I just saw the Labour Party Election broadcast, which is intended as being for the local elections next month (4th May), although it makes a nod to the general election on 8th June. It features a teacher telling a class of early primary-age children that, because of government cuts, her school can no longer afford a library or school visits and is likely to have to lay off teachers because it can no longer pay them. She then tells them that the Labour party will guarantee smaller class sizes, free school meals for all primary-age children; the camera then zooms in on her face, and she tells us that Labour will fund childcare and early learning, “progressively restore free education for all and guarantee quality apprenticeships and adult skills training”. Somehow I don’t think this video is going to inspire a lot of confidence in Labour’s ability to rebuild and manage the country’s education system.
To start with, there are some glaring factual errors. It’s not teachers who are (at least, in large numbers) being laid off because of lack of funds; it’s teaching assistants. It’s not school libraries that have closed, for the most part, but public ones. Both are important but a primary school library is nowhere near as resource-intensive to run as a public library which takes a whole building, an IT system, staff, heating and so on. When I was in primary school, it consisted of a partitioned-off area in the main hall with about six shelves full of children’s books which could, if the school can no longer buy them, be donated, as quite possibly some of these were. A large part of the reason why teachers have been leaving the profession is the workload, in particular paperwork, which has been increasing year on year since the 1980s under both Tory and Labour governments — there was certainly no let-up in the political interference in education under Tony Blair. This broadcast does not say anything about Corbyn’s Labour party’s policy regarding that blight on British state education.
The ‘teacher’ also tells the children that some subject will not be taught because of teachers leaving for lack of pay. Anyone who’s been in a primary school will know that primary school teachers are generalists. They teach one class of children for everything; it is only in secondary school that pupils have to trek from classroom to classroom for different subjects with different teachers and the claim might well be true there. It might well be true that class sizes will increase, and the curriculum has certainly got narrower due to decades of political obsession with literacy and numeracy as a result of press stories about children reaching secondary school unable to read or add up, but that doesn’t equal “fewer subjects because of less money”, and again, the broadcast doesn’t mention what Labour will do about these things.
On top of this, there’s the spectacle of a teacher delivering a party-political broadcast to a group of young children. I know it’s not real, but it looks like the sort of thing that goes on in fascist and tin-pot dictatorships; classrooms being used to deliver political or state propaganda. It’s a little bit like what the last government did in requiring all ‘education providers’ down to nurseries and childminders to deliver lessons on “British values”, a phrase nobody uses other than poltiicians and newspaper columnists. I don’t most parents of any political persuasion will want schools being used for this purpose; one commentator I follow on Twitter said it resembled “Gulag schools”.
Quite apart from the inappropriateness of the teacher delivering a political speech to her 7-year-old pupils, the whole performance just looks amateurish; it looks like they just couldn’t afford to hire professional animators and/or video editors to do a decent presentation, so they just get a few actors together in one room to make a speech and ask a few scripted questions — one would expect the organisation which boasts the highest membership of any political party in the UK to be able to put out a decent-quality political broadcast. We do not know who the ‘teacher’ is, or at least we’re not told; neither the leader nor any Labour MP or, for example, any teachers’ union leader, puts in any appearance. Policies are mentioned only very briefly, all stuff we’ve heard in the news before, and it treats this as if the local elections were the same as a general election, which they are not, and these issues cannot be addressed, for the most part, through local councils (although one national party-political broadcast for local council elections is perhaps a bad idea, but that is beyond Labour’s control). A very poor show, very amateurish and made by people who know nothing about British state education, perhaps because they do not have even the 11 years’ personal experience of it that most ordinary people have.
PS. For anyone who’s been told it’s too late to stop Brexit, the president of the European Parliament has said it isn’t:
Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case.
“If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”
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