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Tristram Hunt answers questions from The Key’s staff

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It makes a nice change for staff at The Key when we can ask the questions rather than answer them. We had a good opportunity last week when Tristram Hunt, shadow secretary of state for education came to speak to us. I’ve always thought it’s relatively easy to plan a speech – it’s when you have to answer random questions from the floor that your knowledge is really tested.

Teachers are currently being recruited from Canada and Australia. Why can’t we get enough here?

There’s bound to be some recruitment from overseas. Data shows that teaching is the second most popular career for new graduates, but the shortage in subjects like physics goes back a long way, even when you give bursaries. We need the ability to plan, and excellence in the higher education teacher training system; universities were good at going out to get good people into teaching. And I’m in favour of a new master teacher route meaning experienced teachers can support, mentor and train other teachers across the system. This government removed QTS in 2011 – Labour plans to return to what existed before. We know the quality of teaching is what makes the difference in schools, so we want fully qualified teachers. I believe autonomy works best not when you just let people free, but when people are collaborating. So I want to retain some of the freedoms, but replace baseline requirements. Of course, QTS is just the licence to teach – after that it’s about continuing professional development.

What about getting the best people to step up into headship?

This is a challenge. Retirement among the baby boomer generation has probably contributed to the problem. We certainly need to attract talent at the primary level, and more federated structures there would help. Headship is a well-rewarded position, so financially we can’t really go further. It’s more about the cultural and reputational challenge – (how headteachers are valued in society) – and that’s part of a wider conversation with Ofsted too. It’s a very different experience being head in a constrained school to being head in an outstanding school.

How can schools teach children critical reasoning – to have intellectual grit? We’ve seen how some “outstanding” schools in Birmingham were guilty of stripping out everything to focus just on numeracy and literacy.

We definitely need a broad and a balanced curriculum, and not everything has to end up in a qualification. In terms of synoptic learning… that’s what creates independence and resilience.  For the most part, I support the new GCSE curriculum. I agree on the reintroduction of integrity into qualifications – but I think the current government have gone too far with the removal of some of the practical components to learning. They’ve got into a fetishism of small differences.

What about the excessive workload debate?

We’ll reduce initiativitis. And we’ll stress the importance of leadership. Ofsted is going in the right direction of travel at present, I think. We’ll review this, and then we’ll stick with what works. Data is important for checking progress but we seem to have ten year cycles of change, so we need some stability and reflection..

Would you change the funding formula?


The Tories took elements of the academy programme and turned it into an ideological programme. I want to put the gel back into the system, with a middle tier of regional commissioners. The current funding formula is not sustainable. Over time we will even out the discrepancies. At present there are levels of control in some academy chains tighter than existed in local authorities before.  Obviously there have to be firm controls about child protection, and oversight from Ofsted. But we want school leaders to use the freedoms they’ve been given – not to have to ask for permission, can I do x? can I do y?

Why doesn’t Labour just commit to removing charitable status from independent schools?

Personally I think there’s a moral and philosophical issue about a government deciding what is and what is not a charity, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that. Anyway, going that route in the past ended up in court for four years. So I think what’s important is the end point, what’s expected from these schools, and so that’s how we will go about it. It’s about breaking down barriers and making sure those schools play a meaningful part improving outcomes for all children. That’s what matters.

How can the school governance system be improved?

Two things: encourage more people to be governors, and provide better training and resourcing, but without putting up barriers. There’s a need for more resource and training for governors, and a need for a more strategic body to oversee a federation of schools. I’m not minded to throw this up in the air.

We know the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. If you could choose one thing to do in government that would support that –  because schools can’t do it all – what would you say?

We know that children need early attachment in loving families. Focus on policies to support that  over the long term. Also tackle and reduce poverty.

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