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Tim Brighouse's challenge to Labour: Base ed policy on evidence, not anecdote or political advisers

Stephen Twigg’s speech to the Labour Party conference was welcome in that it highlighted where Labour had cause to be proud of their period in office.

This included an investment in early years services (especially the Sure Start initiative), the Education Maintenance Allowance, raising the participation age and major investment in new buildings.

He might have mentioned too the unprecedented rise in pupil attainment, the quality and supply of teachers and the focus on long neglected standards in inner-city schools.

And of course Twigg pointed out how the present government was undermining all those achievements.

After all this is what party conferences are for and it is good to see given the very uncritical support education secretary Michael Gove gets from a largely right wing press.

Nevertheless, my feeling is that most teachers parents and governors will either view the party conference season with a jaundiced eye or ignore it altogether, resigned that after the next election there will be yet another secretary of state seeking to make political mileage by imposing headline-catching change on the schooling system.

My instinct is that many teachers, parents and governors would welcome a break from this relentless change. Instead, perhaps the new secretary of state should concentrate on two tasks – the most important two, because only he or she can undertake them – the securing of decent teacher supply and ensuring that all school building are up to a minimum standard.

For many years until the late 1980s, these were the only two areas where the secretaries of state had real power.

Mr Gove has been determined to go way beyond these, including tampering with the national curriculum, examinations, tests and accountability measures. As the introduction to the primary assessment consultation puts it ‘we think it is right for government to decide in detail’ what schools teach.

Well, no actually, most of us don’t believe that. In fact, we believe the opposite both from our reading of history and the danger such an approach is to democracy as well as all in school communities.

What we would most welcome from the party conference season is an agreement across the parties to base policy not on anecdote or the views of political advisers but on evidence, which, in fairness, can be equivocal.

In addition, we would like to see agreement on the way any secretary of state ought to share his powers with others thereby reversing centralisation.

In fairness, Twigg’s instincts, unlike those of Gove, who is not plagued by the slightest doubt, would be to support such a change. Let’s hope so. 

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