The pegs are definitely coming out of Michael Gove’s education big tent, although it’s not just the Secretary of State who is pulling them out. Time was when Stephen Twigg could only make strangely consensual-yet-critical humming noises at the despatch box during departmental questions. Now Tristram Hunt is able to find sufficient difference between his education policies and Gove’s to go on the attack at these sessions, and Gove can snap back about the quality – rather than complete absence – of Labour’s education policy.
At today’s education questions, Hunt attacked on Ofsted: not just the row about Sir Michael Wilshaw, but on whether academies and free schools should be subject to the same level of inspection as local authority schools. He said that the ‘education secretary has, in the words of Sir Michael, unleashed a “smear campaign” against the chief inspector’ and added:
‘Is not the truth of the matter this – that Ofsted is inspecting the Secretary of State’s free schools without fear or favour and he doesn’t like it? The chief inspector wants to inspect academy chain and he doesn’t like it. On Friday, the Al-Madinah secondary school closed and on Sunday we learned of a new Ofsted purge. Surely the Secretary of State should be focused on raising standards, not politicising our school inspectorate system?’
Gove hit back that Wilshaw had never used the words ‘smear campaign’ and a spokesman for the Education Secretary has since said that ‘Tristram Hunt hasn’t just falsely attributed words to Sir Michael, he appears to have falsely attributed his own words from a Labour Party press release to Sir Michael’. You can read that release here.
But the fact remains that Hunt is now comfortable with denouncing specific aspects of Gove’s reforms, rather than just grumbling that Gove isn’t very nice about teachers as Labour’s education front bench used to.
Whether this matters or not is another debate: Gove might be leaving the Blairites behind for the perfectly good reason that he could always see further than they in terms of where their initial education reforms might lead. But education is now a battleground once again.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.