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MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones offers an end of term assessment of the government’s school reforms

Today in the Lords, we will debate the progress of the Coalition’s school reforms. It seems therefore, an excellent opportunity to give Ministers an end of term report. Even more so, given the debate comes a day after the publication of a damning report from the Education Select Committee.

The Committee accuses the government of exaggerating the success of the academy programme and calls for an evidence based assessment, concluding that it is too soon to judge whether academies raise standards overall – or indeed, specifically for disadvantaged children. They also echo our belief that Ministers have been obsessed with reorganisation at the expense of proven policies which deliver improvement. And there has been a failure to deliver value for money, with the National Audit Office losing confidence in the Education Department’s ability to account for expenditure. Indeed, academies are hoarding cash balances of nearly £2.5bn which could have been spent of teaching and learning.

A lack of effective oversight meanwhile, has seen the Department slow to react when things go wrong and an over-reliance on whistle-blowers in the thousands of schools that they insisted in managing from the centre. This is why Labour’s our devolved Directors of School Standards will be so important in bringing a much needed level of support and challenge to schools.

In contrast to the government’s obsession with school reorganisation, we believe in focussing our drive for continuing school improvement on the quality of teaching. There is already a strong culture of innovation, collaboration and best practice development. Our task now is to work with the profession to nurture and harness that energy. And we would underpin that with a requirement that every teacher has Qualified Teaching Status or is working towards it, as well as continuing to update their skills and knowledge.

We will also work with the profession to embrace the exciting opportunities that new technology can deliver in the classroom. Shared teaching resources, interactive debates and best practice blogs are just the beginning. Interactive text books, individualised materials and virtual teaching forums can give children exciting new opportunities to learn.

Of course, we must continue to get the fundamentals right. Literacy and numeracy are crucial to a child’s life chances and parents quite rightly expect a culture of high aspiration and high achievement. But they also expect their child to have an enriching education which does more than focus on the outcome of a narrow range of academic subjects. This is why we would put creativity back at the centre of school life and insist that no school should be classified as being outstanding unless they are delivering a broad and balanced curriculum that includes art, sport and creative subjects.

Our general aim however, will be to free up schools from the relentless political interference in curriculum content and teaching methodology – giving them greater freedom to excel. Labour’s reforms will include an emphasis on collaboration and we will build on the successful model of the London Challenge.

So, after 5 years of Coalition school reforms, the government’s legacy can best be summarised by an obsession with structural reform, an unhealthy meddling in detail, a failure to respect the evidence of what works, an inability to understand teacher professionalism, a lack of effective oversight and poor value for money. In fact, a school report that can best be assessed simply as: ’must do better’.

Baroness Maggie Jones is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 29th January 2015

Must do better!

Maggie Jones offers an end of term assessment of the government’s school reforms

JeremyBeecham.jpgJeremy Beecham on the importance of memories – individual and collective – on Holocaust Memorial Day

70 years ago this week Russian soldiers entered Auschwitz, the killing ground where more than a million men, women and children were slaughtered. Alongside the Jewish victims, who were in the great majority, Roma, Poles and homosexuals also suffered. In total, six million Jews – a million of them children – perished in the worst act of genocide the world has seen.

It might be thought that this monstrous demonstration of the evil that man can inflict on his fellow man would have provoked a deep-seated revulsion, profound enough to ensure that such barbarity would not recur. Yet it has: 21 years ago in Rwanda, 20 years ago in Srebrenica, more recently in Darfur, and today when a perverted version of Islam leads to the killing in the Middle East and Nigeria of those who do not subscribe to what is a travesty of the faith that most Muslims share.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is memory, and there is much to help us remember in my home city. Newcastle’s West End has long been a place to which people have come from afar. My great grandparents fled 120 years ago from persecution in Russia. They now lie in Elswick Cemetery on the boundary of the council ward that I represent. I sometimes wonder how many distant relatives of mine must have been victims of Hitler’s brutal campaign of extermination.

But now the West End is a place where others live who also fled discrimination, oppression, violence, and the threat of death. We have amongst us Roma from Eastern Europe and refugees from Africa and Asia seeking a new life, free from fear. Their presence here reminds us that inhumanity, fear and hatred of the other lives on after, and in spite of the Holocaust.

I have just read a book about the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess and the German Jewish officer serving in the British Army who tracked him down and brought him to justice. Within it, there is a compelling quotation from the American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials:

“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish … have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated”.

But alas, albeit on a smaller scale and by different means, they have been repeated. Moreover they could only have been repeated with the participation of ordinary men, in the phrase which forms the title of a book whose author, Christopher Browning I heard speak last week in London. That book, which I read some years ago, tells the story of a police battalion – ordinary, often middle aged officers, not soldiers or SS – who hunted and shot thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe. What is chilling is that most of them were not fanatical Nazis or men of a violent disposition. Yet they did unspeakable things, despite the fact that no punishment was inflicted on the small minority who declined to join the killing.

That is another memory we have to keep, and from which we must both learn and teach. We all have an individual responsibility to uphold the dignity of our fellow men and women, whatever differences we may perceive about their identity or beliefs. And that memory must be passed on to each succeeding generation, to immunise them, if we can, from both active hatred and passive acquiescence in discrimination or worse.

Lord Jeremy Beecham is a member of Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords. He tweets @JeremyBeecham

Published 27th January 2015

History lessons: then, now and forever

Jeremy Beecham on the importance of memories – individual and collective – on Holocaust Memorial Day

John_Monks_cr.jpgJohn Monks on the campaign to save the People’s History Museum

The Manchester-based People’s History Museum (PHM), of which I am Chair of Trustees, tells the story of the inspiring struggle of working men and women to win the right to vote. A vital, contemporary message in an era of low turnouts and apathy about politics.

The story ranges from John Wilkes and Tom Paine, through the Peterloo massacre, the Great Reform Act, the Chartists, the emergence of trade unions, Gladstone/Disraeli, Labour’s origins, and the founding of the Welfare State. Importantly, the museum also houses the rich archives of our Party; and incorporates the National Museum of Labour History. The Tory archive is at the Bodleian and the LibDems at the LSE.

The PHM however, looks set to lose its support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and will no longer be considered a national museum. It would leave a funding hole of £200,000 each year.

It is not the only museum to have its funding threatened, and many are having a hard time. Yet some have found ways to maintain DCMS funding, allying with one of the great London institutions. For example, the Museum of Science and Industry (also in Manchester) has linked up with the Science Museum Group in Kensington. Some, including the Horniman in South East London, have kept their direct funding.

Despite over 100,000 visitors a year, the PHM does not have obvious national partners. We have tried the British Museum and the British Library, but both have problems of their own. We currently feel like an orphan in the storm of austerity.

To be fair, Ministers have been reflecting on how to help but they have stalled on making a decision. That is feeding a view that there is an anti-Northern bias within the government, along with the more obvious anti-Labour one. Why are we left out in the cold when others, including the aforementioned Tory and LibDem archives at the Bodleian and the LSE, receive national help?

Although the PHM focuses on the fight for the right to vote and trade union history, it is neither sectarian nor tribal. William Hague, Matthew Parris and Charles Kennedy have all opened exhibitions. In our own exciting ‘sponsor a radical hero’ campaign, Margaret Thatcher, controversially perhaps, has been sponsored and will be honoured with others on a wall in the museum.

The right to vote is a precious privilege. As Jack Jones, my predecessor as PHM Chair of Trustees, often said, that right “did not fall off the Christmas tree”. It had to be fought for and people have died for it. Indeed, when you consider the queues at polling stations in new democracies, like those in post-apartheid South Africa or more recently Afghanistan and Iraq, there can be no place for cynicism about democracy.

I hope DCMS Ministers share this view and, in understanding the importance of the People’s History Museum as part of our country’s role in bringing democracy to the world, do the right thing.

Lord John Monks is a Labour Peer and former General Secretary of the TUC

Published 25 January 2015

For more information on the People’s History Museum, visit:

Time for DCMS to do the right thing

John Monks on the campaign to save the People’s History Museum

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