In the wake of the General Election the new Conservative government has wasted no time in beginning its programme for government based on its manifesto commitments.
Some of its commitments will require new legislation, some regulation, some can just be implemented, and others are on-going issues, carried over from the coalition government. There are no surprises.
The continuing commitment to high standards of education for all children and young people, an aspiration we all share, will, the government believes, be secured through the Education and Adoption Bill, which promises to tackle failing and “coasting” schools through more rapid academisation and through decapitation, with a third of primary headteachers apparently being earmarked for removal from their posts.
Additional investment, effective local support structures, opportunities to collaborate with other schools, and strategies for tackling the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, all of which would provide the most effective and sustained support to schools in raising standards, are conspicuous by their absence from the government’s plans.
The criteria for being labelled “coasting” have yet to be defined. Schools considered consistently as outstanding are just as vulnerable to being categorised in this way as schools deemed to be requiring improvement.
Continuing as it does the coalition government’s strategy of school improvement, the Bill continues to perpetuate the myth that structural change and punitive policies raise standards, despite the clear evidence to the contrary.
But possibly one of the most worrying aspects of the Bill is the provision designed to remove the rights of parents to have a say in the type of school they want for the child.
The government has trumpeted the Bill’s intention to sweep aside what it describes as “bureaucratic loopholes” in the process of converting schools to academies, portraying parents who raise legitimate concerns and objections as “roadblocks” in the path of reform.
This attack on fundamental entitlements echoes a chilling and disturbing theme of stifling opposition and eroding democratic rights, which began under the coalition government with the advent of the Lobbying Act, which was designed to restrict democratic rights to oppose government policy.
Furthermore, anyone who believes in social justice, fairness and equality should be deeply worried by the government’s proposals to remove the UK from the provisions of the Human Rights Act, by the plans for a Trade Union Reform Bill to reduce further trade union freedoms, by the focus of the renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU on treaty provisions which cover some of the last remaining rights of workers, and by the introduction of the requirement on schools not to undermine British values, which are ill-defined and open to wide interpretation, leaving all teachers vulnerable.
On the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index, which ranks countries across the world on a scale of one to five on standards of fundamental rights, including violations of international law, civil liberties, the right to strike, collective bargaining and freedom of association, the UK already has slipped down the rankings to three (five being the lowest), well below Germany, France and Italy and countries such as Malawi, Angola, Albania and Bosnia. This is the shameful legacy of the Conservative-led coalition government.
Let’s not forget that our rights are hard won but easily lost and protecting them is the responsibility of us all.