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The definition of education in the Labour party’s proposed charter

Michael Bassey

The Labour party’s proposal for creating a National Education Service could, if they come to power, fulfil a long-felt need for bringing together and supporting the disparate parts of today’s learning systems. Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, has described the 10-point charter as a ‘draft’ – and so, in the spirit of being constructive, I recently sought to improve the wording of the first point of the proposed charter. It was posted on the Labour Policy Forum website, but I would value comments from BERA members.

This is the first principle set out on the party’s draft read as follows.


‘Education has intrinsic value in giving all people access to the common body of knowledge we share, and practical value in allowing all to participate fully in our society. These principles shall guide the National Education Service.’

From my standpoint of many years as a teacher, researcher, professor of education (and BERA member) I see this as a true statement, but less embracing than is education in its broadest sense. I think the charter needs to start with a stronger definition of education. What follows is my suggestion. (The second paragraph is discussed in depth in my book, Education for the Inevitable [Bassey 2011] and the heroic first 17 words of the third paragraph were in the Labour Manifesto of 1945).


‘Nurture, culture and survival are the key concepts of education. They variously cover the work of primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities, adult classes, the home life of families, experience at the workplace, and the life-long learning that arises from everyday events such as meeting and talking with people, reading newspapers and books, listening to radio and watching television and films.

‘Education embraces the experience and nurture of personal and social development towards worthwhile living; the acquisition, creation, development, transmission, conservation, discovery and renewal of worthwhile culture; and the acquisition, development, transmission, conservation, discovery and renewal of skills for worthwhile survival.

‘The great purpose of education is to enable individual citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, to be moral beings well equipped with the many and varied attributes that they learn in their years of schooling, including the wherewithal to earn an honest living and so contribute to the national economy, and able to continue to develop and learn purposefully throughout their lives in a contented pursuit of worthwhile life, liberty and happiness.

‘These principles shall guide the National Education Service.’

The terms ‘acquisition’, ‘creation’, ‘development’, ‘transmission’, ‘conservation’, ‘discovery’ and ‘renewal’ may seem heavy-handed, but in fact they each have a different bearing on ‘culture’ and on ‘survival’.

The problem presented by the term ‘worthwhile’ is who determines what is ‘worthwhile’? Is it a matter of tradition, which means that our predecessors decided for us? Or one of government edict, which means that a group of self-styled experts are empowered to decide? Is it, rather, one of decisions made by teachers and schools in relation to their own values of what is ‘worthwhile’? To what extent should parents, and indeed young people themselves, help decide what is worthwhile? Perhaps the answer lies in how teachers interpret the third paragraph – and this shows the vital and responsible role of teachers.

Perhaps my inclusion of ‘survival’ will surprise some. Think of the parent warning the child about the dangers of electric plugs and saying, ‘Look both ways before crossing the road’; of the newlyweds learning to balance their household budget; or of the nation coming to terms with global warming.


It is curious that the meaning of ‘education’ is rarely debated. I’m not sure that BERA has ever explored this second word in our association’s title!


Bassey M (2011) Education for the Inevitable: Schooling when the oil runs out, Brighton: Book Guild