Ed Miliband speaks at his old school, Haverstock Comprehensive, in Chalk Farm on August 15, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour to cap infant class sizes by ending free schools in surplus areas

Miliband revives 1997 pledge to limit class sizes to 30 pupils for 5 to 7-year-olds. 

Ed Miliband has long been both praised and criticised for breaking with New Labour. But in a speech today on education, he will revive the first policy included on the party's famous 1997 pledge card: capping class sizes for 5 to 7-year-olds at 30 pupils or under. The original promise was funded by abolishing the assisted places scheme, which subsidised children from low-income backgrounds to attend private schools. Miliband will pledge to meet his £200m commitment by ending the establishment of free schools in areas where there are surplus places, which Labour estimates has cost £240m. 

Since 2010, the number of young pupils taught in classes bigger than 30 has trebled to 60,000. This is partly attributable to the free schools programme, which has seen more than 30,000 places created in areas where they were not needed. Based on present trends, Labour estimates that the number of classes larger than 30 will increase to 11,000, close to the level it inherited in 1997. 

In a speech at Haverstock School, the Camden comprehensive he attended between 1981 and 1988, Miliband will say: 

Successful teaching and classroom discipline is made harder when classes are so much bigger. Our plans will turn this round. Currently, the government is spending money on new Free Schools, in areas where there are surplus places. This simply makes no sense when class sizes are rising in the way they are. Or when people can't get their kids into the good schools they want. 

So by ending the scandalous waste of money from building new schools in areas of surplus places, we will create more places where they are needed. This will allow us to cap class sizes for 5, 6 and 7-year-olds at no more than 30 pupils. 

It's a sensible and almost certainly popular policy. Although free schools are beloved of the right, they are not, contrary to common belief, popular with the public. A YouGov survey for the Times in October 2013 found that just 27 per cent back the schools with 47 per cent opposed. The Conservatives' defence has long been that they offer parents choice in areas where there may no be shortage of places but there is a lack of good schools. The Department for Education has emphasised that it has provided an additional £5bn to councils to create new places, double the amount it claims the last government over the same period. 

But it is far from clear that this will prove sufficient at a time of rapid population growth. As Conservative councillor David Simmonds, an executive member of the Local Government Association, has warned: "The process of opening up much-needed schools is being impaired by a one-size-fits-all approach and in some cases by the presumption in favour of free schools and academies." On this issue, the public are likely to side with Miliband. 

The Labour leader will also say tomorrow: "My vision for education is shaped by my belief in equal opportunity, built for the modern world. It is based on the idea that education gives people a passport to a good life. It is a means not just of learning but of earning a decent living, transcending circumstance, understanding how to be part of a community and venturing into new worlds. 

"This has always been true. But now we must adapt this vision to the 21st century. Indeed, the biggest challenge we face is preparing our young people for the economy of the future, not of yesterday. The generational question facing us is whether we are fated to be an economy in which a few people do fabulously well, while most people work harder and harder just to keep their place. If we do not give every young person the skills and knowledge they need we will lock in a two tier economy. It is the key to building a different kind of economy which works for all and not just for some.

"Because in the 21st century, when companies can move across borders, it is the skills and talents of our people that is our unique national asset. In the 21st century, world class education isn't a luxury for the individual. It's a necessity. For Britain’s young people to succeed. For British business to succeed. For Britain to succeed. So if we are to restore the Promise of Britain by which the next generation does better than the last, we need to fulfil the promise of our young people. Equipping our children with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed with excellence from the first steps a child takes to the day they stride into the adult world."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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