Angela Rayner: Labour will put equality and opportunity at the heart of our education system
Labour will build an education service that gives every child the knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their aspirations, writes Angela Rayner
My first priority as shadow education secretary is to help formulate Labour policies that mean no child is left out or left behind in our schools.
We must develop a comprehensive plan to ensure every young person in our country is able to access an excellent education, whatever their background.
Far too often we see stark inequalities in our education system, from the under-performance of white working class boys to the appalling lack of students from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities going on to study at our most prestigious universities.
Access to a high quality education is the right of every person in our country. Educating our young people is the most important investment we can make in our future.
That’s why it is so upsetting to watch the Tories put up barriers in the way of our young people getting on in life. First the Coalition scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance and trebled university tuition fees. Then the Tories scrapped maintenance grants for students from low and middle-income backgrounds. Now they are talking about bringing back divisive grammar schools. And all this against a background of the first real terms cut in the schools budget since 1997.
Undoing this damage and helping build an education service that will give everyone the knowledge, skills and experience they need to fulfil their aspirations is a daunting task. But Labour has made a good start in offering a radical and credible alternative to the Tories, based on our values of equality and opportunity.
I recently announced that a Labour government would bring back Educational Maintenance Allowances for young people in further education. We will also restore the maintenance grant for university students. And we will pay for it by a tiny increase in corporation tax.
These policies will make a real difference to a million young people, especially those who are from poor and middle-income families. For those teenagers who are considering going on to further education, it will mean they get vital financial support with the cost of transport and food. For those considering university, it will ease the prospect of a debt-filled future.
But much more needs to be done.
Good, cost-effective childcare is one of the best ways to improve the future life chances of our young people. It can have a transformative impact on the lives of children and their parents, and help overcome barriers of disadvantage and poverty. Children do better at school with good childcare, and mums can get back into the workforce and earn more.
So far, Tory promises to expand affordable childcare have come to nothing – one of my priorities will be to hold them to account for their failure to invest in the next generation.
I will fight any plans to bring back the selective grammar schools, which branded children as ‘failures’ at the tender age of 11, and which only increase class divisions in Britain.
I want to see more young girls studying the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – and taking their place at the top of these professions.
I want to see academies made more accountable to local people by giving local councils a say and empowering parent governors. There have been shocking abuses of public money in some academies, with bosses feathering their own nests through huge salaries or paying themselves massive ‘consultancy fees’.
They are robbing our children of money that should be spent on their education. A Labour government will outlaw these dodgy deals by academies once and for all.
I also want to take a long, hard, serious look at why white working class boys are consistently under-achieving and what can be realistically done to help them achieve more. We don’t have a magic wand to get rid of poverty and deprivation or reverse every cut the Tories have made, but a future Labour government can act to lend a helping hand. Part of that will be looking at how we can rebuild our careers service and connect it more effectively with the world of work.
At the heart of my approach will be a belief that every child has potential – Labour’s task is to help unleash it.
Angela Rayner is Labour MP for Ashton under Lyne and shadow secretary of state for education