There’s a familiar theme being peddled by the Conservative government of “putting the next generation first”. However, their recent announcements about funding and academisation show they are doing the opposite, by putting at risk the huge progress made in schools in Lambeth over the last fifteen years: progress based not on forced implementation of a central ideology but on hard work, partnership and an understanding of local communities.
Lambeth has gone from being the worst performing education authority in the country to one that has results well above the national average and is the 10th best in the country for schools that are rated good or better. This has been hard won. It comes from partnerships between schools and the local authority and reflects the remarkable efforts of students, parents, head teachers, school staff and Lambeth’s officers. Anyone who lives in Lambeth will have seen this transformation, founded by a Labour government, over the last two decades.
But as we have discovered in Lambeth, maintaining excellent services for children and young people needs constant work. We are currently putting in huge efforts to turn our children’s social care around and we have learnt the hard way to take nothing for granted. We are only as good as the care we give our children today, and that means planning for tomorrow.
Forced academisation will remove the ability of local authorities to work with schools to ensure continued improvement and will jeopardise pupil place planning (this year, for the fourth year running, every child who applied for one got a place in a Lambeth school). This is in stark contrast to the 500 children who found themselves without an offer of a school place when a Tory-Lib Dem coalition ran Lambeth.
Lambeth children are more likely to speak English as a second language, have special needs, come from deprived backgrounds or be refugees than in other parts of the country. I believe that these are not children for whom our aspirations should be any less, but they need more support to fulfil their potential. We have found a way to give our schools what they need to achieve this.
The Conservative proposals talk of fairness but seek to reduce support for high-needs areas, potentially costing Lambeth 20% in funding. They talk of devolution but impose their vision of what a school should be, stealing from local representatives the power to support schools properly. How can we maintain standards in that context? Schools will inevitably cut the number of teaching posts and find it harder to attract great teachers.
Separately, these government proposals cause serious problems for our schools. Together, they put at jeopardy our children’s education.
That is why we are lobbying government and campaigning to stop these changes. We must explore alternatives. We are writing to our schools to keep them informed. We are asking our MPs to oppose these steps. And we will set up a petition for parents to sign.
A fair society must protect the equality and freedom that a good education brings. Too many of our children start their first day of school already at a disadvantage and we cannot address that without the resources and ability to step in where we are needed. If these proposals are carried through we will be hamstrung in our vital work of making sure that our children’s life chances are not decided at the age of four.
Councillor Imogen Walker, Deputy Leader for Policy