Status anxiety

Come on, Tristram Hunt, if you think you’re hard enough

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

For a brief moment earlier this week, I thought education might become an issue in the general election campaign. The Commons Education Select Committee’s lukewarm report on the government’s academy and free school programmes was leaked to the Guardian on Monday and the accompanying story claimed that Labour hoped to open a ‘second front’ following the ‘success’ of its attacks over the NHS.

‘It is undeniable that the last Labour government dramatically improved school standards in secondary education,’ said Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary. ‘But the progress that we made… is being undone by a government that is obsessed with market ideology in education.’

Now, I would welcome this, obviously, and not just because it would mean Michael Gove playing a more prominent role in the Conservative campaign. The main reason is because I think the government should be proud of its record in education.

Hunt’s claims are laughable. The public education system that Gove and his team inherited from Labour was a basket case. Under the last government, spending per pupil doubled but English children slipped further down the international league tables. Between 2000 and 2009, we went from eighth to 27th in maths, seventh to 25th in reading and fourth to 16th in science. At least a fifth of children were leaving school unable to read, write or add up, and more children from a single school — Westminster — got into Oxford and Cambridge in 2010 than from all the kids on free school meals.


Under this government, by contrast, huge strides have been made. The number of English children being educated in failing schools has fallen by 250,000, the national curriculum has been rewritten with more emphasis on knowledge, rigour will shortly be restored to GCSEs and A-levels, and headteachers have the powers they need to enforce discipline.

As for the academy and free school programmes, as Dennis Sewell writes on p. 18, they are big successes. In 13 years, Labour set up 203 academies. There are now 3,304. The Education Committee takes the government to task, not because children aren’t doing better in these schools, but because Labour’s sponsored academies improved faster than the converter academies that have sprung up in the past five years. But the first wave began as failing schools, whereas the second were mostly good or outstanding to start with. If they’ve improved less quickly, it’s because they haven’t had as far to go.

Free schools are often seized upon by left-wing critics as the weakest of Gove’s education reforms, but there, too, the government has a good story to tell. To date, 251 have opened, with a further 110 in the pipeline. Once full, these schools will provide nearly 200,000 new places and, contrary to the propaganda spewed out by the teaching unions, the vast majority are in areas where there’s an acute shortage of places. Meeting that need by setting up free schools, which cost less than half as much as new local authority schools, has saved the taxpayer a great deal of money.

The BBC’s unrelenting focus on ‘failing’ free schools, although just two have been shut down so far, obscures the fact that almost three-quarters of those inspected by Ofsted have been ranked good or outstanding, well above the national average. And a handful are genuinely world-beating. For instance, Ark Conway in Acton, one of the first 24 free schools to open in 2011, has just posted the best Key Stage 1 results in the country. Not just better than every other state primary, but better than every fee-paying pre-prep as well. Stick that in your pipe, Mr Hunt.

I would dearly love Labour to open a ‘second front’ on education, but it’s unlikely to happen. Ed Miliband has no interest in education policy, as was clear from the fact that he didn’t devote a single line to it in his 2013 conference speech. He also knows that, unlike the NHS, it’s not an area where Labour consistently outpolls the Conservatives. According to the latest ComRes/ITV News poll, more people said they trusted the Tories when it came to improving our education system than Labour.

If I was Tristram Hunt, I’d keep my head down and hope for a more promising shadow cabinet post when Labour has lost, Miliband has gone and Yvette Cooper is in charge.

Why I’m praying for Labour to attack the Tories on education

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Show comments
  • TJB

    Labour prove continually that simply hosing money at something doesn’t work if the underlying thought processes and foundations are wrong-headed.

    • Damian Hurts

      The benefits of BSF school projects are summarised as (1) attempting to perform a quantum leap in ‘personalised learning’ via ICT, (2) involving humongous numbers of qualified and expensive personnel in the bidding, evaluation and delivery phases to develop bespoke local solutions and (3) funding that process by means of overpriced financial mechanisms similar only to those healthcare PFI. All this has very little effect on actual outcome.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The most dangerous Labour party nutters are the posh, privileged ones. In Hunt’s case exacerbated by his constipated stupidity. Another ten years and he will be a world class bore of the Ashdown mould.

    • ed miliband is much more dangerous than hunt, but only one of them rhymes with himself.

  • good on you toby for fighting the good fight. the conversation around education (and health) in this country are totally depressing. lefties made it thus.

    • GraveDave

      Toby never seems to answer his challengers though.

  • misomiso

    Politicians of the Left like Tristram Hunt, Shirley Williams and Tony Benn are the beneficiaries of some of the best educations known to man, yet all they want to do is deprive educational advantage to anyone else.

    • HJ777

      It doesn’t say much for the quality of the supposed ‘best education’ if it produced those three.

  • Schoolswot

    “But the first wave began as failing schools, whereas the second were mostly good or outstanding to start with.”

    Oh right.

    So why did they have to be converted into an academy at great expense?

    The line you and that other liar Gove have been running was that it gave them ‘freedoms’ away from the iron grip of the local authorities.

    But wait…the other day a DfE source said that it was done as a reward for them being good schools!

    So, leaving aside the fact that we now have academies that are probably doing as well as they would have done under the LA, the Comptroller and Auditor General said that because of the way that academy accounts are prepared, the DfE overall accounts were nonsense so he couldn’t sign them off. Again. Just like last year.

    Great policy Tobes – mass conversion of schools that didn’t need it plus screwing up a government department’s accounts.

    • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

      “So why did they have to be converted into an academy at great expense?”

      It isn’t expensive. And cutting out the LEA means saving money and allowing heads to do what they want with their budget.

      • Schoolswot

        “It isn’t expensive.”

        Yes it is. The academies programme was overspent by £1bn in the first two years.

        And i think you’ll find there are services such as insurance, legal, HR etc which are far more effective when bought as a shared service rather than individually.

        Ironic that councils are now talking about merging back office services when what’s happened with schools policy? The very opposite.

        Worth noting that since 2002 local authorities have had a schools funding schools so that the decision on shared services is agreed with a panel of local HTs and governors.

  • Schoolswot

    “the vast majority are in areas where there’s an acute shortage of places. Meeting that need by setting up free schools,”

    But that wasn’t what the policy was supposed to be for was it?

    The Select Committee report says:

    “188. Free schools are a flagship policy of the Government, designed to allow
    experimentation, but it appears that the policy has been altered so that these schools are also intended to meet basic need for places.”

    A fair number of those free schools are run by the same academy chains that run ‘normal’ academies and were doing so by 2010.

    And the one free school you highlight?

    “For instance, Ark Conway in Acton”

    That’s the ARK whose sponsor sits on the DfE Board and who run many other academies – do you seriously think that is a fair comparison with a school setting up on its own with no support from a large academy chain?

    Your old mate Daisy Christodolou – where is she now?

    Oh…at ARK…

    Maybe we’ll get a less biased view of that report at some stage from you but I doubt it.

    Did you ever get round to explaining what happened to those two head teachers you had to get rid of?

  • Schoolswot

    Oh dear, what’s this now…

    http://schoolsweek.co.uk/dfe-needs-plan-to-stop-repeat-of-trojan-horse-say-mps/

    “A damning report on ‘Schools Oversight and Intervention’ by the Public Accounts Committee released today says the DfE’s “light-touch” approach means problems can go undetected in schools until serious damage is done”

    That’s three reports this week Toby – all very damning on your mate’s academy policy.

    “Why I’m praying for Labour to attack the Tories on education”

    So am I – to expose liars like you, Gove and Morgan.

    • Ali

      Do you believe that teachers are professional people who go into teaching because they are committed to helping children to learn and wish to do so to the best of their ability, out of a desire to help and serve? Or do you think they are a bunch of idiots who need spying on by the state every verse end, to make sure they aren’t making a total pigs ear of what they are doing, because they are entirely incompetent? My guess is as a Labour supporter, you back the teaching unions, who take the former view. When schools become academies or teachers take jobs in free schools, they do not become incompetent, stupid idiots over night. They are the same people, so to suddenly think they need inspecting and monitoring at all stages in that event is entirely hypocritical of you.

  • Peter Stroud

    Once again we have the BBC doing Labour’s electioneering for them. It really is time that the corporation was forced to act in an unbiased manner. As specified in their charter.

  • HJ777

    “when Labour has lost, Miliband has gone and Yvette Cooper is in charge.”

    Oh dear, will the “we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do” (she thinks that constitutes a convincing argument) woman really be in charge? The female Miliband. I don’t think I could stand it.

  • wudyermucuss

    I won’t be lectured to on education by a private school educated toff.

  • marklu

    “It would mean Michael Gove playing a more prominent role…..:” He’s gone Toby. You have mourned enough. Move on.

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      Gove doesn’t matter anyway. The people who do are on the placemen on the DfE board and Lord Nash.

      Gove was the salesman. He was so bad at it, he got sacked. Though I guess nobody can stop him getting papers from his mate Nick Gibb.

  • marklu

    Just seen Zelo street and Mumsnet Tobes. Interesting stuff. I couldn’t give two hoots about your je suis page 3 stuff. That’s just you being you. But that WILFS admissions stuff is going to run. As Tubby said on your Sentamu piece, fix the feeder school you fix the intake!

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      Thanks for the quote!

      Nice to give something back to you.

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