`Labour has supported and invested in schools'

12th December 2014 at 00:00
Party would protect education spending, Tristram Hunt hints

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has given the strongest indication yet that a Labour government would commit to protecting spending in schools if the party were to win next year's general election.

Speaking in a TES webchat this week, Mr Hunt said that although any decision on spending was a matter for shadow chancellor Ed Balls, he doubted that a Labour government would fail to ring-fence school funding.

"That decision is above my pay grade, but I am arguing for it very strongly and we will obviously have that announcement ready for our manifesto," Mr Hunt said. "I think it's absolutely fair that, if you look throughout post-war history, Labour governments have supported and invested in education, and I would be very sceptical if an Ed Miliband government didn't do the same."

A move to protect school spending would bring Labour in line with the Liberal Democrats, who have pledged to shield "cradle to college" public services from spending cuts. Hunt's comments also place pressure on the Conservative Party, which is yet to spell out where it intends to make cutbacks in its bid to resolve the budget deficit by 2018.

A commitment to sparing schools from cuts was notable by its absence from chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement last week; school leaders voiced concern that it would not be possible to save schools from budget reductions.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said he was "worried" that schools would be subjected to cutbacks as the government had made just half the savings needed to reduce the deficit.

In the webchat, Mr Hunt defended his intention to introduce a teaching licence, dubbed a "classroom MOT", which teachers would have to "revalidate" every few years to show they were meeting required standards. The plan, under which teachers would observe each other's lessons in a process overseen by a College of Teaching, met with fierce opposition from the profession when announced in January.

"We put forward the relicensing idea, together with an idea of a College [of Teaching], as an intervention to ensure that we provide systems for continuing professional development for teachers," Mr Hunt said. "But it can't be just a tick-box bureaucratic exercise or it ruins the purpose.I'm interested in it to promote continuing professional development."

Mr Hunt also stood by his suggestion that teachers should take a public oath committing to certain values, despite the substantial backlash provoked by the idea.

"This has to be worked on through the College of Teaching; this can't be some sort of state-imposed model," he said. "What it's about is teachers celebrating their profession and also outlining the contours of what they regard as professional behaviour and what they want to achieve in office. This is a conversation that is ongoing and I don't resile from it at all - I think we want more conversation about it."

A future Labour government would not abolish grammar schools, Mr Hunt added; a new grammar school is currently reported to be on the cusp of being approved in Kent.

Mr Hunt said it was not party policy to end selection at 11. "We think our efforts need to be focused elsewhere. I think grammar schools realise the challenge they face in terms of the number of kids on free school meals and the work they need to do to go back to the origins of their ethos," he said.

Watch the webchat

Watch TES talking to Tristram Hunt


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