Social justice will be the heart of everything the Commons Education Select Committee does, its new chair has pledged.
Robert Halfon beat five fellow Conservative MPs in last week’s election to the position, weeks after Theresa May sacked him as minster for apprenticeships and skills in the Department for Education.
Asked about his priorities for the committee, he told Tes: “Are people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds being protected? Is there equality of access? And how can we make it even better? I want the whole of the committee’s work – everything – to link back to social justice.”
As a backbencher, Mr Halfon was well known as a doughty campaigner on bread-and-butter issues that affect people’s pockets, such as hospital parking charges and petrol prices.
His efforts to expand the appeal of his party to working-class voters have included a call for the Tories to be renamed the Workers’ Party or Conservative Workers Party. He is himself a member of the Prospect union, which represents professionals, and said he got on “very well” with trade unions as a minister.
Mr Halfon once proposed that the Conservative Party replace its famous tree logo with a ladder of opportunity – an idea that did not find favour in Downing Street.
He used the symbol again in his campaign to become committee chair and believes it will help to achieve cross-party agreement on as politically charged issues as school funding by serving as a reminder of the committee’s purpose.
“If we have our ladders on the wall in front of us all the time, the ladder of social justice, the ladder of standards, skills and productivity, I don’t see why we can’t do it,” he said.
And he wants to reach out to frontline teachers. While he was careful to say how much he values the evidence of experts, he added: “What I would love is a focus on practitioners, so I want it crowded with apprentices giving evidence, day-to-day teachers who are actually teaching now, not just activists within the NUT, but a teacher from a school, a headteacher from a school, charity workers.”
This is an edited article from the 21 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here