The Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt was interviewed on the Sunday Politics this afternoon. Mr Hunt gave a predictably fudged performance that can have pleased nobody. He grudgingly acknowledged the success of Michael Gove’s reforms one minute – then denounced them the next.
For example, Mr Hunt talked about problems in a couple of free schools (out of the 174 that have opened so far.) He implied that those failures were an indictment of the policy. Yet Mr Hunt did not indicate he would close down, or even municipalise, all the free schools. So probably enough for left wing activists and parents at the free schools not to really him.
A fair bet would be that Mr Hunt would halt – but not reverse – the revolution. That under him the Department of Education would be congealed in aspic. It’s just a guess. Nobody can really claim to know what a Labour Government’s education policy would be. Certainly Mr Hunt doesn’t have much of clue.
Let us hope that Lord Adonis found a more genial way to spend his Sunday lunchtime that watching the show. The most interesting bit was a quote from Tony Blair in 2005 that the programme’s researchers had dug out and was flashed up on the screen.
An interview in the TES with the then Prime Minister included the following exchange:
Trust in parents’ power to care
Q) Why do you believe that parents would do a better job of running schools? And what makes you think that they want to?
David Mingay, Pirton Hill infant school, Luton.
A) I don’t believe parents should be running schools on a day-to-day basis.
Nor are they going to be. That’s the job of heads and school leaders. I do believe, however, that parents should have more involvement in decisions on issues like the curriculum, school meals and uniform. And they should also be given more practical information about their child’s progress. We also want parents to have more power to push for changes where Ofsted uncover problems and make it easier for them to set up new schools where they are dissatisfied with the existing provision for their children. And it is why parents should be able to exercise choice, whatever their background.
People say that if parents won’t become governors, then they’re not interested. I don’t think that’s the case: most parents care
enormously about how their child is doing at school. I recognise, of course, that with these rights comes an expectation that parents
become much more engaged and interested in their children’s education. We want to see that as well. And schools should have the ability to ensure that parents take their responsibilities for attendance and school discipline seriously.
Mr Blair was largely thwarted in his wish to increase choice and competition in education. The point of the interview with Mr Hunt was to show that even that aim has been abandoned by the Labour Party. Mr Hunt said that some new schools could still be set up (called parent-led academies rather than free schools). However not where there are “surplus places.”
So Mr Blair support for parents “to set up new schools where they are dissatisfied with the existing provision for their children” has been renounced by Mr Hunt.
Mr Hunt said that “we live in very different economic circumstances” to justify forcing parents to send their children to bad, half empty schools. But competition is the spur that could force those schools to improve or face closure. The reality is that allowing failing schools to drift on is not good value for the taxpayer – or in the interests of local children.