14 Things Stephen Twigg Could Do

First published April 2013

Tony Blair has laid down a challenge for Labour to avoid being a party of protest and show ourselves as an alternative government. Below, Michael has sensibly asked for Labour-led discussion about education policy. In that spirit, I offer the following suggestions in no particular order for Labour education policy (I explore each in a little more detail below):

1. Announce that successful academies and free schools will not be taken back under LA control. End of.

2. Announce clear criteria for deciding who should run failing schools – and permit Outstanding Local Authorities to bid to run schools in neighbouring areas.

3. Permit LAs who show significant improvement to bid to regain any academies doing less well under their new situation than previously.

4. Commit to the retention of OFSTED, and commit to doing everything necessary to retain Michael Wilshaw at its head, and provide him with the necessary resources to iron out the variation in inspection practice.

5. Make it a requirement of UPS that teachers should spend a short amount of time each year as part of OFSTED inspection teams in other schools.

6. Refuse to take the NUT’s calls – and announce it publicly.

7. Make full-time facilities time for teaching staff illegal – maximum of 0.6FTE.

8. Scrap the new National Curriculum.

9. Set up a Royal College of Teachers and bar members of union executives from places on its governing bodies.

10. Keep the free schools principle but improve the organisation.

11. Take up the Sherrington Plan for qualifications.

12. Announce criteria for limiting the over-expansion of academy providers

13. Endow a new Teachers’ Research Council specifically to fund further research for in-service teachers.

14. Sanction small-scale, tightly monitored trials of for-profit provision of schooling.

1. Announce that successful academies and free schools will not be taken back under LA control. End of.

He has essentially already done this, but everyone needs to be clear that schools which succeed for their pupils will not be forced to change status.

2. Announce clear criteria for deciding who should run failing schools – and permit Outstanding Local Authorities to bid to run schools in neighbouring areas.

Turning failing schools into academies is fine, and moving failing academies to a new provider is also fine; but the process of deciding who should run such schools is unacceptably opaque. There should be a clear process set against publically available criteria. More, the process should not just draw on existing academy chains – other LAs with excellent track records should have a right to bid like any other provider. Parent- and teacher-led free school groups should also be permitted to bid.

3. Permit LAs who show significant improvement to bid to regain any academies doing less well under their new situation than previously.

If one of the purposes of the academisation process is to encourage improvement in LAs, then some will lose some schools initially and then improve; some will become as good as other academy providers. If the new academy school does not succeed, then the LA should have a right to bid for its return (if they think it appropriate).

4. Commit to the retention of OFSTED, and commit to doing everything necessary to retain Michael Wilshaw at its head, and provide him with the necessary resources to iron out the variation in inspection practice.

Wilshaw is the Chief Inspector teachers have been waiting for (even if they don’t realise it) – he’s committed to outstanding teaching without a prejudice about precisely what that should look like in the classroom and, when you look below the headlines, his public comments are consistently supportive of good teachers What he does have is an organisation that is insufficiently consistent in its practice and he needs the resources and the political support to ensure OFSTED works well.

5. Make it a requirement of UPS that teachers should spend a short amount of time each year as part of OFSTED inspection teams in other schools.

The Upper Pay Spine is supposed to require more of teachers than the Main Pay Scale, including a duty of sharing best practice with other colleagues – one mechanism for that should involve inspecting other schools. All schools would be clearer on the inspection criteria, as well as getting the chance to examine and share good practice across schools.

6.   Refuse to take the NUT’s calls – and announce it publically.

The NUT’s leadership has wandered so far from the political mainstream that there is no point engaging with them – they will be as hostile to the next Labour government as they have been to the present Tory one and were to the last Labour one. There will never be meaningful dialogue with the present leadership and there is pretty much no chance of change. Labour should tell teachers clearly: if you want decent national representation, join a union prepared to negotiate properly and make compromises when necessary.

7. Make full-time facilities time for teaching staff illegal – maximum of 0.6FTE.

One of the reasons for the NUT’s political absurdity is the existence of a whole cadre of officers who do not work as teachers, and in many case have not done so for a decade or more. Facilities time which permits union representatives time off to represent members was never intended to permit staff to essentially leave their job and take up a position as a union official paid by the state. Labour should be clear there is value to facilities time, but it lies in having working teachers representing other working teachers, and we should insist this line is followed.

8Scrap the new National Curriculum.

The old one wasn’t perfect, but there simply wasn’t any burning desire amongst anyone outside the current Secretary of State’s circle for a review. It would be better to scrap the ill-prepared new draft, leave the one before that in place and then consult widely on what (if anything) needs to change.

9. Set up a Royal College of Teachers and bar members of union executives from places on its governing bodies.

The proposed new RTC is an excellent idea and should receive all-party support. It and the unions will and should have different purposes, and should speak with quite different voices. Any conflicts of interest should be avoided by ensuring their governing bodies are quite separate.

10. Keep the free schools principle but improve the organisation.

There needs to be far greater consideration given to how to support bids from those outside the system (the New Schools Network could be much better at this), place planning, and the financial architecture underpinning the system, but it seems to me perfectly sound to say that parents shouldn’t have to like it, lump it, or move to get a school they’re willing to send their kids too. If they have sufficient wide-spread support, parents should retain the right to force the creation of a new school where they are unhappy with the current provision.

11. Announce criteria for limiting the over-expansion of academy providers.

Academy chains ought to be inspected, just as LAs are, and there should be criteria for deciding if they should be allowed to expand further. The DfE recently barred AET from taking on further academies – perfectly sensible, but it should be clear in what circumstances this will happen.

12.   Take up the Sherrington Plan for qualifications.

Tom Sherrington has created the most interesting suggestion out there for a way out of the qualifications gridlock we seem to be in. He’s already working on it with the Heads Roundtable, and Labour should be too. [EDIT: more developed outline of this proposal here.]

13. Endow a new Teachers’ Research Council specifically to fund further research for in-service teachers.

Getting funding for further education as a teacher is hard – most of it has to come from your own pocket, or possibly your school if they are feeling generous (which fewer and fewer are). It shouldn’t be that way – teachers should be able to compete for access to a dedicated research funding stream, alongside the already existing research funding councils (which generally fund those going into academia).

14.   Sanction small-scale, tightly monitored trials of for-profit provision of schooling.

Despite how uncomfortable this makes me and other Labour members, this issue isn’t going to go away – the Tories are already claiming it as the “next big thing”. If we win in 2015, they’ll pledge it for 2020 and we should make sure we know and can demonstrate the impact on our schools. If it doesn’t work, we’ve monitored it carefully to ensure no damage is done and pulled the rug from under the Tories. If it does work … well, that’ll be a whole other set of conversations.

John Blake (@johndavidblake) is a secondary school teacher and editor of Labour Teachers. He blogs at johndavidblake.org.

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