Michael Gove wants to blame Labour for today’s PISA rankings, in which the UK has fallen five places to 26th, and Labour wants to blame Michael Gove. So in this spirit of mutual accusation, Gove and his opposite number Tristram Hunt, pitched up in the Commons asking one another to support their own plans for reform. Gove repeatedly appealed to the opposition to join him in supporting his various policies from more autonomy for head teachers to performance-related pay, closing his statement by appealing to Labour for a ‘unified national commitment to excellence’ in education. Hunt then responded by asking Gove if he would join Labour in supporting various policies cooked up by the Opposition front bench, such as qualified teachers and collaboration for free schools. Neither man accepted the other’s invitation, funnily enough.
Each was terribly disappointed by the tone that the other took. Hunt criticised a ‘partisan’ statement from the Education Secretary, and then offered an address fitting exactly that description himself. Their colleagues around the House stuck to the same theme of moaning about the poor quality of other MPs’ statements: David Blunkett argued that children ‘deserved better’ than the intervention offered by Education Select Committee chair Graham Stuart.
But though there was so much unity over the sort of attack strategy over PISA, what is now emerging is at least some kind of division between Labour and the Tories on education. Previously under Stephen Twigg, the party just made sad noises about not bashing teachers while not wanting to set out any clear direction itself: now it is clear that Tristram Hunt’s policies are focused on continuing the professional qualifications that the unions want, collaboration between schools rather than competing and no further autonomy for head teachers. On the last policy, Hunt and colleagues made the most chuntering when Gove attributed the success of the London Challenge in part to increased autonomy for head teachers. So while Gove is developing on the successful Blairite education reforms of the previous Labour government, the Blairite Hunt is heading off in another direction altogether.