It doesn’t seem entirely fair that Stephen Twigg’s speech has been left to the final day of the Labour conference, when many have packed up and left Manchester already. But today Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary is to announce more reforms to education as part of the party’s new One Nation project.
The idea is to make teaching an ‘elite profession for top graduates’, and Twigg plans to achieve that by offering incentives for high-flyers to work in tough schools such as paying off some of their student debt, funding for teachers to do master’s degrees and a National College for Teaching Excellence to develop new teaching standards.
The centrepiece of this New Deal for teachers is a doubling in size of the popular and successful Teach First programme to 2,000 placements. The aim is that Teach First, which places graduates in tough schools after six weeks of training, will become one of the main routes into teaching. This is very interesting indeed: only a couple of months ago the teaching unions were furious that Michael Gove had announced academies can now employ unqualified teachers, and here is Twigg, supporting a scheme which disregards the year of university-based training that is currently the norm for teachers and instead uses a summer school before placing as-yet unqualified teachers in the classroom. I understand that Twigg accepts that while there are some excellent university-based courses out there, not all of them are tip-top, and thus the increase in Teach First places would be funded from the existing training budget.
Twigg is an intriguing shadow minister. He often appears pulled in all directions on policies: he is most certainly what Len McCluskey would call a Blairite ‘cuckoo‘, and his instincts are constrained by caution from the party leadership and the unions. He will also announce that he wants to support heads to remove incompetent teachers, which sounds like a policy Michael Gove would wholeheartedly applaud and teaching unions would get a little jumpy about. But he will also make a point of praising the profession (Coffee House readers know better than anyone how upset the unions get when Gove criticises poor performance), saying:
‘We have the best generation of teachers ever. But it can be even better. We will establish a New Deal for Teachers. New rewards, and new entitlements to training. And with the responsibility to improve year on year.’
I suspect that there will be no mention of what Labour will do about GCSEs in the speech, though. Ed Miliband managed to avoid the word entirely on Tuesday, conjuring only the two-tier system that Gove had initially considered. We won’t hear what the party plans to do with exams for 16 year-olds until 2015, yet Miliband and Twigg know they need to talk about education. So expect many more announcements which skirt around secondary exams in an increasingly awkward fashion.