Earlier this month, the Secretary of State for Education was advocating a return to Victorian-style rote learning in our primary schools. Now he wants to bring back a two tier exam system that his own party abolished more than 25 years ago. All from a Government making the biggest cuts to education spending since the 1950s.
Now I’m a great supporter of History. But I don’t believe we need a school system that is stuck in the past.
On this side of the House we believe in stretching the most able students, we believe in rigour, high standards and opportunity for all students in all subjects. The most important ingredients of success are the quality of leadership, teaching and learning in our schools and colleges. It is vital that this is backed by a credible set of qualifications.
On this side of the House we support reforming the structure of the exam system to deal with unhealthy competition between exam boards. If that means a single exam board, we will look at those plans in detail. I understand the Select Committee is due to come up with proposals to deal with this shortly.
Sensible, thought through, evidence-based measures to increase rigour and tackle grade inflation will have the full support of this side of the House.
So let’s be clear what the fundamental difference between us and the Education Secretary is: the proposal to divide pupils at 14 into winners & losers.
When the Deputy Prime Minister woke up in Rio de Janeiro, he said last Thursday about the Secretary of State’s proposals,
I’m not in favour of anything that would lead to a two-tier system where children at quite a young age are somehow cast on a scrapheap. What you want is an exam system which is fit for the future, doesn’t turn the clock back to the past…so it works for the many and…not just for the few.
We agree with that sentiment on this side of the House, the question is will the Liberal Democrat benches have the courage to vote for our motion that supports their own leader’s words?
Last week, the Daily Mail which was leaked the story, reported that none of the plans require an Act of Parliament. But this week, the Government amendment on the order paper calls for proposals which are approved by Parliament.
I welcome yet another u-turn by the Government to give Parliament a proper say. But I want to suggest that as well as changing the process, that he actually changes the substance of his proposals.
Today’s debate is an opportunity for this House to reject a move to bring back a system created in the 1950s and abolished in the 1980s.
These proposals were leaked just as pupils were sitting their GCSEs.
As nervous and stressed young people were queuing up to sit hugely important exams, the Secretary of State was saying they were worthless – how insulting.
How insulting to young people that had studied and revised so hard. How insulting to parents that had helped their children through the stress of exam time. How insulting to teachers who had worked so hard to prepare their pupils.
Why make these changes now – and why so quickly? Is he worried that his other policies will mean that school standards will fall? So he needs to mask this fall by abolishing the main measure of secondary schools’ results?
These plans are nothing less than a cap on aspiration.
Stephen Twigg MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Education