This government’s commitment to an evidence-free, ideological approach to education was best summed up by the appointment of the completely unqualified Toby Young to a senior position overseeing higher education this week. The reaction of one Conservative MP however was particularly revealing about this approach, using it to make a bizarre attack on education in Lambeth while at the same time defending free schools (which have done little to improve education here at huge cost to the taxpayer).
The claim that Lambeth was a place where “more kids ended up in prison than university” is a lazy and inaccurate caricature of the past (as several people in the borough have already pointed out) but it particularly bears no relation to the reality of education in Lambeth today and what has driven success here.
Just last month we proudly announced that yet again Lambeth primary pupils have beaten the national averages for their SATs tests. That our eleven year olds do so well is a testimony to their hard work and dedication – but their success is also supported by fantastic schools and teachers. Lambeth is now proudly one of the best performing areas in the UK for education.
Overall, 83 per cent of Lambeth’s 11-year-olds achieved at least the expected standard in writing in 2017 in comparison to the national average of 76 per cent.
Lambeth schools are judged very well by Ofsted with 96% of them being judged ‘Good’ or better by Ofsted and 41% of them being judged ‘Outstanding’ - a figure that puts them in the top 10% in the country.
This hasn’t happened by accident. It was delivered by the hard work of parents, teachers and pupils, by the work of our Labour council with our schools and by the huge investment that the last Labour government delivered in staff, facilities and funding for our pupils. It is that proven success that Marie Caulfield MP and her government in Westminster seek to undermine with cuts to school funding and ideological obsessions with school structures instead of looking at the evidence of the transformation of education in London and Lambeth in particular.
In Lambeth we see our schools as one ecosystem, where we want everyone to thrive and succeed. We don’t believe in selective education, we want every pupil to have access to a great school and we discourage decisions which compromise the health of the whole education system. We have relatively few academies, and where we do have them we still welcome them into the Lambeth schools family and expect them to act as an active participant.
We work closely to foster a strong working relationship across our schools – getting them to work together as a family rather than competing. This is why we discourage unnecessary bulge classes which can have a negative effect on the finances of neighboring schools. And why we ask schools to look into pupil swaps before they consider expulsions.
But this is undermined by a government that actively seeks to reward schools only for looking out for themselves and their own results. This approach undermines that unity and work across the local area, at a time when we should be focused on driving up outcomes for all pupils and ensuring we look at important indicators like low exclusion rates, not just results for one school alone.
The Tories want to create a competitive environment where schools fight for pupils, and the losers will be pupils who have special educational needs, English as an Additional Language or struggle for a myriad of reasons – including poverty. We know poorer children are least likely to get into selective schools, including academies and free schools, and that’s why we believe in a fully comprehensive system that delivers the challenging curriculum and varied experiences that our pupils benefit from now.
Lambeth’s journey to be one of the best performing areas for education shouldn’t be take for granted. Under the Tories and Lib Dems, hundreds of children couldn’t get a school place in the borough. It was our decision as a Labour administration to invest in school expansion to make sure there are places for all our young people that turned that around. We work with our schools through the Lambeth Schools Partnership and are clear about what Lambeth needs as an area and have a strong evidence base which we can take to schools to support our arguments over issues such as expansion and so we can try and influence government decisions on free schools.
Sadly, we have a government that continues to slash local authority and direct schools funding, cutting the funding that our children deserve. Lambeth’s Tories have shamefully supported those cuts, and even attacked local parents for daring to oppose them.
That’s why in May, local people will have a clear choice – between a Labour council that is delivering record results and fights for the best education for our children. And a Tory party obsessed with ideology and cuts instead of putting them first.
Cllr Jane Edbrooke, Cabinet Member for Schools