24 Jun 2024

‘Provision for trans people doesn’t have to be an either-or’ – Shadow Education Secretary


We spoke to the Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson.

Cathy Newman: You’re pressing ahead with modernising the process for people wanting to change their gender. Don’t you care that J.K. Rowling has abandoned you over this trans policy?

Bridget Phillipson: Of course I do. I have a huge amount of respect for J.K. Rowling. I admire her work, particularly with the issues that she’s raised in the past around violence against women and girls and all of her campaigning on that. So I’m genuinely very sorry that’s how she feels. I think Labour has a strong record on making sure that, as we did from government last time around, we make sure that women have access to domestic violence provision, to rape crisis centres and we will protect single-sex provision within that. But alongside that, what we’ve seen from the Conservatives is a big explosion actually in the number of mixed sex wards within hospitals. And we’ve seen far too few rapists punished and prosecuted for what’s gone on, and far too little support for women around domestic violence. A Labour government will take that seriously, and we will work really hard to tackle that. I feel that really strongly, it’s really personal to me.

Cathy Newman: But you won’t introduce the new law that the Conservatives are doing to make clear, clarify the Equality Act is what they’re saying. That would be the kind of assurance J.K. Rowling is looking for, wouldn’t it be?

Bridget Phillipson: The Equality Act does allow for single sex provision. I think that is incredibly important. Before I was a member of parliament over the last 14 years, I had managed provision for women who had experienced domestic violence. So I recognise the importance of single sex provision. But in order to give providers the clarity that they need, we’ll make sure that there’s strengthened guidance set out to ensure that single sex provision is maintained. I do think alongside that we can make sure…

Cathy Newman: But it doesn’t clarify the difference between biological sex and gender, does it? That’s what the Conservatives say they’re trying to do.

Bridget Phillipson: I think it can be done through the strengthened guidance. And alongside that, I do believe that we need to make sure that there is proper provision in place for trans people as well. I don’t think it has to be an either or, but I’m determined that there is single sex provision so that women who’ve experienced sexual violence, for example, have the space and the time and the right support that they need to make sure that their dignity is protected and they can get the right level of support at the right time. And that’s, frankly, not the reality at the moment. Rape prosecutions have plummeted under the Conservatives. The provision is not there. And where it comes to wards within hospitals, a big increase in the number of wards that are mixed sex. So they can talk about this all they like, their record is entirely at odds with the reality for women out there.

Cathy Newman: The two party leaders have been talking about their plans and records just there at the Sun HQ where you are. One of the things that came up was education, your patch. The Tories committed to protecting day to day school spending per pupil in real terms. But you’re not, are you? Why not?

Bridget Phillipson: The Tories have set out a wish list of unfunded commitments in that manifesto that will crash the economy, just like they did under Liz Truss. That’s why we’ve set out a first step that a Labour government would take if we win the trust of the British people in delivering more teachers into our classrooms, and we will do that by ending the tax breaks that private schools enjoy. Alongside it, we will make sure that all of our children get the support that they need around their mental health, a really big pressure at the moment, and we’ll deliver universal free breakfast clubs in all of our primary schools. These are real, tangible things that a Labour government could get to work on from day one, but we can only do that if people vote for it.

Cathy Newman: Small, tangible things, though, aren’t they? Look at what the IFS is saying about your manifesto. It says you’ve identified a whole series of challenges: burnt-out teachers, skyrocketing school absences, deficiencies in the special needs system. But you’re putting mostly small resources targeted at specific new proposals. That’s what the IFS says about your education manifesto.

Bridget Phillipson: Everyone knows that the economy is in a total mess at the moment. And that’s come about because of the reckless and cavalier approach that the Conservatives have taken over many years, but more recently under Liz Truss. And I know that it’s working people who pay the price when governments play fast and loose with the public finances. We won’t take that approach. But we have said, Rachel Reeves has been really clear, that growing our economy is absolutely essential. It will be the number one mission of a Labour government, and if we had anywhere near the kind of growth that other major economies have had in recent years, there would have been a lot more money to invest in public services. And that’s part of the reason that growing our economy is so crucial.

Cathy Newman: But you’d actually do less on schools than the Tories have done in this last parliament, in terms of teachers. You’re saying 6,500 extra teachers. Last year, recruitment fell 13,000 short of target. And since the last general election, the government has hired 15,000 more state school teachers. It’s timid, isn’t it, what you’re setting out?

Bridget Phillipson: The 6,500 teachers that we’ve set out will be new expert teachers in those key areas where we’ve got gaps at the moment. So in subjects such as maths and science, where there are real shortages right across the country, and the Conservatives have completely failed to get a grip on that.

Cathy Newman: But it’s half the recruitment target.

Bridget Phillipson: What we see time and again are teachers leaving the profession in their droves because they are sick of being treated so badly by the Conservatives. So the commitment that I would give is that as education secretary, the Labour government, if people put their trust in us, is that we will reset and rebuild that relationship with the teaching profession. We will make teaching a much more attractive place to be. We will deal with workload pressures that teachers are facing. We’ll make sure that wider action is taken on all of those societal problems that schools are having to deal with that are not their prime responsibility, whether that’s child poverty, insecure housing, the fact that children are arriving at school not ready to learn because they are hungry. That is the difference a Labour government will make. But it will only happen if people get out there and vote for change.

Cathy Newman: But it’s not much of a change. In fact, in some ways it’s a retrograde step. The 6,500 extra teachers, it doesn’t even meet half of the recruitment shortfall.

Bridget Phillipson: That fills all of the gaps in terms of posts that are currently filled temporarily or where we see shortages, particularly within our secondary schools. So it would address and respond to that.

Cathy Newman: It’s a 13,000 recruitment shortfall, and you’re saying 6,500 extra teachers.

Bridget Phillipson: I get how bad things are at the moment under the Conservatives, and that’s why people don’t want to become teachers increasingly, why too many experienced teachers are leaving the profession in their droves. I’m absolutely determined to turn that around, but the first step towards that is filling all of those gaps that we see. But absolutely, we will go beyond that, because I want to make sure that education is front and centre of national life once more. A government that takes these issues seriously, not like the Conservatives, who’ve made this a peripheral issue, and are not focussed on delivering the better life chances for our children. Having those teachers in our classrooms would absolutely deliver.

Cathy Newman: How are you going to go beyond what you’ve just set out?  Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, has just pushed back the date you’ll introduce the VAT pledge, which is being used to fund those extra teachers.

Bridget Phillipson: There are a number of ways that we will do it. Firstly, we will end the tax breaks the private schools enjoy and put that money directly into state education, where the vast majority of our children go to school, more teachers, more mental health support, better training and development for our staff. In addition to that, we’ll introduce universal free breakfast clubs, and we’ll pay for it by ending the non-dom tax status and by clamping down on tax dodging. Those are the changes a Labour government would get to work on from day one. But we know we’ve got to fight hard for every vote in order to get to that position, and we’re working hard every single day between now and the election to convince people. And there are lots of people that haven’t made their minds up yet about how they’re going to vote, but if they want their country to be turned around, if they want change, then they’ve got to get out there and vote for it. Ignore the polls. That doesn’t mean anything.