Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow Education Minister in the Lords
The survival of Michael Gove and the arrival of David Laws in the recent reshuffle is unlikely to put a spring in the step of teachers. They can’t be blamed for wanting a bit a bit of peace and for politicians to stop meddling in their sector. So it’s not surprising that I’ve been invited to a TUC fringe to debate with teachers’ leaders the proposition that ‘Teacher knows best – who should we trust to educate our children?’
Of course, politicians can make a difference and I remain proud of the improvements that Labour made to education over the years. But if we are looking for examples of ministers giving politicians a bad name we should look no further than Mr Gove.
He may well have been an entertaining journalist but he clearly has no idea how to manage change successfully and how to take the workforce with you. He is full of contradictions – the Conservative manifesto, which he helped to draft, talks of giving parents more involvement but his actions have stripped parents of any say and concentrated power in his own hands. He has grand ambitions for taking the curriculum back to a bygone age but ignores the fact that academies and free schools are exempt from the changes. He talks of narrowing the attainment gap but aspires to reintroduce an ‘O’ level style system which will write off the aspirations of two thirds of young people at 11.
So, it’s tough being a teacher under Michael Gove’s regime. It’s tough not knowing how best to help your pupils to achieve success and it’s tough working in a climate where everything is perceived to be your fault. It’s not surprising therefore, that teachers’ morale is at an all time low.
Since the last election, Labour shadow team have been working with educationalists, parents and teachers to put together a programme that will get education on the right track again – concentrating on driving up quality, closing the attainment gap and addressing the mismatch between educational outcomes and the needs of the future job market.
We plan to take the heat out of the potential conflict between politicians and teachers, allowing us to have a thoughtful, rational debate about how to drive up standards free from political fashions and dogma. This is why Stephen Twigg is proposing the establishment of an Office for Educational Improvement. Crucially this will be an independent body committed to drawing upon robust evidence and working with the teaching profession to learn from the best and inspire future generations. It will have an international perspective and aim to improve England’s position compared to other countries.
Obviously it is too soon to predict the outcome of the next election, and what educational shambles we will inherit from the current administration. There will clearly be a need to correct some of the wrongs and inequalities that have been allowed to flourish.
But beyond that, our priority should be to celebrate the best that teachers can offer, to drive up quality and collaboration across the sector and, perhaps most pressing of all, to tackle the continuing disparities in educational achievement between rich and poor. Hopefully, this is a journey we can take with the teaching profession.