Back in September, the former editor of the TES wrote on this blog that the majority of Michael Gove's education reforms would remain should Labour form the next government. With this in mind, I was curious to find out from Tristram Hunt exactly what Labour proposes to do if it is elected to government next May.
One evening over the half-term, a small contingent from The Key's London office headed over to Westminster to hear Tristram Hunt interviewed (and at times chastised) by The Times' David Aaronovitch, as part of a series of events at the Houses of Parliament hosted by the organisation Progress.
Hunt set out some of Labour's education priorities. Foremost is an intention to refocus on opportunities for technical and vocational education, and to ensure that this pathway works. Hunt said that for all Michael Gove's rhetoric about vocational education and apprenticeships, there had been very little progress on the quality of vocational learning for under-21 year olds in the last four years.
He reiterated a point he has often made about the quality of teaching being vital to the success of any education system, and also mentioned how important he sees collaboration between schools.
Much was made about what Labour would not change, such as the new curriculum. The former academic historian joked that he would love to rewrite the history curriculum over one weekend, but he believed the secretary of state should have some distance from the curriculum. Hunt also made the point that it was unhelpful for successive administrations to create upheaval in the system; he felt a balance was needed between changing (or reversing) what needed to change and allowing enough stability.
On the point that Gerard Kelly made in his guest post, namely that Labour would leave the bulk of Gove's reforms intact, I asked Hunt for some examples of what Labour would want to do away with or reverse. He listed:
- Calling a halt to the free schools programme
- Not scrapping AS-levels
- Ensuring qualified teacher status for all teachers
- Reintroducing coursework in some GCSE subjects
Aaronovitch levelled the charge at Hunt that tinkering around the edges of education policy was a symptom of a tighter budget, and with no opportunity to invest in significant change he was effectively left with gimmicks such as the proposed teacher oath. But is the proposal of asking teachers to take an oath of education, akin to the medics’ Hippocratic Oath, purely a gimmick? Hunt was adamant this is not the case, and it comes instead from his conviction that putting the quality of teaching at the heart of education is essential.
Hunt faced questions about other education policy areas such as the role of the local authority and the importance of modern languages. But as our host reminded us, this is the nebulous time before the launching of a manifesto when nothing much can be said outright. The best we can hope for just now are hints at the shape of future policy commitments.
At The Key we’ll be working hard, as the general election approaches, to ensure that our members are kept up to date with education proposals from the major parties, and expert opinion on their implications.