It is the top 20 per cent of kids that make Hackney’s schools truly comprehensive – and successful
Over the summer, Hackney Labour party started our own campaign against grammar schools and other Tory attacks on schools, which we continued into the ‘Education, Not Segregation’ campaign. The response from local parents, unions and residents could not have been clearer: the Tory plans were deeply unwelcome and that we should fight any attempt to impose them on Hackney.
This unity of purpose around defending our successes would not have been credible or possible only a generation ago when Hackney’s schools were among the worst in the country. Hackney’s record of improvement is Labour’s record of improvement, and we should be unapologetically proud of what we achieved between 1997 and 2010 at Westminster, and between 2001 and now in the London borough of Hackney.
In the late nineties, only nine per cent of children in Hackney schools were getting five good GCSEs. Now we are well above the national average, with some schools achieving as much as 90 per cent. Was that journey simple? No. There were debates to be had about local influence, the role and shape of academies and the setting up of an independent not for profit company – the Learning Trust – to run our schools along the way. However, the council, led by my predecessor Jules Pipe, ensured local political leadership remained at the heart of education in Hackney.
This led to record investment, with all secondary schools rebuilt, real investment in teaching and a relentless focus on standards and outcomes, as well as the council building 19 brand new children centres and five new youth centres.
When challenging the Tories on education, Labour must ground our campaigning in what works – looking to and championing our experience in local and national government to take them on, not only with our values, but also our record. As Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted and a former headteacher of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, has said, reintroducing selection at 11 years old would be a ‘profoundly retrograde step’. Wilshaw has made it clear that he could never have achieved what he did at Mossbourne without, as he puts it, that top 20 per cent, who instead of being creamed off into grammar schools, inspire and lift the rest of the school, in a comprehensive setting.
I am proud of what has been achieved over the past 15 years, with Hackney’s schools changing beyond recognition, transforming the opportunities and life chances for children in the borough. Recent results at GCSE and Key Stage One are now amongst the best in the country, and importantly that success extends to our children in care, our special educational needs cohort, and those on free school meals.
However, rather than taking the lessons and experience of Hackney and exporting it to parts of the country that need support to improve, the Tories are set on turning the clock back. At a time when there are chronic skills gaps in the British economy and we need to invest more in skills, both vocational and technical, the reintroduction of grammar schools will do nothing to close those gaps and, if anything, will only widen them.
Instead of meeting these challenges they launch an attack on inclusive schools and continue to cut funding to early years and further education; while in the autumn statement finding £50m for new grammar schools. We face possible changes to the schools funding formula that could see London schools lose up to £1,000 per pupil. Which is why I, with other leaders, have written to the chancellor warning about the impacts of such a cut.
Locally, we know there is still more to do. We need to reduce exclusions, ensure apprenticeships are equally valued, improve careers advice and build more school places. We have the ambition to do all this, but it will all be put at risk if the Tories continue their attack on our schools.
As 2016 draws to a close, we have launched our own conversation with residents about the future of our education. It will ask them what type of schools they want to see, whether they support selection and what role they think the council should have in education.
The council carried out a similar consultation in 2003, and residents responded that they wanted non-selective, non-denominational, mixed-sex comprehensives. This feedback helped to shape the sort of the schools we opened. We think that it is only right that given the challenges we face we have that conversation again.
Labour must have a clear vision that seeks to raise standards for all, not just for the few, opposing the Tories and a policy which will undermine years of hard work by our councils and schools, and let down a generation of children.
Philip Glanville is mayor of Hackney. He tweets at @
Join the Progress rally against grammar schools. 7-8.30pm, 12 December 2016, Committee room 15, House of Commons, SW1A 0AA. Speakers include: Angela Rayner MP, Lucy Powell MP, Peter Kyle MP, Wes Streeting MP, Catherine McKinnell MP, Estelle Morris, Richard Angell, Philip Glanville, Robbie Young, Liz Rees, Rory Palmer, Mark Rusling
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