To create the education system we need our politics must move to a long-term frame of policy. Photo: Getty
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Why we need whole-person education

Long-term thinking in education policy is vital to the way we reform our political economy.

The idea of "predistribution" is instantly associated with wonkishness gone too far. It's an ugly and overly politicised name for what is a pretty sensible and progressive set of ideas that the left should be utilising. Along with early intervention and social mobility it represents a commitment to long-term politics made real in policies that empower people from an early age to take control of their lives and tackle the excesses of inequality before they even occur. After the departure of Michael Gove from the Department for Education, now is the perfect time to talk about how education can be reclaimed as a political and social force that can achieve just that again.

The father of predistribiution, Jacob Hacker, describes it as being about a "more equal distribution of economic power and rewards even before government collects taxes or pays out benefits". In terms of action that can be taken by the government before taxes and benefits, aka in the early years of life, education is a huge part of government's responsibilities and its policy opportunities.

Patrick Diamond, in an essay for the Policy Network, analyses the relationship that predistribution has with education, arguing that for a realistic enacting of predistribution ideals to occur there must be a change in education policy (investment in human and social capital alongside redistribution).

Under New Labour the UK’s education system enjoyed a large increase in spending, but it was not enough to tackle the inequalities created by a globalised economy and the changes of the twenty first century. The state of inequality in our school systems at the moment is testament to this fact. IPPR's Condition of Britain report said that "social class inequalities in education remain high" and reports published by Demos earlier this year highlight the fact that income inequality, particularly in an age of food banks, is starkly reflected in the educational attainment at school of children from different social backgrounds. The impact of inequality on education helps create what is known as the "Great Gatsby Curve", which denotes that a child's life chances are determined by their parents "material circumstances". With inequality feeding into education and education feeding into inequality, what progressive policies must do is break this cycle and rethink the way we do education as a country.

In their interim report of their education inquiry, Compass have presented a new ethos and political approach to education in the UK. Touching base with the profound effects of inequality in education the report's author, Professor Ken Spours, says that "education, and its relationship with the economy, is betraying a whole generation of the young". Hoping to reverse this trend the report talks about creating an education system that engages people, is contemporary, relevant and dynamic. It is best described in the terms that the report uses itself: working towards "the birth of a national education system from cradle to grave".

Education shouldn’t begin or end at the gates of schools, colleges or universities. Education is a society-wide effort, with society-wide benefits. To create the education system we need our politics must move to a long-term frame of policy. Gordon Brown, for all the flaws that everyone remembers, at least understood that this had to be done; with commitments to early intervention in tackling child poverty and increasing the education leaving age to 18, he understood the need for long-termism in policy. If we are to change our education system to the one we need, we will need a lot more of this. 

Dan Holden is deputy editor of Shifting Grounds

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.