What I want from Stephen Twigg

A couple of things in the last week have come to my attention via Twitter, both of which have made me think about what I am looking for from the shadow Secretary of State for Education.

The first of these is the online campaign led by Twitter user @jackieschneider entitled “Go Twigg Go” (see http://gotwigggo.blogspot.co.uk/). Hers is a perfectly understandable campaign given the strength of feeling held by many in the profession that the opposition party is not doing enough to stand up against Gove.

The second is the new article in the New Statesman – brought to my attention by another twitter user – Laura McInerney – written by Tony Blair. (see www.newstatesman.com). I wouldn’t consider myself a Blairite, and almost certainly consider myself to be more left-wing than he would, but I do recognise that he has very valid views on how the Labour party need move forward.

The reality is that my instinct is to favour @jackieschneider’s approach wholeheartedly. I do find it frustrating that so many things that the current DfE is pushing through are so wholly unappealing to me that I want Labour to act strongly as a voice of opposition. And I find it frustrating that the party that I want to be standing up and fighting for an alternative seems to be keeping quiet.

But, I also recognise that what Blair says is true: settling back into the circumstance of simply defending the status quo will not help to bring an electable government and won’t necessarily do much to prevent changes. And perhaps significantly, there’s no indication that it will play well with a wider audience.

Blair suggests that what the Labour party needs is a “root-and-branch inquiry, from first principles, into where we spend money, and why.” I’d tend to agree. And as my post yesterday showed, this is perhaps particularly significant in education. Too many changes are proposed, or have been pushed through that don’t command broad support from the profession or broader audiences. But perhaps most importantly, its been to long since we stood back and actually asked: what are we – as a nation – trying to achieve in our schools? Only when we have the answer to that question can we decide where and how to spend our money, time and energy in achieving those goals.

So what do I want from Mr Twigg? I do want him to stand up to Gove, but not only to defend the status quo or to demand a halt to rushed-through proposals. I want to see the Labour party leading the way on a proper national debate. A serious process of analysis, debate, discussion and argument into what the stakeholders in education want from schools – the employers, businesses, universities, parents, students, teachers and others all need to be involved. Proposals like those formed by the excellent Headteachers Roundtable ought to be brought to a wider forum.

I’ve never been a fan of fixed-term parliaments, but in this case at least the certainty of 2 more years allows time for a serious debate to take place and still leave time for proper, informed policy-making. And most importantly, it allows the opposition to garner public support and understanding, and a real mandate for future change.


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