Following our January conference, NCAFC is facilitating discussions in order to develop a vision for a National Education Service. We want to hear your opinions, ideas and arguments – please let us know if you’d like to contribute! In this article, Ben Towse from UCL Labour and Josh Berlyne from the Free University of Sheffield explain why we’re starting this conversation.
NCAFC has always fought for more than just proper education funding and the abolition of tuition fees. Since we were founded in 2010, we’ve debated and developed ideas about what a democratic, liberatory education system would look like, and we’ve gone out and argued for those ideas.
It is easy for concrete ideas about the reform or transformation of our education system to be niche and wonk-ish, boring and difficult to articulate. Indeed, proposals for education reform typically come from wonks in Westminster offices. As a result, movements lose ownership over ideas, and it becomes difficult to bring proposals under a banner which can amass the kind of support needed to force them through. The National Education Service has the potential to be that banner.
When he proposed it during the 2015 Labour leadership elections, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of an education system which would be free to access from cradle to grave. He spoke about reversing adult education cuts by raising corporation tax; providing universal free childcare; abolishing tuition fees; and providing good, well-paid apprenticeships.
Almost two years on, the idea of a National Education Service is yet to be seriously developed. This gives us, the grassroots, the opportunity to take ownership of it. Through democratic debate and discussion across party lines, NCAFC can—and must—popularise the idea beyond the Labour left. Only then will we see transformative ideas made real.
That’s why NCAFC is facilitating a conversation in which students and workers can put forward, debate and refine our ideas about a National Education Service. We want this conversation to lead to a set of democratically-adopted, concrete demands and proposals that we’ll campaign to for.
Our January conference included workshops to kick-start this discussion (reports from these workshops will be posted soon) and our members agreed a proposal that set out some basic ideas. We said that a National Education Service could:
- Be universally accessible free of charge, with financial support through living grants/stipends for all.
- Replace the chaos of market competition between institutions with an integrated service that is rationally and democratically organised to serve social good, rather the interests of the capitalist class.
- Build on existing ideas about the “Comprehensive University” to break down arbitrary barriers within the curriculum and between streams of education, including between further and higher education, and “vocational” and “academic” study.
- Be publicly owned and secular, and democratically governed by its students, workers and the communities it serves.
- Through democratic control of the curriculum, allow us to overturn the sometimes overwhelming dominance of ruling ideologies in what is taught, opening space for radical, subversive, liberatory and marginalised ideas and perspectives.
- Provide its workers with secure, decently-paid jobs and good conditions.
- Include universal free childcare.
- Be well-resourced, by taxing the rich and their businesses and expropriating the banks.
Now we want your thoughts. Do you want to write about a particular aspect of the education system? Do you want to respond to any of the ideas above, or any that were put forward at the conference? Have you read something in this debate that you disagree with, or you want to build on? Please write an article for us, or if you prefer, record a video or a podcast. We’re looking for contributions from our members, and more broadly too – in particular from education workers as well as students. You can get in touch at [email protected]. And for members, you can also debate and discuss on NCAFC’s webforum.
Over to you!