Yesterday I braved foul weather and an incredibly busy M6 to attend a meeting with Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary at his constituency office in Stoke-on-Trent. We were a small group of Edu-tweeters which I think helped to focus the conversation. Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry) Debra Kidd (@debrakidd) Lee (one half of @thought-weavers) and myself were the attendees.
Prior to the meeting all I knew of Mr Hunt was his declaration that teachers should be urged to take a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ and also that there would be a teacher MOT every few years under his leadership. I was unimpressed by both of these suggestions so had crossed him off in my mind as a useful Education Secretary. When the opportunity came to meet him I jumped at it because I wanted to see what kind of a man could suggest these things.
We began by asking him his vision for education. He went to great pains to explain that in the past Labour had always been about curing social injustice and breaking down social inequality. Under his guidance education would return to that starting point. The key was how to build a sustainable model. At the moment the country has many poorly skilled workers earning low wages which causes poverty. Bills remain unpaid in some households and families are trapped in a vicious cycle of work, low pay and poverty. A skilled workforce is required to alleviate this and education is where it all begins. In general Tristram said he wanted to see schools with happy children with character and personality. He went further and said that the schools with the highest academic standards are the ones who build character in children. Fragile schools strip out the extras and remove the capacity for good learning.
Tristram’s vision begins in the Early Years. He wants to tackle child poverty in households by funding if possible more free child care. He wants to promote school readiness by rebuilding Sure Start centres of which labour were quite rightly proud. Labour will look again at EYFS training and ensure the workforce is trained to Level 3. There will be a renewed sense of purpose for Sure Start centres with the Health visitors and other professionals being present making it easier to access them. It would be all about having a ‘sure start in life for some of the most disadvantaged children’.
Tristram said that recent structural reform hasn’t been the right answer. The quality of teaching and leadership is the key to success. He went on to speak with warmth about a school he’d visited that had been lifted from RI to Good because there had been no let up on standards in teaching and learning. As teachers we will agree with this. You can have all the silly gimmicks you want but the teaching and learning has to be of the highest standard for education to improve. At this point we mentioned unqualified teachers. Tristram was certain about this. All teachers would be qualified or working towards QTS. As a group we were pleased to hear this. We also discussed the revival of a role similar to AST. This would be aimed at keeping the best practitioners in the classroom rather than losing them to management. We told Tristram that the name ‘Master’ teacher would not be popular and Debra said we would ask Twitter teachers for their preferred alternative.
We discussed SATS next and the fact that children are often sitting outside the classroom trying to catch up on Maths and English, usually at the expense of the subjects that build character! Tristram said there is no easy answer to this. We asked him about assessment and informed him that much teacher time has been spent coming up with solutions after the abandonment of national levels. Assessment is out of control we told him. Accountability and data is a monster. Tim suggested teacher assessment as an alternative and there was a discussion around that point. I asked Tristram if he would bring back a national assessment system and he said he would. Uniformity is needed on this important point. Debra suggested removing the numbers so that children don’t have low expectations. We also discussed the fact that the performance descriptors are a disaster.
There was a broader conversation around the 4-19 space and the usefulness of A Levels. Tristram favours the idea of a National Baccalaureate with either a vocational or academic qualification, both of equal worth. Personally I love this because not everyone is suited to A Levels. Again, this is the long term vision and will take longer than one parliament.
Performance Related Pay was next up. This would stay but would not be mandatory and certainly not inspected by Ofsted. Tristram said that if it is used well it is used to reward hard work. He went to pains to say it shouldn’t be used to cut pay if children do not make the grades. It should not be based on results at the end of the year. I was encouraged by this statement.
As part of the wider discussion Tristram said he wants to see a world class teacher in every classroom. To achieve this there would be lots of professional development coupled with good teacher training to improve the quality of teaching and learning. He stressed that teaching is not poor now! That was good to hear as we don’t often hear that from politicians. Anything can be improved and with such a huge amount of money invested in education it has to be right. There has to be accountability.
I was pleased to hear Tristram say that there would be no new primary curriculum. Under him there would be stability. You are the professionals he said, make it work for you. He told us that he is committed to a broad and balanced curriculum for the children. He reminded us that he is actually there for the children and their parents, not just the teachers. He wants what’s best for them.
I came away from the meeting feeling inspired. He is not like he is portrayed in the media. He is genuine and warm and actually listened to us and took our suggestions seriously. I liked the fact that he talked of trusting teachers and acknowledged our professionalism. That was worth the 3 and a half hour round trip.