2. Education, Children and Young People

“If you set up school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there.” 

- John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister in interview with Sunday Telegraph December 18th 2005

  Labour’s policy over education at both national and local level has been confused and unsuccessful. Education is the largest item of expenditure for most boroughs and Greenwich is no exception. Unfortunately, Greenwich’s record with regards to educational achievement is dreadful. Any recent improvements have to be put in perspective, which is that Greenwich has been in the bottom 10 in the country for most of the last 8 years and the worst in London for most of that time at Secondary level. In Primary education one of the main concerns remains that, despite having some very good schools the overall level remains very poor, suggesting many schools are well below an acceptable level. In addition, truancy remains high.   Within Greenwich, we believe that some of the main failings of the Labour Council include (but are not limited to):
  • Allowing secondary school results at GCSE to remain low and for at least half of the last four years to be the worst in London.
  • Failing to take advantage of the government programmes which did become available. Greenwich is one of the few boroughs with only one Academy (which was mainly funded by the Council but controlled by the Catholic Church). As for the Building Schools for the Future programme (to build new schools), Greenwich is the furthest behind in the country with not one school completed as yet (in fact they were only started in the summer of 2009, months after every other borough in phase 1). 
  • Closing schools in a way which is not strategic or based on the schools performance. In secondary schools, this means that Abbey Wood has closed in 2009, meaning that a school with reasonable results (in a Greenwich context) has been removed and the borough now needs another secondary school in the north of the borough. At primary level, the borough invested in a new school in Deptford (Charlotte Turner) which it then neglected, did not support and finally chose to close despite the fact the buildings are only a few years old. To compound this, the largest group from Charlotte Turner will be moved to Morden Mount School where they will be housed in portacabins.
The Conservative approach to education will be different and underpinned by the belief that, unlike Labour, Conservatives believe that Greenwich children deserve a better education and that we should not settle for being worse than the vast majority of the country. The failure of the education system in Greenwich is a disaster for our children and leaves them less able to compete for jobs when they leave school. It is also a strong factor in the lack of social mobility for certain parts of the borough.   Our core strategy will be: 
  • Conservatives believe that ultimately the schools are the best judge of what works best for them and for their students. We would make sure there is less interference in the day to day running of schools and that individual schools would have the freedom to implement strategies that work for their particular cohort of children.
  • The Local Education Authority in Greenwich has presided over a period of unparalleled failure, while blaming students, teachers and parents (and on one occasion even opposition Councillors). Conservatives believe that the LEA is the source of much of the failure in Greenwich and would look to find an alternative provider of education for the borough. This would be an open and competitive process and we would undoubtedly consider provision by a neighbouring borough if it chose to bid. We would seek an organisation that would better organise and improve some, if not all of our schools. In addition, we would encourage schools to become more independent of the LEA through whichever initiatives are available at that stage.
  • We believe that our secondary schools remain too large. The reduction in size of Crown Woods (mainly due to lack of demand) is not strategic or part of a change in policy – for Conservatives it would be. Conservatives would work to reduce the size of our secondary schools so all were less than 1,500 students in the belief that this helps schools create an ethos for their students and a more personalised learning environment than the large, factory produced comprehensives which the Labour Council believes in.
  • Many teachers remain concerned about behaviour in schools. We believe that while the inclusion agenda is desirable in general, it should not be used to stop schools excluding students whose behaviour falls below the required standard. In combination with this, we remain concerned that the education provision for excluded students is not sufficient and there need to be clear routes back into mainstream education. Conservatives would explore expanding the capacity at existing special schoolsor creating a new special school to ensure that schools could exclude students where they thought it appropriate and if this did occur that the education provision on offer was acceptable.
  • We are concerned that the approach to the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme adopted by the Council is both expensive and inappropriate. Labour’s plan to borrow the funds required to build the schools and then Private Finance Initiative (PFI) Thomas Tallis and Crown Woods later, is nonsensical, missing any potential gains from the PFI process while catching the widely acknowledged problems. Conservatives would expect the process to revert to a traditional Council building programme with limited private sector involvement.
  It is absolutely essential that education in Greenwich is improved and Conservatives believe that they can and will make a real difference following Labour’s decade of failure in this area.   Youth Services   Conservatives believe that young people need and deserve a reliable and consistent strategy to youth services which supports our young and gives them a safe and enjoyable way to spend their leisure time. Our children have been let down by Labour’s indifference towards, and lack of priority for, this area. For example, Labour’s inability to prioritise Adventure Playgrounds during holidays (unless Conservatives intervene and publicly pressure them), not to open them or to reduce their opening hours.    A Conservative-run council would support an increase in the range of activities available for young people and provide more constructive support for organisations like the Scouts, Girl Guides and Boys Brigade which we think provide many of the skills young people need to develop. Conservatives would encourage the development of a full Duke of Edinburgh award programme within the borough and look to develop links with the army in Woolwich to allow young people to have healthy, active lifestyles.   Adult Education   Labour has changed the focus of education for adults away from courses for enjoyment to vocational courses, pushing up fees to pensioners and others hoping to continue their education throughout their lives. This has meant a reduction in the range of courses offered across the borough.   Conservatives would rebalance the adult education services once more, so that courses which encourage learning throughout life are given the same priority as vocational courses. We do not believe that education can be valued in purely economic terms and would wish to respond the demands of residents, not central government edicts.