The Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has had a difficult 24 hours.
Yesterday afternoon he was trounced by Michael Gove in the House of Commons in a debate over Labour’s proposal to ban teachers from state schools (but not independent schools) if they don’t have a QTS.
Then last night Mr Hunt had a disastrous interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. Asked five times if he would rule out sending his own children to a school with unqualified teachers, Mr Hunt repeatedly refused to answer.
There was also an unconvincing response from Mr Hunt to the charge that he defined “unqualified” narrowly. Mr Hunt would not, for example, insist on a physics teacher having a physics degree.
The earlier debate on unqualified teachers included a magnificent speech from Mr Gove who said:
The difference between Liberal Democrat and Conservative policy, however, is not as big as the difference between those on the Labour Benches. In particular, I mean the difference between the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central on one side and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central on the other. We all know that the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished historian of the civil war, and he knows all about a body politic being racked by internal division. What a pity that it is his body politic that is being so racked.
Let us listen to the cavalier Tristram, talking to Conservative-supporting The Mail on Sunday. He said: “What I am saying is if you want to do that”— that is, set up a free school— “when we are in government we will be on your side. There has been this perception that we would not be, and I want people to be absolutely clear that we are…putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs …We are not going…back”—no turning back— “to the old days of the local authority running all the schools—they will not be in charge.”
Three cheers for the cavalier.
Then the puritan—the roundhead—Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central suddenly popped up a few hours later on the BBC talking about the free schools that he had been lauding just a few hours earlier. He said that “you have…a system which allows…irregularities” and “allegations…because there’s no oversight there.”
He said that it was a “dangerous ideological experiment”, yet only a few hours before, it was an ideological experiment with which he had fallen in love. One of the flaws in this ideological experiment, he said “We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority…they will not be in charge”, but then on Thursday he said that the problem with free schools was that local education authorities had no role in monitoring those schools. Within four days there has been a complete U-turn, a reversal, as the civil war in the Labour party between those who believe in excellence and those who believe in the unions is embodied in one man. In four days there has been one U-turn and no answers.
Earlier in the debate Mr Hunt had been asked about his own (unqualified) history teacher Terry Morris but failed to accept that despite being unqualified Mr Morris was a fine teacher. As Mr Gove later reflected:
What a pity that when the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central was asked about one of his former history teachers—Mr Morris, I believe—like Peter, he denied him thrice, and when he was asked to stand up for Mr Morris, who has done so much for this young lad to help him into the position he now enjoys, he refused to stand up for him.
For the National Union of Teachers the agreement by the Labour Party that teachers without a QTS are not up to the job is crucial. It provides the implication that if a teacher does have a QTS then he is up to the job. So not only would it banish good teachers but it would protect bad teachers.
I suspect that Mr Hunt knows the policies he advocates are hypocritical and nonsensical. At any rate he is doing a hopeless job at justifying them.