Some advice for Tristram Hunt

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tristram's interview on Channel 4 News on 3 February has been rightly judged to have been dire.

Tristram was responding to Michael Gove's announcements about how he intends to raise standards by making schools as unpleasant and stressful as possible for pupils by threatening them with 'lines', detention, litter picking and graffiti removal duties, as well as making them attend school until after 6pm and halving their holidays.

The presenter was angry and aggressive. She peddled lots of myths such as the urgent need for 'reform' of state schools, the superiority of private fee-paying schools and how those that know something about education and how children learn (the blob), are frustrating our brave, radical, crusading Secretary of State in his mission to ensure that in future if you wake up in Gas Street Comprehensive you could be confused into thinking you were in Eton College chatting with future Tory Prime Ministers.

Although Tristram struggled to make any points at all in the face of the presenter's onslaught, the few he got in were largely confined to 'unqualified teachers' and general burbling about the need for co-operation rather than confrontation. Having scented blood, these puny defences were nowhere enough to fend off the questions.

I am just a sad old retired head that believes that just as marine architects need to understand the Principle of Archimedes, it is a good starting point for a person that intends to revolutionise the school system to know something about education and how children develop and learn. Such heresy makes me not just part of 'The Blob', but the very essence of its stickiness and general nastiness.

Here then are some suggestions for countering leading questions. I have left some spaces (???) to be filled in by those more knowledgeable than me.

Presenter - Do you agree with Michael Gove that the state school system needs reforming?

TH - For Michael Gove, reforming is just another word for privatising. I want all state schools to become better at helping children develop their abilities and knowledge so they can acquire important skills, understand difficult concepts and so make wiser decisions. I am not in favour of privatising state schools and I don't believe the public is either.

Presenter - Don't you want the proven success of Academies and Free Schools to save children from the underachievement of failed bog standard comprehensives?

TH - Labour's Academies were well intentioned, but Michael Gove has used the legislation that created them as a platform for proliferating such state funded but "independent" schools against the wishes of parents and local communities and handing their control to various organisations that even include commercial education businesses, all of which lack effective accountability and oversight,

Presenter - So you oppose Free Schools then?

TH - My emphasis is on ensuring that every child has a right to a place in a quality local school. Providing and funding schools is very expensive and a large drain on the taxpayer especially at a time of cuts in public spending. School places therefore have to be provided to match local needs, not to feed the pet theories of rich individuals, exploitive education businesses, special interest groups and religious communities. Michael Gove's favoured schools are not properly regulated and there are growing numbers of financial and other scandals. For example, ??? The average cost of running a Local Authority School is £??? per pupil. For Academies it is £???. For the new tranche of Free Schools it is £???. For example, ??? Free School is costing £??? per pupil. This is a disgraceful drain on limited public funds.

Presenter - Why don't you want all children to have the advantages that a private fee paying school provides?

TH - There is nothing that is good about fee paying schools that cannot be provided in state schools and there are plenty of things that state schools can do that fee paying schools can't. For example, providing a first class local school for every child, democratically accountable to local communities.

Presenter - Then why is it that standards are higher in Academies and Free Schools than in bog standard comprehensives?

TH - They are not. This government and regrettably also the last government have been successfully fiddling the figures for over ten years to persuade journalists like you to believe these myths as facts. The numbers of failing Academies and Free Schools is growing. For example, ???

Presenter - Michael Gove wants schools to be free to innovate, not be controlled by 'the blob' in the form of local authorities and teacher's unions. What is wrong with that?

TH - Local Authorities have not controlled schools in respect of curriculum and behaviour policies for over twenty years, if they ever did. It is actually the heads of Academies and Free Schools that lack these freedoms. They are told how to run their schools by unelected and unaccountable sponsors, rich private individuals, academy chains and, increasingly, commercial education businesses. Teachers' unions have never sought to control either, but they are quite reasonably worried about maverick private employers attacking their working conditions, for example by increasing their hours and introducing zero hours contracts. For example, ???

This is all just off the top of my head as a first reaction to Tristram's very poor start. Surely the office of the Shadow Secretary of State for Education has research resources. If not then why not?

The best advice of all for Tristram Hunt is to study Local Schools Network every day as his homework, then get his office to do the further research needed to produce the bullets needed for him to decisively puncture and see off the neoliberal fantasies of Michael and pressure groups like Civitas.
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Ivanhoe's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 20:28

Bit baffled first skim through as it seemed Mr H did a good job of answering questions..I then realised that the answers were Roger's..

.I don't think I can bring myself to watch the actual interview with such a callow ill-informed interviewer; at the end did channel 4 wheel out a teacher with a disfiguring tomato head as a trailer for their next fly on the wall ? Maybe a teacher, who gave up teaching and now lives on benefits street, who's been paired for a week with a ex-pupil , once the bane of their classroom but now a successful serial footballer's one-nighter , so they can understand that they're just people too ?

Patrick Hadley's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 22:08

Who are Tristram Hunt's advisers? If anyone knows them then they should tell them to read Roger's article.

I would not let Hunt read it, since he would be probably be a bit offended at it being pointed out where he went wrong, but I think that Roger is saying exactly what Labour should be saying.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 11:02

I assume that these are the real questions that were asked. The core problem, which Hunt cannot be expected to deal with, is that the Westminster Village believe the core message of Gove.

So this is what the movement has to tackle. If colleagues can read the Times editorial of 24th January it is a clear statement of a propaganda line which has now permeated the media wholly, going back to the Black Papers of the 1960s.

Gove is seen as a super hero who has raised standards (to the level of the public schools!!!) by academies and free schools and is opposed by the blob who want low standards.

Unless this can be countered in the heads of people in the BBC and Channel 4 then there is no way forward - no interviewee can combat a tidal wave of hostile questioning. Paxman on Newsnight and now the Channel 4 interviewer are in attack mode. What LSN and similar organisations have to do is kill the myths at source, in the heads of the media.

It is for example not true that standards are higher in free schools and academies, and the evidence is clear. As LSN and others have argued.

yet we cannot get through. I have suggested more than once pooling resources to make this abundantly clear, and campaigning to get the facts through.

Yet this is never done. Why is this the case? It is foolish to think small groups like LSN SEA CASE and so on can break a media consensus. But working together on a propaganda offensive could do this.

So what's stopping us? The four people on the shadow front bench team cannot do this it is too big a task.

Where is the counter force?

Trevor FIsher

agov's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 12:22

Good point about the Westminster Village Trevor. As so often Blair (now that he has brought peace to the Middle East) adds to the nonsense -

agov's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 12:37

To be fair to that presenter (Jackie Long?) she seemed not much less aggressive when she later interviewed Tim Yeo (- though he is of course so much better at these things than Hunt; in retrospect the tenure of Twigg now seems like a golden age of NuLab competence). She seemed just as ill-informed though, imo, but she's a journalist so what can you expect? My thought at the time was that she was making a bid for lots more airtime now that C4 news seems to have decided Cathy Newman gets most of the time not taken by Jon Snow.

The cost or at least the income of academies is an interesting point. They were supposed to be getting (on top of the base amount similar to all schools) a sum (£x) as their share of the money that the LEA would otherwise be spending on them. I haven't seen any reports for quite a while but the last I heard they were claimed to actually be getting £7x. Does anyone have an update on that?

Frustrated Teacher's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 19:24

Roger - I am intruiged as to why you say Labour's Academies programme was well intentioned. As with so many of today's political disasters the rot started with Blair and co. It is totally unsurprising to me that Hunt is clueless - he does indeed, as Trevor says, belong to the same Westminster circle and believe the same things that Gove believes. We cannot expect anything of New Labour - they are wholly incapable of mounting any opposition - how can they - it is THEIR ideology just as much as Gove's. The only force that can out-gun that consensus is the combined power of teachers and parents. To get that we need a clear and radical platform of our own. Stop skirting around the key issues - we have to oppose Academies and Free Schools outright and demand fully comprehensive inclusive local schools. An end to senseless league tables and pointless external exams, to labelling young kids as 'bright' and 'slow', an end to frazzled teachers working 60 hours a week and leaving the profession in droves.. Teachers will not risk their careers to fight for a bit of tidying up around the edges; a bit more of this, a bit less of that. If you want to mobilise this force you need a vision for a radical change that will make a battle worth fighting. There is the stomach for a fight amongst my colleagues but the prize has to be worth the risk.

If I have one criticism of the 'blob' it is that you spend a lot of time talking to each other and not enough time organising the people who can make it happen. NONE of my colleagues know who ANY of the 'blob' are. Will someone step up to the plate and lead this crucial struggle? Hunt won't.

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 22:15

Trevor, your contribution to Roger’s posting is ‘on the button’.

Through the campaign at:

I have been patiently waiting for other education bloggers, education professionals, parents, students and academics to recognise how important it is to move the education debate decisively forward. Democracy is under threat in our country.

Education has been regarded as the sole and primary province of political parties of all persuasions for too long.

There are many others seeking a new way forward for education governance, including:

Michael Bassey (
New Visions for Education Group
Debbra Kidd

Just last week this report, published by Pearson and commented on on the Local Schools Network, made a lame attempt at tackling the issue of party political ‘dabbling’ (not their word) in education, concluding, inappropriately in my view that;

“With the content of the school curriculum continuing to change with each new administration, the report recommends the establishment of a new independent body, made up of teachers, employers, higher education and importantly, political parties. The new group would aim to establish a long-term political consensus on the school curriculum, with ultimate responsibility for delivering and assessing that curriculum continuing to be vested in the government.”

Why not go further and call directly for the actions of political parties, once they have been engaged as equal partners with all the other stakeholders mentioned in agreeing long-term decisions for the direction of education reform, to be confined to decisions over funding, leaving professionals to deliver.

The report does little really to address the need for a different relationship between politicians and the people over the future of education. It can never be enough to make our economic future the central focus, as important as that certainly is. Far more is at stake.

I believe that politicians must be persuaded to support a new way forward.

I’ll help, Trevor!

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 06/02/2014 - 13:38

Like you, I don't think Labour's Academies programme was well intentioned. It was Blair's Trojan Horse for the eventual privatisation that we are now seeing.

I just offered it as a way of helping TH wriggle off the hook.

FJM's picture
Tue, 04/03/2014 - 21:01

I haven't seen Hunt's latest mauling, and have no wish to, as I take no pleasure in seeing a cuddly defenseless animal being savaged. To be fair to the interviewer, she was playing the devil's advocate, as any tough interviewer should, but her helpless victim was ill-equipped to respond convincingly. Hunt was parachuted into Stoke as a pal of Mandelson and is out of his depth as education spokesman. Is there anyone on the Labour benches who is well-informed about education? Please let me know, as I haven't seen any likely replacements. Gove is doing all the running at the moment, and I am beginning to tire of his ceaseless revolution, so it would do him good to have to face up to someone a little more formidable.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Tue, 04/03/2014 - 23:36

the latest mauling is in fact by Andrew Neil on SUnday Politics 2nd March and we should be looking at it, not to defend Hunt who is defenceless, but to look at the tactics used by Neil. Well honed tactics for someone who has a script inside his head to be trotted out at all times.

Neil asked him what reforms of Gove they would repeal.... none... Hunt said most of the Gove's reforms were started by Labour, which is true, but left out Free Schools. So Neil made a savage and very effective attack on Hunt for wanting to deny parents in badly performing areas the right to start more effective schools.

Hunt failed even to mention the Swedish example and the fall down the PISA league tables. Badly briefed true, but utterly unable to anticipate the attack and have a response ready.

Trevor Fisher

Chris Manners's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 00:13

Yep, that does sound poor.

He could have mentioned that parents aren't starting many free schools now. Or that "there's no money left" to run too many surplus places everywhere.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 02:21

Tristram did not get round to saying that only 24 of the 98 free schools started in 2013 were by parents, but he had little chance to say it and it would have made little difference. he did say that "we've got to focus our public finances on where there is the area of absolute need". Made no difference. Neil started banging on about bad schools in Stoke and ignored the fact that Hunt had said we need 250,00 new places, his message was that free schools had to be opened to counter bad schools even when this meant more school places in areas that did not need them.

We really do have to look at the way Neil behaved. My copy of the interview came from a friend, it may be on the BBC web site.

Bizarrely, Hunt never mentions academies except in the context of parent led academies, which as Neil rightly said amount to free schools.

trevor fisher


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 09:01

Trevor - the interview is available here for a limited period. Neil's agenda was obvious from the fact that the quotes beamed prominently onto the backdrop supported (a) new schools being set up even in areas where there's a surplus rather than improving existing schools, and (b) the much-repeated Brighton College head's quote about QTS not being necessary.

Neil kept interrupted Hunt. This isn't new - it happens on other TV and radio programmes. It's meant to pass as incisive questioning but I'd rather hear what the interviewee has to say. It's up to me to decide what I think of the interviewee's argument - I don't need an interviewer interrupting.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 09:19

Chris - you're right - they're was so much that Hunt could have mentioned that is backed up by evidence:

1 81% of secondary free schools have been set up in areas with a surplus (National Audit Office - NAO)
2 NAO estimates £241m has been spent on setting up free schools in areas where there's a surplus.
3 £1 billion overspend on the academies programme (NAO)
4 Sponsored academies do not outperform similar non-academies (Henry Stewart)
5 The extra freedoms which supposedly come with academy status don't amount to much (Academies Commission 2013)
6 Non-academies can do most things academies can do (Academies Commission).
7 Some academy chains are little more than vehicles for money to be diverted to for-profit companies (LSN, Guardian, Private Eye) plus revelations re E-Act, Barnfield, AET, Kings Science Academy, Priory Federation...)

Chris Manners's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 12:22

This is how you deal with a hectoring interviewer.

Plaid Cymru man slaughters Paxman.

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