Talking point: Ideas vacuum

Written by Tom Freeman on 26 September 2014

Given criticism of Tristram Hunt by teaching unions recently for ‘a lack of ideas’, it is surprising the shadow education secretary didn’t come out fighting at the Labour conference last week. Instead, his speech there was just ten minutes long and relegated to the early shift on the first day.
“The Tory record on education is shameful: rising class sizes; more unqualified teachers; tripling tuition fees and, now, in Nicky Morgan we have a ‘Continuity Gove’, auto-pilot Education Secretary,” he said. Ambitions were for “world-class teachers in every classroom” and to “build character and resilience” in our children, but there was no mention of qualifications or standards, and it is still unclear what Labour’s position is on the free schools project. There was also no clarity on whether Labour backs performance-related pay south of the border.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), tweeted: “There are half a million teachers in England and Wales – what is Labour’s offer to them? No ideas from this speech.”
Bafflingly, Hunt also said of the school system, “like Scotland, we are better together.” Either this was a hint of a unification of education policies north and south of the border following the No vote, or the statement suggests he may not be aware of education being a completely devolved issue. Indeed, the education system has always been separate.
And in Scotland the focus remains on qualifications and standards. Curriculum for Excellence has lofty ambitions, but the new qualifications were over-assessed because of fear of failure.
Peter Peacock was the Education Secretary when the policy was being formulated, and Scottish Labour’s current education spokeswoman, Kezia Dugdale, feels his work should still be a point of reference. “If you look at the vision Peter Peacock had, and the bravery of going to the OECD and saying, ‘you tell us how crap our schools are. Give us a report card on what needs to change.’ It’s worth looking back at that report. It’s a 200-page serious report that highlights some great strengths of the Scottish system, points out our failings, and we’ve had that in our hands and I think we’ve done so little with it in the last seven years,” she told me recently.
If we cannot build on ideas from 2006, is it any wonder teachers are lacking in confidence?

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