By Mark Wallace
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Fresh from revealing their chaotic position on the EU, Labour are hard at it again today demonstrating why they have been so reluctant to publish any of their policies.
This time the recipient of an unwanted makeover is education – and the cack-handed beautician is Stephen Twigg. Among the confusing measures he seeks to slap onto the face of the school system are:
1) Free schools bad…
Under Labour, there would be no more free schools, because they are apparently "divisive" and cause "chaos". But those already in place and those in the pipeline will be allowed to continue – despite the problems Twigg alleges them to have. Could it be that they are proving so popular that he doesn't dare threaten to scrap them, or are the problems he describes in such dire terms simply not real?
2) …"Parent-led academies" good
Despite the supposedly malevolent influence of free schools, Twigg has a remarkably familiar alternative: "parent-led academies". There's a reason these might remind you of schools you've seen before: they will be almost identical to Free Schools.
The hint is in the examples Labour hold up. The Shadow Education Secretary himself cites "Peter Hyman's school in East London" as a model to mimic, neglecting to mention that it is a Free School. Lord Adonis rather gives the game away by explaining that Labour's new school model will be like "the West London Free School".
So Labour hate Free Schools but want to replace them with, er, Free Schools. We haven't seen a love-hate relationship like this since Liz Taylor and Richard Burton – and even after a night hitting the cocktails they were rather more coherent.
3) Unqualified teachers
As Harry Phibbs wrote yesterday, that isn't the only inconsistency. While private schools are, in Labour's eyes, at an unfair advantage, state schools are to be banned from copying their successful policies.
For example, independent schools regularly employ teachers who don't have official qualifications – indeed, such teachers make up a large proportion of the staff in Britain's most successful teaching establishments. That is why Gove has granted state schools the freedom to employ them, too.
And yet Twigg denies the evidence. According to his speech, qualifications are the only indicator of good teaching – an assumption which, if true, would mean the nation's private schools would be basket cases, not the bastions of privilege and elitism which Labour claim.
Bravely forging ahead despite the inconvenient obstacles thrown up by reality, he therefore commits that he would ban all state schools from employing teachers who don't hold formal teaching qualifications – which would mean sacking up to 5000 of those currently changing kids' lives for the better.
This policy shows the fingerprints of the NUT, the union which loves to say "never". Where Gove has demolished the dominance of their vested interests by allowing teachers to be employed based on ability rather than paperwork, Twigg seeks to restore protections for NUT approved employees – at the cost of the quality of education on offer to children.
4) Local authority control
Indeed, such stifling opposition to change runs through the entire speech like a stick of rock. Even the freedoms introduced by Labour's own academies scheme are to be grabbed back and handed to Twigg's preferred overmighty bureaucracy.
The crucial, and so far almost unreported, implication of his announcement is that Local Authorities should once more control all schools – while the parents and teachers he claims to trust can get stuffed. There should me "more oversight", new Whitehall and Town Hall dictation of schools' behaviour and budgets as well as bureaucrats sitting in judgement of school performance.
This would not only gut the key advances made by Gove, it would trample all over the main educational achievement of the Blair years. Yet again, the "One Nation" Miliband would like to build appears to be a living history park, re-enacting policies even his own party had previously acknowledged to have failed.
Shock and Awe vs Chaos and Dishonesty
Twigg's speech reveals two things about the Labour leader's project: i) that it is in chaos and ii) that it is deeply dishonest.
The chaos has been brought about by a combination of Miliband's own weakness and the effectiveness of ministers like Vladimir Ilyich Gove. The Education Secretary has wrought a revolution in his department that has had a shock and awe impact on the left-wing education establishment. From Twigg to the NUT, they have been left at a loss as to how to respond – hence the contradictory dog's dinner presented by the Opposition today.
The dishonesty in their approach is a result of a fundamental divergence between evidence and their ideology. If you believe centralised state control works best, the mountain of evidence piled up to the contrary must simply be ignored or denied.
"A big 'in your face' to everyone who slags off state schools".
The evidence was a new study showing that, of comprehensive and privately educated pupils with the same A-level grades, comprehensive kids perform better at university. The implication being that comps provide a better education than elitist, fee-paying outfits.
And yet the study is based on a false assumption. The reason comprehensive-educated students outperform private school peers with the same A-level grades is that they left school with lower A-level grades than they deserved. Far from proving the effectiveness of comprehensives, the study the Left are holding up shows that talented kids are held back by the system they find themselves in – and only flourish to their full potential at university.
The conclusion that suggests is bad news for Twigg, Jones et al: not only are comprehensives failing talented youngsters, but the operational independence and curriculum freedoms of universities serve them far better.
And which schools operate on a model similar to universities, with their own budget, their own leadership, a mission of competing against other establishments, control over what they choose to teach and the methods they use to teach it? Free Schools.