Thursday, 3 May 2018

Local Education

With local council elections on the horizon, major party groups in Camden have released their manifestos for the next four years. As the local education policies put forward with have a noticeable effect on Camden pupils, we thought we would look at what the main parties in the area are pledging.

Under the heading "Camden Labour's record" in their manifesto they state: "We have invested £86 million into 48 schools and children's centres so our young people have state-of-the-art buildings to learn in. We set up Camden Learning to protect what makes Camden education special - local authority comprehensive schools, connected to our communities."

Where exactly this £86m has come from or gone is unbeknownst to us; the Council's budget sheet only tells us that the council has contributed ~£6.9m towards the borough's schools, out of a budget of ~£198m this year. Perhaps they are referring to the new building in Hampstead they were mandated and paid for by the government, although "state-of-the-art buildings" are only as good as their second-hand contents. Or perhaps they are referring to the money they get anyway from the government through Pupil Premiums. What they certainly haven't been spending is local parent's council taxes on making their kids' lives easier; the C11 bus route that ferries children to and from Hampstead has been cut in service with nothing being done by the council.

Despite claiming that local comprehensives are "what makes Camden education special", a comprehensive school hasn't been set up in Camden in quite a while, despite the apparent need for one "south of Euston road". In fact, whilst Labour have been in office, the only new secondary has been UCL Academy, an - you guessed it - academy. And as for schools like Hampstead being "connected to our communities", we would first need our Head to be at least connected to reality.

Labour's pledges for the next term seem to be pretty much to keep up what they are doing, rather than anything new, which may disappoint many young voters who would like some Corbyn-esque policies coming to the local area. By contrast, the Conservative manifesto pledges that they will "raise school standards by encouraging leadership by Camden School for Girls and UCL Academy and help top-performing pupils apply to Russell Group universities", will "ensure computing and coding are taught in all schools throughout Camden and "will increase employability by encouraging apprenticeships, organising more work fairs, and encouraging continuing professional development in the borough." Quite why CSG and UCLA are the local standard bearers for the Tories, especially since neither are run by the council and lowly comps are capable of sending students off to top unis, albeit fewer in number, is beyond us. Equally, whilst "encouraging apprenticeships" is all well and good, finding more for students to apply for it is better.

The Tories also pledge that they "will review how our schools serve our worst-off, including raising the take-up of free school meals and improving cooperation between independent and state schools." Obviously, pooling resources between local schools of any kind can be force for good, however it is a short and slippery slope to private schools giving handouts for comprehensives.

The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, have pledged to "Provide better advice and information to 16-25 years olds who do not wish to go to university about training and employment opportunities, including apprenticeships", "Provide free sanitary towels in schools so that girls can continue their education uninterrupted and with dignity, to end ‘period poverty’" and "Work with voluntary organisations and businesses across the borough to develop a coherent offer for young people, which promotes well-being, motivation, skills development, exercise and opportunities", whatever that actually means. They have also said they would push TfL to reverse cuts to the C11 service, work with Brent Council to improve Kilburn High Road, provide better support for the mental health of pupils and extend youth services. One policy that is interesting is that they pledge to "Work with schools to develop inclusive, non-proscriptive, gender neutral school uniform policies", which is something which has posed a problem at Hampstead in the past (see School Denies Boys 'Cultural Dress'). Actually getting Jacques Szhakeshakeshakeyourbootykowski to budge one inch in the direction of liberality on the uniform policy at Hampstead would be a messianic act, and one that we doubt we will live to see.

However, given central government is constantly squeezing local budgets, especially funds for education, how it is exactly that they will pay for all these policies remains to be seen. Whilst there may be room for cuts to local government white elephants, some of these policies may be more aspirational than achievable.

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