Dear Tristram Hunt

I sent this letter to Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, earlier today, and will of course update the blog once I have a reply.  I’ll expand more on what I mean by principles and overview on subsequent posts. 

Dear Mr Hunt

I’m writing to express my concern about the policy intentions you published over the weekend. I’m sure I won’t be the first Labour Party member writing to you today, or the last parent to express such views.

I don’t know the policy detail. What I do know is that things are in a mess, and that education policies which appear – at least on the face of it – designed to appeal to a small group of potential voters, won’t sort out the structural and systemic problems in our education system.

As you know, there are, sadly, examples throughout the country of education provision in distress. Here in Suffolk we’ve seen at first hand the wasteful and divisive effects of  Free Schools, and also have the misfortune to be home to the first for-profit school, widely rumoured to be about to be given a bad Ofsted. Granted, these schools were set up in a fit of ideological pique, despite a wealth of evidence about the surplus of school places in Suffolk and the need to support other school changes already underway in our county. But sorting out the mess that has been left behind doesn’t just mean stopping unqualified teachers from working in state-funded schools of any sort, or ceasing the Free School programme (welcome though both of these statements are).  It needs something bigger, surely?

The NHS has in its time been subject to countless structural changes, as you well know, and none more damaging to its identity, equity of provision and service culture than that imposed by the Coalition in 2010.  But having a clear structure should not be in itself damaging, it’s the constant twisting and turning that causes the harm.  Conversely, education has seen the opposite: no structural overview, dwindling accountability to local people, and a blurring of boundaries between providers and commissioners (the rise of the academy chain). To make matters worse, there is Michael Gove’s pervasive assault on the motivation of teachers and the optimism of parents.

We talk about our ‘education system’.  But in reality, it’s a series of mini-systems, most of which don’t join up, and many of which have competing priorities.  So faced with all this chaos, why isn’t Labour trying to sort out the fundamentals?  Why, instead, do we have to be subject to more statements about micro-policies such as how long to teach maths for  (isn’t that a professional decision, not a political one, by the way?), and why do we have to keep pandering to the notion of choice for some (Fraser Nelson’s ‘pent-up’ parents), rather than making sure every parent’s children can attend a good local school?  You have made some positive statements – for example about valuing vocational training, and supporting the establishment of  a Royal College of Teaching, but it seems to me that such messages are in danger of getting lost in the storm.

I fully understand that getting from where we are now to a more equitable and confident system will take considerable planning, effort and time.   I’m a parent, not an expert, and I only have some idea of the policies you wish to pursue.  But I do believe  fundamental change can and must be achieved.  I appreciate some of the debate is tough: we are where we are now, as they say.  But first teachers need to trust you.  Parents need to trust you.  And so do our children.  So please, open up the debate and make it about the principles and the overview first, the detail can follow.

Yours sincerely

Emma Bishton


One response to this post.

  1. Well I now have a reply. Tristram Hunt outlines
    “three crucial areas of Labour’s parent-led academy agenda:
    prioritising investment to areas of need (crisis in primary school places)
    All teachers to be qualified
    ‘proper systems’ for financial accountability, transparency and local oversight’.

    He expands slightly on the issue of oversight – Labour supports school autonomy but would bring back more local co-ordination and accountability to prevent a ‘free-for-all’ market in education (what we now have in Suffolk) – and refers to David Blunkett’s proposal for a Director of School Standards.

    All fine, as far as it goes. I understand (though don’t support) why Labour wants to continue with school autonomy. But what I’d really like to hear is a bit of passion about every child deserving – and getting – a good local school. And that the way to achieve a rounded and lasting education is a proper comprehensive system. I’ve written back.


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