Is this how we get the most out of our schools?

With somewhat ironic timing Gove’s controversial announcement on the replacement of GCSEs by the English Baccalaureat was too late for it to be reflected in the conference programme. The deadline for amendments to motions has passed a week earlier.

But a version of the EBacc (not exactly the same as the one that was finally announced) had been trailed for some months, so it got a small mention in motion F6 this afternoon: “Getting the most out of our schools”.

This reference was grasped by some conference reps as an opportunity to open the debate into a wider discussion about the new proposals.  Jon Hunt requested a suspension of standing orders so that a further 20 minutes could be added to 45 minutes allocated, in order for the new proposals to be debated. This was put to the conference but defeated.

He also requested a separate vote on line 40 calling for a vocational equivalent of the EBacc. The Chair, Arnie Gibbons, turned this down on the grounds that the request should have been submitted earlier. At that point there were some shouts from the conference floor pointing out that the final EBacc proposals were only announced this week, so that would have been impossible.

James Kempton acknowledged the issue when summating for the motion. He pointed out that the proposals were out for consultation and he urged people to respond.

Dan Rogerson (who is the co-Chair of the Parliamentary Party on Education and Families) had moved the original motion with a tribute to Sarah Teather and the success of the pupil premium, which, where targeted as intended, has been effective in narrowing the attainment gap.

In relation to the EBacc, without the Liberal Democrats in Government, he claimed we would have been presented with a two-tier exam system which would have marginalised vocational education.

Two amendments were also debated and carried, though not without some dissent. The first dealt with school governance. Andrew Bridgewater spoke of the lack of democratic accountability of academies and free schools. He called for the stakeholder model of governing bodies to be extended to those schools, with a reaffirmation of the local authorities’ scrutiny role as well.

The second amendment called for external as well as internal assessment of pupils leaving primary education, replacing the original motion’s preference for internal assessment only.

Helen Flynn spoke against the motion as a whole, saying that it portrayed “an old fashioned model of education – we need to be bolder to include all children … to fit our world.”

In spite of her eloquent plea, the main motion, which also endorsed more careers advice for secondary pupils, better progress towards accommodating children with special needs on the same site as other children, and encouragement for businesses to support pupils, was passed with the two amendments.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Sep '12 - 8:30pm

    Well done Jon Hunt for flagging up the lack of debating time over the EBacc – mentioned in passing in the motion today as if it is policy but it has not been discussed in detail by the Party.

    As it stands, the EBacc is a Tory idea , accepted as part of a ‘hard-fought’ (according to Dan Rogerson MP), coalition negotiation but entering as policy into a Lib Dem motion – with no time for detailed amendments or proper debate. As Jon says, it’s a trojan horse.

    Jon is right to flag this up and there must surely be a much wider and more detailed debate about this secretly negotiated plan – announced just before our party’s conference – co-incidence? Are we being bounced?

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Sep '12 - 1:06pm

    @ Jon Hunt: ” 45 minutes for education policy? I don’t see how we can claim education is at the heart our policy if we never discuss it properly.”

    Hear, Hear!

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