A vote for the Conservatives in next year’s general election would mean a vote in favour of for-profit schools, Labour education spokesman Tristram Hunt claimed today.
Mr Hunt also said that the Conservatives staying in power would result in two unqualified teachers working in every school by 2020, as he set out his party’s differences on education in a keynote speech.
The shadow education secretary criticised the government’s free-schools policy, claiming prime minister David Cameron had created primary school classes of “more than 40, 50, 60, even 70 pupils” by diverting funds to his “pet project” rather than funding more primary places.
By 2020, the number of infants being taught in classes greater than 30 would hit 450,000, he added.
But it was the possibility of profit-making schools coming in under a Conservative government that Mr Hunt was most wary of, describing the policy as an “insidious” threat to the “public character of our education system”.
“You can rest assured that beyond 2015, the Tories will attempt to apply the totalising simplicity of their privatisation logic upon yet more of our public institutions.
“And after the election this could easily mean for-profit schools,” Mr Hunt said.
“There is almost no public policy, in my opinion, with more capacity to damage the fabric of our society – let alone the educational values we cherish.”
Mr Hunt pointed to comments made by former education secretary Michael Gove, who said in 2008 that he had “seen the future in Sweden – and it works”, in reference to the country’s free-school programme, which includes schools run by for-profit companies.
“Just because David Cameron has locked the architect away in the attic (or, even worse, the Whips’ Office), be in no doubt that the aggressively free-market experiment with our children’s education continues,” Mr Hunt said in reference to his former opposite number.
And he added: “Besides, Nicky Morgan has openly declared herself to be a continuity Gove Minister. We have an autopilot education secretary determined to cement the damaging reforms of recent years.
For-profit schools would be “disastrous for standards”, Mr Hunt said, but claimed that the policy was being championed by right-wing think tanks, newspapers and “Liberal Democrat cheerleaders”.
The shadow Cabinet member outlined a raft of policies that would be brought in under Labour, such as a greater emphasis on continuous professional development for teachers to raise the standard of the workforce, as well as more focus on improving FE colleges.
He reiterated his party’s commitment to Ofsted inspecting academy chains, ensuring compulsory sex and relationships education, and promoting the creation of so-called “parent-led academies” that would enable new schools to be opened in areas of need.
In response to Mr Hunt's claims over class sizes, Ms Morgan laid the blame at Labour's door, claiming the previous government had cut 200,000 primary school places "in the middle of a baby boom".
"As part of our long-term economic plan, the difficult decisions we've taken have meant we've been able to double the funding to local authorities for school places to £5 billion, creating 260,000 new places," Ms Morgan said. "But Labour haven't learnt their lesson. Their policy of not trusting headteachers would create more bureaucrats, meaning more resources are spent on paperwork – not places. Children would have a worse future under Labour."
Tristram Hunt: Children should be taught 'grit and determination' in school - February 2014 Government oversees 16 per cent rise in unqualified teachers, says Labour - April 2014 Hunt: Labour will not tear up the new curriculum - June 2014