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Stephen Twigg: Michael Gove is a "shark in a tornado"

Stephen Twigg, shadow secretary of state for education, writes exclusively for TES News:

There’s no doubt Michael Gove is an ideologue. Unfortunately, his ideology is more about appealing to the right-wingers on the Tory backbenches than raising standards.

We all know the Education Secretary wanted to bring back O-levels and CSEs, despite being abolished for being out of date while he was still at school.

The Free Schools programme has little basis in evidence – several have received less than impressive Ofsted reports, and the data from Sweden is worrying.

He wanted to increase the numbers of children that nursery staff look after by changing childcare ratios, despite his own department warning that plans to copy French-style childcare would damage the standard of care for toddlers and threaten child safety.

Like a shark in a tornado nothing is left undamaged. Profit-making schools? Why not. Not enough primary schools? Make class sizes bigger.

He bemoans the state of our education system, using such bastions of educational research as surveys conducted to provide PR promotion for UK TV Gold and Premier Inn. His lack of rigour in his use of research even led to an official rebuke by the UK Statistics Authority.

No-where do we see the triumph of dogma over evidence more in the approach to teacher qualifications.

He has allowed teachers into the classrooms of free schools and academies even if they are not working toward Qualified Teacher Status. Those who have spent two years doing a PGCE will be told it was pointless.

All the evidence from the UK and abroad demonstrates the positive impact that highly qualified and highly motivated teachers make to the quality of learning. Eight in ten parents think schools should only employ qualified teachers.

Yet Michael Gove undermines the profession, insulting teachers and questioning the need for qualifications. We are facing a 5,000-strong shortfall in teacher recruitment this year because of the Government’s poor management of School Direct.

So much of his approach feels like an ideological experiment. I know that teachers are fed up of being used as pawns in this game of political posturing.

It’s why I back plans to set up an independent College of Teaching to act as a champion for the profession, but also to rightly set high expectations around training and career development.

I want to look at how we strengthen teacher training and CPD. I want to look how we can ensure teachers have either a degree in their subject or a relevant qualification approved by the new College of Teaching.

On CPD, I want to look at entitlements and ensure the quality of courses is rigorous. Too often, teachers are offered bitesize courses, when they might prefer to pool the money and put it toward a master’s degree.

A future Labour Government will be challenging of the teaching profession. Because we know how much difference high quality teaching makes. But we will do it on the basis of evidence and not dogma.

I want to set up an independent body – the education equivalent of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility to act as a guarantor that education reform will be based on rigorous evidence, not anecdote or PR guff masking as research.

And it’s why I want to ensure that when a school freedom actually improves standards – such as the freedom to innovate over the curriculum – that we extend those freedoms to all schools, not just some.

On the curriculum, I want to learn from best practice and take a less prescriptive approach.

Finland reformed its curriculum in 1992, replacing a previously rigid national curriculum with targets for all students. The fact that the national curriculum specifies only general outcome goals, rather than the path by which to attain them, means that teachers in schools have to work together to develop a curriculum and instructional strategies that are tailored to the needs of their school.

I want to ensure that we give teachers the freedom to tailor the curriculum and that any reforms we make to the curriculum are intended to ensure young people are prepared for the world of work, with the kinds of skills and knowledge that will help them succeed in life and in the modern economy.

Of course our education system cannot stand still in the face of increasing competition, particularly from China and India.

We need reform that works – high quality teaching, more freedoms that raise standards for schools and an innovative and relevant curriculum.

But all we seem to get from Michael Gove is dog whistle and dogma.

Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary

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