From education to employment

Labour leader Keir Starmer will today pledge to shatter the ‘class ceiling’ in Britain

Labour leader Keir Starmer will today pledge to shatter the ‘class ceiling’ in Britain

Labour leader Keir Starmer will today pledge to shatter the ‘class ceiling’ in Britain and undertake radical reform of the education system to prepare young people for work and life 

In a speech in Gillingham, launching his fifth and final mission for a better Britain, Starmer will say that: “the race is on for the jobs and industries of the future” and Britain must“grow the talents of every child” to succeed. 

He will explain why the ‘class ceiling’ is stifling opportunity for too many young people across the country.

“There’s also something more pernicious. A pervasive idea, a barrier in our collective minds, that narrows our ambitions for working-class children and says, sometimes with subtlety, sometimes to your face-this isn’t for you. Some people call it the “class ceiling” – and that’s a good name for it.It’s about economic insecurity, structural and racial injustice – of course it is. But it’s also about a fundamental lack of respect. A snobbery that too often extends into adulthood. Raising its ugly head when it comes to inequalities at work – in pay, promotions, opportunities to progress”.

Starmer will draw on his working-class background, the first in his family to go to university, to say why this mission is so personal to him.

“This mission is my core purpose and my personal cause. To fight– at every stage, for every child – the pernicious idea that background equals destiny. That your circumstances, who you are, where you come from, who you know, might shape your life more than your talent, effort and enterprise. No – breaking that link: that what Labour is for. I’ve always felt that. It runs deep for me.”

He will say that fulfilling his five missions depends upon harnessing the talents of everyone, with a world class education and skills strategy, in all parts of the country.

The speech will set out a plan and bold reforming agenda to expand opportunity:

  • Planning reform–to build more houses so that 1.5 million people can become homeowners
  • Early years reform–to boost child development with an ambitious target of half a million more children hitting their early learning targets by 2030
  • School reform – modernising the curriculum so that it properly prepares young people with the knowledge, skills and personal qualities needed to thrive in work and life.
  • Strengthen the teaching profession– so that we end the recruitment and retention crisis that is doing so much damage to standards in schools and ensure every child has an excellent specialist teacher in their classroom. 
  • Skills reform –creating more opportunities for young people to learn vocational skills and adults to retrain in the skills businesses need

Labour’s opportunity plan will put at its heart the ambitious goal of changing Britain so children’s future earnings are no longer limited by those of their parents, making us one of the fairest countries in the OECD. This is something no government has systematically attempted to do before.

Starmer will say that including everyone in the new economy is vital if Britain is to succeed in a rapidly changing world:

“It’s urgent. This is the world of artificial intelligence, of genomics, of technologies that stretch the boundaries of our imagination.

“We’ve got to open our minds to meet that. Turn our eyes toward our children’s future. Make sure – we are preparing them for life and work in their Britain. The industries of tomorrow can come to our shores. But the rest of the world is pushing forward as well. The race for the future is unforgiving. So, we’ve got to move fast.

“We must unlock the potential that is in every community. Grow the talents of every child.”

Starmer will say that one of the most important ways of shattering the class ceiling is ending once and for all the academic/vocational divide that still does great damage to the lives of too many young people.

He will say:

“I’m serious – the sheep and goats mentality that’s always been there in English education. The “academic for my kids; vocational for your kids” snobbery. This has no place in modern society. No connection to the jobs of the future.

“No – for our children to succeed, they need a grounding in both. Need skills and knowledge. Practical problem-solving and academic rigour. Curiosity and a love of learning too – they’ve always been critical. But now – as the future rushes towards us. We also need a greater emphasis on creativity, on resilience, on emotional intelligence and the ability to adapt. On all the attributes – to put it starkly – that make us human, that distinguish us from learning machines.”

Sector Response

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said:

“Class prejudice is a cloud that hangs low over the way politics is done, and we certainly see this in the education system – so we strongly welcome the Labour Party commitment to addressing it. Despite educating and training nearly two million people a year, boosting economies and bolstering communities, colleges are still often seen as being “for other people’s kids”. That’s’ why they have been neglected for so long and why significant investment is needed over the next decade to unleash the power of colleges to address the economic and social challenges our country faces.  

I’m delighted to see Labour’s bold ambition to get 80% of young people educated to A-level or technical equivalent as well as the recognition of the need for a cohesive post-16 education system, with colleges and universities both playing to their strengths.

Whoever wins the keys to Number 10 faces many challenges, with the economy struggling, the cost-of-living biting and ever-widening skills gaps holding back growth. Colleges can do so much more to address those challenges, and to take hold of the opportunities ahead. Labour’s proposals rightly include removing unnecessary complexity and burdensome regulation from the education system, with decisions made based on local, regional, and national skills need.

There is lots to welcome in today’s announcement, and we will continue to work with Labour and politicians of all stripes to make sure that detailed implementation plans are developed. We cannot keep things as they are, changes are needed if those big challenges are to be addressed. There is no route to economic recovery which does not include a revolution in skills and education and training delivery. We need to stop letting snobbery and classism be a barrier to this, and we look forward to supporting these important commitments.”

Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: 

Labour is right to focus on education as a class leveller.

“Improving opportunities and outcomes for children and young people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds is fundamental for a fairer society, one in which all people are able to achieve their potential.

“The proposed focus on supporting recruitment and retention is also welcome. We know that great teaching is the most powerful lever we have for improving outcomes. Attracting skilled professionals to, and keeping them in, classrooms with children who need their expertise most should be a central focus for any government. 

“It’s also encouraging to see a commitment to strengthening early years provision, which we know has the potential to profoundly impact children’s life chances by addressing gaps before they grow.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“A child’s background should never determine their opportunities in life, but inequalities have been exacerbated over the last decade by funding cuts to schools and other public services, the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis. It is therefore positive to see that Labour will put tackling inequality at the heart of their education policy.

“There is no doubt that schools can play a vital role in helping children to thrive no matter what their background, but they need the appropriate resources to do so. Fixing the current recruitment and retention crisis has to be an urgent priority and it is essential that the next government makes teaching and school leadership an attractive proposition once again and gets to grips with the factors driving so many out of the profession.

“However, inequalities are deeply entrenched in society, and if these ambitions are to be fulfilled, significant additional investment will be needed not only in education, which has been neglected for too long, but also in community support for families including everything from mental health services to social care. It is right to have high ambitions, but schools must have the resources they need if they are to play their part in delivering on them.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“There has long been a clear link between poverty and educational attainment that is evident from an early age and continues throughout a child’s life and into adulthood. It’s simply not right that family background plays such a huge role in dictating the opportunities available to young people. A coherent government strategy and significant investment is required to solve this problem, but this has been sorely lacking.

“It’s also important to regularly review what and how pupils are taught and in particular consider how a balance of academic and vocational subjects might best equip young people with the skills that employers are looking for. The current examination system, based primarily on memorising large amounts of information, looks increasingly antiquated.

“Education has been on the fringes of policy-making for too long and it is encouraging that Labour appears to recognise how central it should be. We look forward to examining their plans in more detail. One thing is for sure, unless the issues of pay erosion, inadequate funding and unmanageable workloads are addressed then there are not going to be enough teachers and leaders working in schools and colleges to enact the positive changes we all want to see.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said; 

“This announcement sketches a broad and ambitious programme of reform. If implemented boldly and funded well, it will repair much of the damage of the last thirteen years.  

‘Teachers will be relieved that Labour recognises the multiple reasons for the teacher recruitment and retention problems. Labour is right to point to the failure of the current Government to engage in serious talks about recruitment, retention and the restoration of teachers’ pay. Labour should commit to a collective bargaining mechanism that can determine pay and conditions for all state funded teachers. Addressing the current exodus from the profession will require a sustained, real-terms fully funded correction in teachers’ pay and effective action to reduce sky-high workload.

‘The NEU warmly welcomes the promised review of curriculum and assessment. The current assessment system narrows the curriculum and places excessive pressure on staff and pupils alike. Its problems cannot be dealt with by minor tinkering so this proposed review will be important. It is heartening that Labour will look at large-scale change. Progress 8, which Labour proposes to use for an indefinite period as an accountability metric, is a major contributor to the curriculum narrowing that Labour recognise as a problem. It must be broadened in the first instance and abolished as soon as possible after that.  

‘The NEU shares with Labour a belief that without addressing poverty and disadvantage education reform will not succeed. Following the examples of the Labour government in Wales and of Sadiq Khan, Labour Mayor of London, the Party should make a commitment to universal free school meals for all primary school children, as part of a poverty reduction programme. 

‘We welcome the stress on the importance of early years education and note Labour’s recent recognition of the importance of Maintained Nursery Schools, scandalously neglected by the current government.Reviewing the curriculum and its assessment are one important element of responding to the SEND crisis, as the current accountability and ‘exam factory’ pressures are incompatible with inclusion and good outcomes for all students.  

‘The NEU welcomes the confirmation that Ofsted will be moved away from the use of single grades. School staff will be looking to further and more substantial change, that emphasises support for schools instead of punitive accountability. Regional Improvement Teams could be effective if they are based on genuine collaboration between schools and advisers.  

‘Schools have lived for many years through a deluge of policies that have been illogical, draconian and ill-informed. There is potential that Labour’s policy announcement marks the beginning of a new period, in which the multiple problems of the education system are addressed seriously, collaboratively and with a full understanding that significant change requires significant investment.’

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Today Keir Starmer was given an opportunity to show support for university staff engaged in industrial action but instead chose to undermine them. UCU members are fighting for a sector that properly values staff, and we are proud to have the overwhelming support of students. The leader of the Labour Party should be backing staff, not bosses. He needs to recognise that the status quo in UK higher education is damaging and call on employer body UCEA to settle the dispute, not condemn staff fighting for the future of higher education.

‘University staff have been forced to take this action because successive governments have failed to properly fund higher education. His Mission Opportunity needs to have staff and students centre of it. That can’t happen while the system is broken. If Starmer is serious about supporting students, he needs to stop lecturing the staff that work so hard on their behalf, pledge to reform the funding model of higher education immediately recommit to abolishing the toxic tuition fee system, which condemns millions to a lifetime of debt.’ 

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