A Meeting With Tristram Hunt
9th January 2015
For years, we’ve been asking politicians to stop meddling in education and give us the time and space to do our jobs, as well as the opportunity to draw-breath and have a proper in-depth review of the whole system. Not a behind closed doors vanity project, driven by one man’s ideological dogma, but a proper grown-up debate that acknowledges the mess we are in, the mistakes of the past, and the serious complexities of teaching and learning.
Well – fingers-crossed (and toes for that matter) – we might really be able to have one after the next election, if things go well.
Today, @thought_weavers, @Cherrylkd, @debrakidd and myself braved the high winds and rain of blustery Stoke-on-Trent, to sit in a tiny room with the man who hopefully is going to be the next Secretary of State for Education, Tristram Hunt.
And a very constructive meeting it was too.
Mr. Hunt was friendly, open, and, most importantly as far as I’m concerned, genuinely prepared to listen. He answered all our questions fully and frankly, admitted the difficulties facing the education system (particularly in regards to finance), and took all of our suggestions seriously. There was no attempt to steer the debate to his benefit or to hijack the meeting with his own agenda. The over-all impression was of that rarest of things, a politician who is going to give time and space for debate and isn’t going to rush into office, with a barrel full of reforms, the moment he’s given the keys to the DfE.
I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of everything we discussed, but these are the highlights for me:
1. A promise there will be no more meddling with the Primary Curriculum, so we’re stuck with it, warts an all. Which I say is a good thing, the last thing we need is another round of curriculum ‘reform’.
2. He agreed with David Bell, the former Chief Inspector, who has called for an end to constant political interference and the establishment of an independent body to set long-term policy, separated from the shifting demands of party politics.
3. He agreed we need a full, open, and frank discussion on the role and use of levels for assessment. We told him the new performance descriptors are a disaster and universally hated by everyone in education. We pointed him at the Tim Oates interview on YouTube for more information on the subject.
4. We bent his ear about SATs and told him teacher assessment would be a much better and cheaper method. We agreed accountability is essential, but so is trust in the professional judgment of teachers. He genuinely listened, asked some supplementary questions and seemed to be really considering our suggestions. I have hope one day SATs will end, one day.
5. We told him everyone thought the term ‘Master Teacher’ was a mistake. He quietly conceded and asked what we thought would be a better suggestion. We said it would be best to ask Twitter and that we would be happy to do it for him, which we will. So, have a think, what would be a better name for a type of teacher who stays in the classroom to develop their skills to a high level through research, practice, and reflection? It can’t be AST.
6. He talked at some length about Labour’s vision for education, about drawing on the past and looking to the future, social justice, social mobility, the use of the power of the state to break down disadvantage, the great challenge of building a sustainable workforce in the face of international competition, and the development of a highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. He made it clear he doesn’t want the education system to be instrumentalist; he wants kids to enjoy learning, be happy, and to develop themselves as successful people. Which was music to my ears.
7. He said PRP is going to stay, but it will be an option for schools, not enforced by central government. He said, the head-teachers he talks to are generally in favour.
My over-all impression was of a man who really wants to make a difference, not by rushing in and telling everyone what to do, but by listening, talking, and considering things at length.
He’s got my vote.