LSN readers might be interested in a report from a meeting I attended on Saturday, at which Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt set out Labour’s policy priorities. Last summer I wrote this blog
about his predecessor Stephen Twigg’s vision for school reform. Hunt appears to be moving things on quite quickly.
He was being interviewed by Dame Jane Roberts, chair of the Compass Education Inquiry.
The Inquiry is putting together a broad range of education policy proposals. Apologies for the rough and ready nature of this blog culled from my notes.
According to the Shadow Education Secretary Labour’s priorities would be as follows:
There would be free 25 hours per week for 3-4 year olds.
The forgotten 50%
.This referred to the "tech Bacc" announcement in Ed Miliband’s 2012 conference speech. Labour will be developing “excellence in technical and vocational pathways” via FE and apprenticeships. It would also seek to rebuild the careers service with links to local labour markets. Hunt also mentioned the importance of youth services beyond schools.
. Hunt said that no school can exceed the quality of its teachers and that Labour would focus on this point rather than develop more structural reforms. There seemed to be a slight change of language on this issue. I don’t think I heard the work “licensing” at all. Earlier Labour briefing has been more explicit about teacher licences
. Instead he talked about autonomy and ownership, external challenge, professionals being in charge of “re-validation” (similar to re-validation in the medical profession) and teachers being up to date with their knowledge and skills.
This would be different to the appraisal system and wouldn’t challenge autonomy but be an “expression of autonomy”. Labour didn’t want to create more bureaucracy but to create a “teacher led process” with outstanding CPD available to all at the end of a first Labour term in office. Ofsted would still have a place but would be complementary to this process. The only really hostile reception he got was when he said that Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw did a good job. He qualified this by adding that Wilshaw was “quite right” to highlight places where there is still chronic underachievement.
In answer to later questions he said that he felt the coalition’s School Direct initial teacher training system was too narrow and also flagged up problems for teacher recruitment in areas like his Stoke on Trent constituency where the local university (Keele) was no longer teaching a history PGCE.
he said that “coming in with a totalising vision of structural reform” would not be his priority, but that Labour would need to “clear up “some of the structural problems left behind by the coalition. There would be new ideas on a middle tier, networks and partnerships to combat Gove’s atomised landscape and these were being thrashed out in a review led by former Education Secretary David Blunkett. Hunt suggested Gove was now in “ideological retreat” following the Secretary of State’s announcement about regional School Chancellors to hold academies and free schools to account.
On school type
– Labour would be “value neutral” . He spoke up in defence of the original Labour sponsored academies but also said he wouldn’t rule out future local authority involvement in school provision. Some local authorities were shining examples of success - he mentioned Tower Hamlets on several occasions. Others had failed. “It seems to be that if you have a good LA that should be part of the mix”, he said.
He added that lessons of the London Challenge
were that progress and improvement went beyond single LAs. He talked of a “sub-regional space” for challenge and partnership, leading to school improvement. Labour would be looking at how to pursue a more collaborative approach because schools “don’t succeed as islands”. There was a role for school-to-school support, local authority and community involvement, allied to “no compromise” on the transparency, use and scrutiny of data.
All in all I felt it was a polished performance. From my own conversations with heads and teachers, the issue of teacher licensing appears to be more controversial that I would have thought. However I think he is right to focus on teacher quality and put clear water between Labour and the coalition’s unqualified teacher "free for all".
Some in the audience were clearly disappointed that he didn’t go into more detail about how academies and free schools would be brought back into a coherent regulatory system and how the complex network of different funding agreements with the Secretary of State, and individual school freedoms, would be managed in the future.
Stephen Twigg had implied that if a freedom was right for one school, it should be right for all. I think we will need to wait for the outcome of the Blunkett Review to get much more on this. “Funding agreements and their relationship to DFE and local authorities must be part of the solution,” was all we got on that point.
The one bit that really jarred for me concerned the Shadow Education Secretary’s reference to the use of data. “ We have got to get over the fear of data,” he said. Wearing my school governor hat, I felt this was a little bit naïve and patronising. Schools, heads teachers and governors are awash with data and keenly aware that to be judged good or outstanding they must demonstrate that they both understand and
act on it. But this is now such a overwhelming priority that I sometimes wonder whether we are heading into a “wood for the trees” situation where data obsession and looking over our shoulders for the next Ofsted visit trump any sort of big vision and moral purpose in schools. When the nitty-gritty of the big policy positions is ironed out, I look forward to hearing more from Labour on that wider vision and moral purpose.