Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The next Labour government should bring back the BSF programme

If I were ever asked to suggest a strap line for the Department for Education (DfE) it would be:

Ambition drives success.

When launched in February 2004, Building school for the future (BSF) was the largest and most ambitious scheme of its kind anywhere in the world. Its aim was to transform education for the 93% of England’s children educated in the state sector. Thanks to the then Tory Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove (abetted by his Lib Dem allies) this opportunity, this ‘once in a generation’ opportunity was cancelled. So what should Labour do when it comes to office in May 2015?

Education goes to the heart of what the Labour party stands for, everything we must do to make a Britain a fairer and more equal society. Our record when last in power was one we can be rightly proud of. However the truth still remains that our education system has always been excellent for a minority. The cancellation of BSF was a denial of 5 star teaching facilities for millions of our young people and served to further entrench a three-tier system of the past: excellence for a minority, mediocrity for the majority, outright failure at the bottom.

Labour must therefore make the case that it is no longer enough to simply talk about providing educational opportunities for all; educational achievement must be extended too. Creating an education system that extends opportunity and achievement for all whilst at the same time promoting equity and excellence, this must be Labour’s programme for government in the future. This isn't just a distant aspiration. The unambiguous evidence from our best all-ability schools today is that where aspirations are high and the parental support strong, then the great majority of young people can and do achieve in terms of good GCSEs at 16 and progression to further qualifications beyond, whether vocational or academic. In a successful school, achievement isn't a matter of IQ or social class: it is a matter of teaching, aspiration and hard work, underpinned by a school culture which nurtures all three.

The new Labour Education team must make the case for radical and progressive change. We can continue in the way the education system has for generations: tolerating the failure of some children because of the achievement of a few; accepting mediocrity for the many as the price of advantage for an elite; even going back to selecting children for failure at 5, 11 or 16. Or we can become a country which believes in every child and expects excellence for all; where the talent of every citizen is nurtured and encouraged, from the earliest years onwards; where no child's education is written off because of who they are or where they're from.

Labour was founded on educational opportunity and achievement for all and its commitment to rebuilding or refurbishing our nation’s schools under BSF was ambitious and inspired. An incoming Labour government should bring back the BSF programme, though this time it should be less bureaucratic and more focused on improving pedagogy. Our opponents will say that it cannot be afforded but the truth is that as a nation we simply can’t afford not to.

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