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Today Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, has outlined Labour’s plans for the future of English education, should they come into power. In a speech to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, he summarised the party’s education policy as focussing on three themes: Freedom, Devolution and Collaboration.
First, under Labour all schools would be given the same freedoms, regardless of school structure. Maintained schools would have the same freedoms as academies and Free Schools, without having to convert. Mr Twigg proposes that all schools should be able to benefit from freedoms such as designing their own curriculum, altering the length of the school day or term, and buying in their own services. However, one freedom he plans to remove is schools being able to employ unqualified teachers. In order to raise teaching standards, he argues, all classroom teachers need to have the relevant teaching qualifications.
Mr Twigg argues that becoming an academy or Free School does not necessarily guarantee school improvement, and these schools are just as susceptible to failure as their maintained counterparts. He accuses Michael Gove of failing to have in place a plan for school improvement once schools have converted to academy status. Therefore academisation should not be seen as the only solution for failing schools. Mr Twigg also criticises the coalition’s push for all schools to become academies at the expense of local authorities. Local oversight is “important to drive school improvement” as it means that struggling schools are spotted and given support much faster. He identifies the large number of academies now being overseen by central government as a key problem, as “you can’t run thousands of schools from Whitehall.” Therefore, Mr Twigg has announced that David Blunkett will be leading a review into the local oversight of schools, including the role of the local authority and how the relationship between central and local government can be improved.
Finally, Mr Twigg proposes that there should be greater collaboration between schools. He criticises the Education Secretary for failing to act upon his promise from the 2010 White Paper that new academies will support other schools, saying that nearly two-thirds are not in a partnership. He proposes that collaborating with another school should be made compulsory in order to be deemed ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, and would “introduce greater emphasis with regard to collaboration in academy funding agreements.” In terms of school admissions, Mr Twigg proposes changing the School Admissions Code so that all schools can prioritise disadvantaged children (those eligible for Free School Meals). He believes this will close the attainment gap between the rich and poor, drawing on evidence from the Sutton Trust report released earlier this month.
Mr Twigg believes that his proposals would ensure that “every child - whatever their background- will get the best possible start in life”.