Coffee House

Tristram Hunt needs to do his homework

17 January 2014

2:31 PM

17 January 2014

2:31 PM

As part of Ed Miliband’s modestly-titled plan to ‘rebuild the middle class’, shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt this week set out Labour’s new policy for raising standards of teaching. A Labour Government elected in 2015, he announced, would introduce a system of licensing for teachers, requiring them to ‘undertake regular professional development throughout their careers in order to keep their skills and knowledge up to date’. From the party that brought you a quality control regime that saw just 17 teachers struck off during 13 years in government, this latest wheeze, we are asked to believe, will help deliver ’a world class teacher in every classroom’.

Teachers were quick to point out professional development already happens in schools as part of performance management, while they already face examination of their competence from one government agency, Ofsted. Not that Labour’s thinking behind the new policy had probably got as far as to check what is actually happening in schools. As Hunt cheerfully admitted, Labour has yet to work out such minor details such as what the criteria should be for obtaining a teaching licence and what kind of professional development actually works (surely a fairly fundamental question if you’re arguing that professional development is crucial to raising standards of teaching), let alone ‘how best to raise the standard of professional development on offer’ and ‘the mechanisms for implementation’, i.e. how much the new policy will cost, how many thousands of bureaucrats it will take to administer, and how many teachers it is estimated will fail to keep their licence (if any).


It is not only these questions (and there are more, just read his speech on Wednesday) that remain unanswered. Hunt’s latest policy announcement comes just over 3 months to the day since I challenged him publicly to clarify some of the basic details about Labour’s policy on free schools, a challenge to which Hunt has failed to respond. As Coffee House readers will recall, on becoming shadow Education Secretary, Hunt purported to abandon his previous opposition to free schools and promised to keep all the ‘good’ ones open. I asked Hunt to define what he considers to be a ‘good’ free school and how many of the current crop of free schools does he consider ‘good’? No answer. How long would Labour give free schools to prove themselves good before closing them down? No answer. Why does he propose to restrict the opening of new free schools only to parts of the country where there is a shortage of places, denying the same choice to parents in areas where the schools are mediocre or poor? No answer.

These questions came on top even more serious ones about the threat a Labour government in 2015 would pose to free schools. As part of a determined effort to use planning regulations to stop a massively oversubscribed school in my constituency from opening a second site under the free schools programme, my local Labour opponent blabbed about the existence of a secret review the party is holding into free schools in ‘unsuitable’ or ‘inappropriate’ buildings, with the aim of investigating ‘ways to move children out of inappropriate free schools’. I gently enquired of Hunt and his deputy, Kevin Brennan, how many of the 130,000 children in the free schools that are open or currently planned they anticipated would be affected by the tightening of the regulations, and whether a Labour government would help the schools find alternative accommodation rather than closing them down and forcing their pupils to move schools midway through their education. No answer.

Tristram Hunt needs to pause his middle-class charm offensive and do some homework so he can start to provide basic answers about the details of Labour’s education policy. Even the Guardian was provoked this week to wonder ‘how much substance lies behind’ one of his latest policy announcements. I’m sure everyone would agree with the principle that teachers should not be allowed to stand up in front of a classroom and wing it, without having proper knowledge of what they’re trying to get across. But nor is this acceptable conduct from the man who wants to become Education Secretary next year. It’s a good job for Tristram Hunt just now that you don’t need a licence to be in the Shadow Cabinet.

Rob Wilson is MP for Reading East. Follow him on Twitter @RobWilson_RDG

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Show comments
  • HookesLaw

    The carefully chosen not rocking the boat reaction, on the news, of the NUT rep to the speech was yes not a bad idea blah blah blah but with the neat caveat, ‘teacher led’.
    Ho hum.

  • Tom Tom

    Tristram Hunt went to a fee-paying school in Hampstead. He was selected for the school by parental income and presumably an entrance exam. Even without the catchment excludes the hoi-polloi.

    He should propose selection in State Schools so teachers can teach rather than be subjected to Maoist Cultural Revolutionaries driving the best to quit and the worst to stay

    • telemachus

      I am tired of the hypocritical right wing detractors who cannot believe in altruism
      Gove privately educated at the Robert Gordon School before going to elite LMH wishes to exacerbate the educational divide
      Tristram is using his privelege to spread egalitarianism in education
      What is so very wrong with that

      • Colonel Mustard

        I am tired of you. Give it a rest.

        You are simply harassing this site.

      • Tom Tom

        You are long on dogma and weak on evidence

      • HJ777

        Hard to take comments about privilege seriously when you can’t even spell privilege.

        If parents were simply funded to choose any school they liked, then the ‘educational divide’ would largely disappear, wouldn’t it?

        But most parents have no choice because the money is given directly to state-run schools (and only state-run schools) however poor the education they provide may be. Only the rich can then choose, because only they can afford to pay twice to opt out of the state sector. Hence an educational divide is created, thanks to the direct funding of the state sector. Do away with the state-run sector, and you do away with the divide. But then, without a divide, what would socialists like you have to complain about?

  • Fergus Pickering

    I think they picked him because he is blonde and pretty, like Owen Jones..

    • Tom Tom

      Fergus, you reveal yourself ! “pretty” He may be but “blonde” only She can be

      • Fergus Pickering

        I am not sure that is quite right, though it is true it ought to be.

        • HookesLaw

          You are quite right – he was chosen because he looks posh and well bred and would not frighten the horses.If he is as empty headed on education as his father is on ‘climate change’ then there would not be much hope for our children under Labour.

          • Fergus Pickering

            You know how it is with blondes. Or blonds.

  • Frank

    Tristam Hunt would achieve much more in life if he got a hair cut and then used a comb – perhaps that it too right wing?

  • alabenn

    Just another feeble exercise by Labour, take any mindless idea and throw it in the mix, anything to cover their total lack of ideas, policies and worst of all no one in the party capable of thinking.
    Their only hope is the woeful ignorance of some outside their core vote.

    • Gary Smith

      Monkey tennis ?

  • Kitty MLB

    Tristram Hunt, what a nincompoop!
    With some introspection, was somnambulistically wandering
    into the shadow cabernet and not being prepared for your job a very sensible thing to do?
    I think the enigmatic Michael Gove should give you your homework.
    First lesson being, education is the progressive discovery of ones own ignorance.

    • telemachus

      Tristram may be described as a nincompoop
      He in not dangerous
      He is not trying to conduct his own experiment in educational social Darwinism
      He is not further disadvantaging the education of the poor who do not active parental advocates

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Michael Gove is far too busy scouring the rancid filth of socialism from the British education system to worry about you idiot#1. Tristram Hunt is every bit as hapless an education shadow as that intellectually bankrupt and terminally wrong idiot Balls is as shadow chancellor.

        • telemachus

          Gove may feel he has a crusade but what he is doing is condemning a generation to be an underclass and their children and on down the generations
          If he continues those folk will rise up
          And all reasonable folk will support them

          • Nicholas chuzzlewit

            By “reasonable” you mean the democracy hating scum that inhabit the Labour Party. The party of lies, lying and liars.

            • telemachus

              Reasonable means reasonable to their fellow man
              Believing that we should help those incapable of helping themselves
              Believing that the resources of our great country are there to be shared by all
              Are there many such in UKIP or the Tories

              • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                No. Socialist scum like you simply want to direct every aspect of British life as they see fit and with no consideration for the individual and the choices they may wish to make for themselves. Socialists loathe ambition and success because they fear people who achieve anything worthwhile will think for themselves and award their vote elsewhere. Socialist scum are interested only in perpetuating what they see as their inalienable right to power notwithstanding their epic economic and intellectual incompetence and incoherence. You hate freedom of speech, choice and wealth creation and you call it being ‘reasonable’. You are determined to bring this country to ruin.

                • telemachus

                  We need entrepreneurs to enhance our wealth but also as a model of ambition
                  There is no shame in ambition
                  It is the accrual of disproportionate resorces to the point that the poor cannot clothe their kids that is wrong
                  You are correct that those who cannot see this must be seen as a threat to the achievement of an egalitarian society

                • Fergus Pickering

                  Which poor people in Britain cannot clothe their kids. Where should I look for the children in rags? Are the on the streets of Liverpoool?