Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Mayor-naise: Your Sauce of Electoral Nourishment

With the mayoral elections tomorrow, and just before the start of the exam season, we thought we would give a rundown of each of the candidates, specifically their views, actions and policy on education. For the sake of sanity, only the main five party candidates have been reviewed.

Back Zac and Crack (Con)

The recent changes to finance options for students means that studying at university in London could be almost impossible for young people who aren’t from a privileged background, however, Zac Goldsmith has defended his government's actions, saying: "The grant is becoming a loan, the loan facility is getting bigger and that’s the change,"

"I’m trying to work out what the Mayor could do to help students of all backgrounds to get the education and training they need. Looking at the tools the mayor has, there are two things: They can make sure we have provision in London for school places that we need. And the second thing is to work out what happens when skills and further education funding is devolved. I don’t think that power should sit finally with the mayor, it should bypass the major and go straight to local authorities." Seemingly, then, since he wants local authorities to have 'power' over educational funding, it would follow that he is against the government's plan to turn all schools into academies, and thus take their funding powers away from local authorities?

Not exactly. As an MP, Zac Goldsmith voted voted to enable the Government to intervene more swiftly in failing and "coasting" schools, a move by the Education Secretary that opened the door to the latest budget's massive reforms, as well as the Academies Bill in 2010, which allows schools to become academies a lot easier and without a strong reason for doing so. Also in parliament, he voted against the principle of prioritising spending money to create new school places where there is greatest need, and for raising tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year (and then two years later voting against reducing tuition fees to £6,000, funded by reversing the corporation tax cut for banks).

Zac Goldsmith has said he is “torn” over whether London school curriculums should include compulsory sex education. He said he wanted comprehensive sex and relationship education for everyone but he supports free schools and their parent-set agendas.

He could not completely endorse mandatory sex education that would teach all children that it’s acceptable to be gay, saying “On the one level, I want the outcome that good quality sex and relationship education provides for all the obvious reasons. But on another level, I’m very strongly supportive of the government’s free schools agenda, which allows parents to set the ethos and the direction of schools. I think it’s the right policy.”

He did say he would, however, draw the line at schools teaching children that being gay would mean they went to hell. "For me that crosses a line," he said. "I mean it's not for me to accept or not, but I find it unacceptable that schools should be racially divisive, or religiously divisive or ethically divisive or sexually divisive. Anything that pits one part of the community against the other for me crosses the line."

In his manifesto, Zac Goldsmith has pledged that "100 primary schools will enjoy 'Pocket Farms' and healthy and sustainable food" (so nothing like the CaterLink dinners) in order to "raise chickens or learn outdoors" (or pigeons, if you enjoy them too), he will "pilot a new programme to support inner-London children to spend more time in the countryside, by twinning urban primary schools with rural farms" and "will ensure that by 2020, all London schools meet the nutritional standards set out in the Government's School Food Plan - and back the expansion of breakfast clubs and holiday clubs".

Bob the Builder - Yes We Khan (Lab)

Seemingly the polar opposite to Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan says he "went to a good local state school, had an affordable university education, [...] Today’s Londoners don’t have the same opportunities we had, and it breaks my heart. But being disappointed about it is not enough. I want to do something about it."

And what is he going to do? In the Economist he called for "far more powers given to the mayor of London and to the boroughs; over skills and further education, over planning of school places and standards in London’s education system." In complete opposition to the recent Conservative moves, Khan said: "I want to devolve power down to local authorities. For example, on skills you have a situation where civil servants are deciding which courses further education colleges should be running. I think local authorities know far better what skills are needed in their area, rather than the mayor."

Reaffirming such plans in his manifesto, he also said that he would "develop a city-wide STEM strategy and establish a London STEM Commission to link schools with science jobs and careers",
"improve careers advice and to promote opportunities for children to get an early start in career skills [...] making sure all such advice and programmes are gender blind, creating equal opportunities for boys and girls" and "establish a construction academy scheme, with the housebuilding industry, to close the gap between our ambitious housing targets and the need for more skilled constriction [sic] workers in London."

In parliament, Sadiq Khan has voted against against scrapping grants for most new higher education students from England from September 2016, against enabling the Government to intervene more swiftly in failing or "coasting" schools, for the protection of the education budget in real terms, from the early years through to 19 years old and for urgent action to boost participation in sport and in favour of support for local grassroots sports clubs and associations.

In his manifesto, he has also stated that "today’s teachers are among the uncelebrated champions of our communities, but their job is getting tougher and tougher."

Sam's Endorsed - Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem)

Despite reportedly being a speaker for the Liberal Democrats on Education, as well as being a councillor in Southwark in charge of education, there is little detail about what Caroline Pidgeon has done in the past.

Pidgeon has been a Trustee of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education since 2005, and one of her mayoral pledges is to improve education programmes to combat gang violence, including by installing youth workers in more hospital A&E departments. According to Construction manager Magazine, like Sadiq Khan, “Caroline Pidgeon’s plan to use devolved further education funding to create a construction skills academy is encouraging and builds upon the success of the tunnelling academy in Ilford."

In her belated manifesto, as well as the above pledge, Caroline Pidgeon said she would
"ensure a good school place of choice for every child, taking over responsibility from government for London’s school places and quality", tying in the lack of secondary school places with London's housing crisis and the ensuing overcrowding. She pledged thus to "co-ordinate the chaotic pattern of school places across borough boundaries and get London’s councils to work together to deliver more first choices for parents" and "use the London Plan process to ensure that more schools are delivered as part of redevelopment and regeneration schemes".

Caroline Pidgeon noted the current governmental changes to the education system, specifically the "weakening" of local authority roles in schools and the end of "parental involvement in governing" schools, but pledged that she would attempt to devolve as much power to London authorities as she could. One such way was to "establish a London-wide careers service, devolved from central government, to work with schools and other education and training providers".

The Power of Minority Idealism - Sian Berry (Green)

A local Camden councillor and a green party politician, a lot of Sian Berry's policies are geared towards the London student voter. Sian Berry wants to set an annual Student Living Rent, “Apart from fees and cuts, rents are the new way in which students are being impoverished and exploited. Young people in our universities desperately need a Student Living Rent because life is difficult enough for them already without the kind of extortionate charges many of them are being asked to pay". According to an initial estimate, the Student Living Rent for the capital would be £110 a week. Analysis suggests that the overwhelming majority of university-controlled accommodation in London would not qualify as affordable. According to the Green part, it will help students put pressure on academic institutions to provide at least half their accommodation at or below the Student Living Rent.

The mayoral proposals are part of wider Green policy of no fees, cancelling student debts, universal free education. Sian Berry said: "You don’t need me to tell you that the Government is hell-bent on marginalising the poorest people in every way they can, and the attacks they have made on access to higher education is one of the most damaging long-term parts of this."

Apart from university, Sian Berry has also outlined plans to install a deputy mayor for education and give local authorities a greater say in schools planning, saying: "We need more strategic planning for school places in London. I think the free school plans are failing", as well as saying publicly "like to see more publicity and education targeted at men and boys, however, and would be keen to work with feminist groups, teachers and other experts to further develop this and permanently change the culture so that there is more respect for women" in response to the question "If elected what would the candidates do to make London safer for women, especially at night, e.g. late tubes?"

On education generally, Sian Berry said that "Education should be about developing human beings not economic units."

Peter Whittled down (UKIP)

Peter Whittle is UKIP's spokesperson on culture, which seems to be a contradiction in terms. We tried to find his manifesto, but, despite multiple references from various reputable sources to such a document, we couldn't find it.

What may be indicative of his leanings over the education system in the UK are some of the speakers that have been invited to the think tank, the New Culture Forum, he founded; names include the (then) Education Secretary Michael Gove, as well as the (then) Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt (and erstwhile patron saint of Junior Doctors).

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