Stephen Twigg claims Michael Gove’s policies create massive centralisation and underplay teaching standards. In an interview in the Guardian, he talks about about an unsustainable model created by the coalition and what he thinks is really needed to improve the standards of teaching in the classroom…
Faced by the super-Blairite Michael Gove on the one hand, and the more conservative instincts of teaching unions, it has been a tough job for Stephen Twigg, the likeable shadow education secretary, to carve out a distinctive course.
He has often been attacked as a bystander in face of the Gove revolution, or simply confused, being drawn into renouncing popularschools policies that the previous Labour government began. It has also taken him a few stabs to broker a clear response to Gove’s free schools.
It hardly helps that the little limelight an opposition politician can command is sometimes consumed by the prescriptive zeal of Lord Adonis, the Labour architect of academies and recent author of a highly detailed 12-point plan for education.
That is now changing. Twigg is patiently crafting his own agenda.
His chief point is that the coalition’s shakeup has created an unsustainable model. It leads to a massive centralisation and – by focusing so heavily on academies at the exclusion of much else – it underplays the true path to success: improving the standard of teaching in the classroom.
The revolution raging around Twigg is extraordinary. By July, 1,590 English schools, mostly successful secondaries, had chosen greater independence as academies. Another 540 will convert this term, making more than half of England’s 3,200 secondary schools academies. Another 367 schools are sponsored academies, getting external support to improve standards, often from a school chain such as Ark or Harris.
Just 6% of primaries have made the switch but 187 poorly performing primaries are among the 280 schools close to approval for academy status. In addition, 68 free schools, the unguided missile in education, are opening this term,
Twigg wants to get back to the old mantra of standards not structures. He said: “Whilst different kinds of structure and governance has an impact, different quality of teaching has a much bigger impact”. He says 80% of the difference in school standards rests on teaching.
“The main task is to focus on improving the quality of teaching and the status of the teaching profession. Gove has a free market approach that believes there is only one class of school that achieves success – the academy and free school. I am proud of the achievements of Labour’s academies programme, but I think there is plenty of great innovation in all sorts of schools.”
To make his point, Twigg chooses to conduct the interview at Kingswood school, part of the Gypsy Hill Federation – five primary schools in Lambeth, south London that are achieving great results under executive head teacher Craig Tunstall, an inspirational, no-excuses head.
Twigg’s choice shows he is not interested in the soft option. At one site, Tunstall felt impelled of get rid of 70 % of the teachers, but his federation also chose not to seek academy status.
Apart from reforms to teacher training, Twigg is interested in the Commons education select committee proposals for a Royal College for Teaching, similar to those in the medical and legal professions. “If we are going to see a further improvement in schools, it will come primarily from teachers supporting other teachers and challenging other teachers,” he said.