Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws has called for greater consensus between teachers and politicians, and warned of a “deep divide” between his party and the Conservatives over the issue of unqualified teachers.
Speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ (ATL) annual conference in Manchester, he expressed concerns about the state of “permanent revolution” in schools.
Mr Laws (pictured, left) admitted that it was “sometimes a challenge to wear both hats” – those of being a Lib Dem as well as a minister in the coalition government – at the same time.
“Some politicians seek consensus on policy, and others prefer their ‘dividing lines’ – positively searching out controversy and seeking to perpetuate it,” he said.
“I have always believed that consensus, and the policy stability that can come with consensus, is something worth pursuing, provided it is on the basis of effective policies which work.”
He also spoke of the need to avoid “an excessive politicisation of key aspects of education policy”.
While his remarks were widely interpreted as referring to the combative style of his boss at the Department for Education, Michael Gove (pictured, right), Mr Laws told reporters afterwards that the education secretary had “done some very good things to de-politicise some areas of education”, such as creating the Education Endowment Foundation to carry out research to inform policy-making.
Mr Laws also criticised the current government policy of allowing unqualified teachers to work in schools, which has been strongly opposed by the Lib Dems.
While Mr Laws has previously attempted to defuse the political row over this subject, he today nailed his colours to the mast to warm applause from delegates.
“I think there is a deep divide over QTS which is not likely to be bridged by this coalition government,” he said afterwards, adding that he “strongly” believed that “not only most teachers, but most of the public want young people to be educated by properly qualified teacher”.
While defending the rapid reforms made since the last general election in 2010, Mr Laws admitted to delegates that “change can be challenging and it can at times be disruptive”.
“I believe that after the significant changes during this parliament in curricula, in qualifications and in systems of accountability, there is now a very strong rationale for a very significant period of stability to allow these changes to bed in,” he said.
He called for more work on “reducing some of the direct political involvement and influence on education”, and suggested that the Lib Dems could revive plans for an independent Educational Standards Authority, which was mooted in their 2010 manifesto.
Mr Laws also announced the creation of a teachers reference group at the DfE, which will meet termly with him to “improve engagement on issues of key interest”, news which was greeted with applause by ATL members.
ATL general secretary Mary Bousted welcomed the conciliatory tone of Mr Laws speech. To laughter in the hall, however, she pointed out that his speech was “well-honed to the sympathies of the audience”.