GE19: Labour and Lib-Dem candidates discuss key issues at education hustings

By Janet Szpakowski

THERE was an empty chair at the Education Election Hustings on Monday evening at Passmores Academy as Robert Halfon failed to attend the hustings/forum.

Some weeks ago, Rhys Martin, prganiser for the Eastern region of the National Education Union (NEU), had invited all three candidates to attend and to provide dates that were convenient for them. Robert Halfon, Conservative, claimed he was unavailable although he was spotted by several members of the audience as they made their way to the meeting, outside the Shell garage on the A414, standing with his election placards.

Rhys Martin opened the meeting with a presentation of how the crisis in school funding will affect Harlow schools. He pointed out that Passmores Academy itself would have a shortfall of £808,042 in real terms in comparison with 2015. This, in effect, means a cut of £743 per pupil. He also said that the School Cuts Campaign has called on candidates across the country to pledge that, if elected, they will not vote for school cuts. For Harlow, both Laura McAlpine and Charlotte Cane have made this pledge. Robert Halfon has not.

The audience was comprised mainly of teachers but there were also others who had previously worked in education or who had come along through a concern for their own children’s or grandchildren’s future. The hustings was organised as a forum in which both candidates who attended; Laura McAlpine (Labour) and Charlotte Cane (Liberal Democrat) were invited to give brief speeches about their parties’ policies for education followed by a question and answer session for the audience. This developed into a discussion which focussed not just on the funding crisis but also on the system of Academies which means schools are in competition with each other through league tables and children in some schools have been ‘off rolled’ so that they do not adversely affect schools’ results.

Other issues debated were OFSTED, target setting (for students and teachers), support for children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND), class sizes, SATs, GCSEs, workload and teacher stress and pupils’ challenging behaviour which it was felt often resulted from poverty and other social issues causing mental distress and that, after years of cuts, there was little support available from other agencies.

Both Labour and Liberal Democrat policies appeared, from the candidates’ responses to questions, to be broadly similar although only Laura McAlpine promised that Labour will return Academies to Local Authority control. She also stressed Labour’s plans for a National Education Service providing free education from pre-school through to University students and for continuing adult education classes reminding the audience of the adult education centre that used to exist at Rivermill, which had benefitted her own family.

After the meeting the two candidates remained to speak to members of the audience individually about their concerns.

Murray Sackwild is General Secretary of the local West Essex district of the NEU and is also a member of the Union’s National Executive as well as a Labour Party member. He was present in the audience and contributed to the discussion. After the meeting when asked for a quote, he said that Laura McAlpine’s explanation of Labour’s Education Policy was very close to NEU policy and that he felt that she had ‘won’ the debate, “with her in depth knowledge and clear understanding of current education issues. She answered questions from the floor with honesty and compassion and without resorting to clichés. Despite having been Chair of the Parliamentary Select Education Committee, Robert Halfon didn’t turn up to face teachers and other members of the public interested in the future of Harlow schools”.

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5 Responses to "GE19: Labour and Lib-Dem candidates discuss key issues at education hustings"

  1. MickyB77   December 11, 2019 at 7:16 am

    Old hat or what ?
    All these issues have already been discussed to death, so you wont be getting any new answers from this pair.
    Vote Lab / Dem at your peril.
    If they ever get in we’ll lose what we’ve achieved, and more of what’s being done to those long suffering commuters, who are regularly being used in strike wars with the railway unions.

  2. Gary   December 11, 2019 at 7:27 am

    What has been achieved by Mr. Halfon, MickyB77?

  3. MickyB77   December 11, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Time to wake up Gary, it’s 2019.
    Tell the people who are daily suffering angst about getting to work because of the striking £100 k pa train staff.
    But, I suppose as an ardent ex shop steward you agree with the strike action.
    Whoever can support a Momentum candidate, whose cherished ambition is to provide more playschools and paddling pools in Harlow, that’s you, I do believe.

  4. Towpath_Rat   December 11, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Mucky, the current RMT Industrial Action is about keeping guards on trains, which is an issue of public safety. South Western Trains initially offered a deal and then reneged on it. Don’t you think people should be able to travel in safety and have someone on the train to help if they are threatened or ill? Perhaps not. You do seem to have had an empathy bypass sometimes.

    By the way – salary for an SWT driver is £51,000. The guards get about £22-25,000.

    Do you ever stop to think, or wonder whether you should just parrot propaganda – like the nonsense about 100K salaries for train staff? Take a look at yourself, have some self-respect. You’re being taken for a fool.

  5. kthe5   December 11, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    “Robert Halfon failed to attend the hustings/forum”

    I guess it was too short notice to get an ice sculpture in his place. Like on the C4 climate change debate. I thought the cold, slippery, non-responsive representives at that debate represented their respective parties the best I’ve ever seen. Both the Tory and Brexit Party represtives were cool, calm, and listened to others point of views with out bleeting “Brexit” every 2 minutes.

    Perhaps Robert Halfon could have been replaced by a bag of frozen peas instead of an ice sculpture? I suspect it would have had similar views on how school budgets have been cut under the Tories.

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