Fair Education Alliance ask parties if education can ever be fair for all at pre-election debate

The Fair Education Alliance and Times Red Box hosted a pre-election debate on 16 April 2015 between the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour spokespeople for education, Nicky Morgan, David Laws, and Tristram Hunt, on the topic ‘Closing the divide: Can education ever be fair for all?

The Campaign for Learning is a member of the Fair Education Alliance, which aims to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from our poorest communities and their wealthier peers.

The debate was supported by the News Academy, and held at News UK’s head office in London Bridge. It was chaired by Times columnist and interviewer Alice Thomson, and was attended by members of the education community and the Fair Education Alliance, along with aspiring young journalists from the News Academy.

The evening began with opening statements from all three spokespeople, followed by a lively and wide-ranging debate on the education landscape in the UK, with a particular focus on social mobility. Topics covered included Early Years education, class sizes and school place shortages, and the role of independent schools in the state sector.

All three spokespeople were united in expressing support for the Fair Education Alliance and its goal of bridging the gap in educational attainments between children from poor backgrounds and their wealthier peers, but they each sketched out different visions for how their parties would achieve this.

The spokespeople were asked why they support the Fair Education Alliance:

Nicky Morgan said “Because I think that it’s doing great work in pointing out the inequalities that we still see in our education system, but also setting out things like literacy and numeracy and other policies which will make a huge difference, and which the Conservative party absolutely subscribes to in terms of getting the basics right early on, so that all children achieve the most and make the most of their potential.”

David Laws said “(The Fair Education Alliance) is drawing attention to the biggest scar on the face on English education, which is the massive attainment gap between young people from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s completely unacceptable that we have almost two-thirds of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t achieve the modest benchmark levels that we set, for example at the end of Key Stage 4 – we’ve got to ensure that those young people have a chance to do well in education, and well in life.”

Tristram Hunt said, “I support the Fair Education Alliance because the purpose of education is to deliver social mobility and social justice, and in this country at the moment we’re seeing the attainment gap between children on Free School Meals and non-Free School Meals growing, and we have to deal with that at root, which means beginning with education.”

From the floor of the debate, Juliette Collier from the Campaign for Learning raised the importance of supporting parents to help their children learn, including through family learning approaches, and asked the panel how this might be achieved. The question and the answers from each of the education spokespeople can be see on the film of the debate starting at 52 minutes.

17 April 2015

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