised scare stories to deter less well-off teenagers from going to university. The reality of the tuition fees system is that you don’t start paying anything back at all until you earn over £21,000, and even then the payments are only levied on earnings above that threshold. Labour simply told the nation’s young people that they would be saddled with crippling debt to repay, as though the bailiffs would start kicking in their door as soon as they got home from graduation, and that the poor could never afford it, even though a student’s income or family income was irrelevant to accessing higher education. Happily, they were ignored and kids with low-income backgrounds are now more likely than ever before to apply to university. But again, Labour demonstrated they were willing to place their own political interests ahead of the life chances of young people.
They fought Free Schools and Gove’s other reforms every step of the way. The very idea of allowing teachers, charities or – imagine it – parents to set up schools outside local authority control has horrified Labour’s NUT-allied establishment. The concept that providing more choice for parents in where to send their children might be desirable, or that good performance by one school might apply beneficial competitive pressure to others in the area, seems to be anathema to them. They also opposed other reforms, including making exams more rigorous and making it easier to sack bad teachers who fail to improve.
And if elected, they will close the Free Schools programme. All that hard work, all that promise and all those new opportunities will be undone, purely for the sake of dogma. Those teachers and others who stuck their necks out when the Government asked them to be ambitious and try something new will be placed back under the control of the local authorities which disapproved of their attempts to break free. The message to imaginative people in the public sector will be clear: dare to innovate under any other party, and you will be punished when we get back in. “One size fits all” and “You’ll get what you’re given” are the only Gods of the Copybook Headings to which Labour pay any heed.