"We want to raise educational standards by working with the professions, not beating up on them. Teachers have an enormous amount of wisdom and experience and we want to learn from it, instead of living in a fantasy world where they can be ignored and we start all over again."
– David Willetts, quoted in this morning’s Guardian
It wasn’t so long ago that David Willetts – as Shadow Works & Pensions Secretary – declared that the war on single parents was over. Now Shadow Education Secretary, Mr Willetts wants a similar message to be heard by teachers. This is not Mr Willetts’ first attempt to improve Tory-teacher relations. In his first incarnation as Conservative education spokesman – during the early days of William Hague’s leadership – he addressed the NUT but the party was not ready to hear Mr Willetts’ message. It appears to be ready now.
Today sees the publication of the first report from the Public Services Improvement Group. Today’s interim report focuses on education and another will soon follow on health. The report from the group cochaired by Baroness Perry and Stephen Dorrell is not binding on the Tory leadership but some of its recommendations are likely to be welcomed. The report’s belief that the party needs to win the hearts and minds of teachers is particularly resonant with David Cameron’s own overtures to public sector workers.
Other key messages of the report include a concern that audit and inspection regimes that began under the Tories have grown out of control and have become too statistical. Similarly – and echoing Julia Manning’s ‘100 policies idea’ of last week – there is a worry that there may be too much testing in schools.
Less likely to be welcomed by the Tory frontbench is the policy group’s suggestion of an arms-length funding agency for all of the nation’s 25,000 schools. This super-quango would potentially remove the allocation of funding from LEAs and from central government.
Four principles guide the interim report: respect for the professionalism of teachers, equitable access to education, more localism and self-governing status for schools, and a commitment to growth in education and wider public service provision.
Some traditional conservatives may be disappointed not to see a greater emphasis on choice in the report and for ideas such as an end to national pay bargaining. David Cameron has already suggested higher pay for inner city teachers.
The report – which contains a large number of consultative questions – will be published later this afternoon on the policy group’s website.