On my way home from labour conference 23, I visited the People’s History Museum.
It was a bit of a vanity trip as I was looking for any documents related to NOLS’s adoption of a comprehensive, as in wide ranging, education policy. I was on their national committee, elected at their 76 conference and was given responsibility for the education policy portfolio. I found the reference to my election in the Labour Party’s conference report, for 1977. As said, I held the education portfolio for that year and I led the organisation, with much help from the other officers, in developing a comprehensive policy which was presented to conference 77. My being allocated responsibility for education was not necessarily one of choice, since most of us at the time were interested in macroeconomics, industrial and labour relations policy or international solidarity issues, where Chile solidarity and the Anti-Apartheid campaigns loomed large and also what was to become the EU continued to be a live issue from the 75 referendum.
I remember that I was keen to engage with the Labour Government and its great debate on education. It seemed crucial to establish that education should benefit its students and was not just an investment for human capital in what in retrospect could be seen to be a dying economy.
I found a copy of Labour Student dated Spring 78 reporting on that 77 conference, in which my successor, John Merry wrote a review of the new education policy. I summarise from Merry’s article, as I could not find the papers, that the key demands were,
- Education as a right for all, and its purpose is to develop potential of students
- Education must serve all needs, not just business, and education to be democratically managed.
- The ending of discriminatory access; our concern was that the children of the working class had access to Higher Education; at the time 4% of the school leavers went to university and the same number entered the Polys.
Merry, criticised the Labour government plans because the binary higher education system mirrored the class structure, and arguably continued the 11+ split where Universities were designed for non-technical high quality education, and the Polytechnics for technical high quality education and the FE’s…