Gove attacks flaws in Labour's education policy

Secretary of State for education Michael Gove has responded to Labour's education policy, as unveiled by Stephen Twigg. In full below.

Dear Stephen,

Following your speech and media appearances on Monday I have been made aware of widespread confusion and uncertainty among students, parents and teachers about your intentions towards the school system. I am sure you would not want this debilitating uncertainty to continue to undermine the hard work currently being undertaken by schools to drive up educational standards so I hope you will be able to answer the questions students, parents and teachers are asking.


Firstly, on teachers. You said that people you term ‘unqualified’ professionals who are currently teaching in schools must either undertake a particular prescribed form of training or be sacked.

  • Does this apply to your Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt, who told The Guardian thathe teaches in schools in Stoke? If not, why not?
  • Does this apply to the former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who taught in his old school for two years? If not, why not?
  • Does this apply to teachers from independent schools such as St. Paul’s who may not have QTS but who do have degrees in maths, physics and chemistry from Russell Group universities and who give lessons to children from local state schools where there are no teachers with degrees in those subjects?
  • Does this apply to a lecturer from a further education college whom we have allowed to provide high quality technical education in a school, a flexibility schools were given following a recommendation in the Wolf Report which you claim to support in its entirety?
  • If an individual teacher currently employed in a state school declines to pursue the prescribed path you dictate, how will you ensure he or she is dismissed?
  • If an existing free school or academy is good or outstanding for teaching and learning and an individual teacher’s lessons are judged good or outstanding by Ofsted but they do not have QTS, would you insist they were dismissed?
  • Have you taken legal advice on how you might secure such a dismissal?
  • Could you let us know how that advice squares with an individual teacher’s rights under EU law and the Human Rights Act?
  • Given that a disproportionate number of those teaching in our schools without QTS are from BME backgrounds or enjoy other protected characteristics under equalities legislation, can you tell me if your plans are compliant with the Equalities Act?

Free schools

Secondly, I and many other anxious parents would be grateful if you could clear up the confusion surrounding your free schools policy.

  • What is the difference between a free school and your proposal for a ‘parent-led academy’ or ‘teacher-led academy’?
  • You say such schools - ie new free schools - would only be set up in areas where there is a shortage of school places. Your colleague Lord Adonis said they should be set up where there is a shortage of ‘good quality’ school places. Who is correct?
  • What is your definition of a shortage of places?
  • What is your definition of a shortage of ‘good quality’ places?
  • Without such a definition how will you ensure that any decision you take over the opening of some free schools, and not others, on the basis of a claimed shortage of places is not judicially reviewed?
  • How can you ensure such a decision on your part was not judged unreasonable by any judge on the Wednesbury principle, leading to the overturning of your decision and considerable cost to taxpayers?
  • What would you define as the area in which there has to be a shortage of places before a free school can be set up? A borough? A city? A given travelling distance? In both urban and rural areas?
  • If a school within the area you define has not met its admissions quota, but is ranked inadequate by Ofsted, does that mean you would force parents to send their children to a failing school rather than let a great new school be established?
  • How would you prevent existing under-performing schools simply increasing their admissions quotas - thus ‘ending’ any shortage of places - and so preventing any great new school being established?

School freedom

Thirdly, I hope you can clarify your position - or I should say positions - on school freedom to reassure school leaders. You say you will extend to all schools the freedoms which drive up standards.

  • We know that the single most important driver of higher standards is great teaching. Would you extend to all schools the freedom academies have to depart from restrictive national pay scales to pay good teachers more?
  • Will you support our drive to give more schools the freedom to pay good teachers more?
  • Will you stand with us and with the National Association of Head Teachers, and against the NUT and NASUWT, in pressing for more schools to have the freedom to depart from national pay scales and pay good teachers more?
  • Will you give all schools the freedom academies have to vary nationally-set contracts so great teachers can receive additional pay and bonuses for longer school days?
  • Will you give all schools the freedom academies have to vary nationally-set contracts so great teachers can cover for absent colleagues instead of leaving children with poorly-trained ‘cover supervisors’ or supply teachers?
  • Will you give all schools the freedom academies have to accelerate the promotion of outstanding teachers?
  • Will you give all schools the freedom academies have to procure any support they need for students without having to accept the local authority’s monopoly over support?
  • You do plan to give all schools freedom to depart from minimum curriculum standards. Would all primary schools still be required to administer national curriculum tests?
  • Or would the new leeway you propose mean that failing schools could abandon this vital check on performance?
  • Given your proposed extension of the role of local authorities in the running of academies and free schools, could you identify which existing freedoms academies and free schools would lose?
  • Would academies and free schools lose the power to increase admissions numbers because that might ‘destabilise’ failing local authority schools?
  • Would you be happy to limit school choice by denying good schools the power to expand?
  • How would you ensure powers over warning notices and other interventions were not used by politically-motivated local authorities to harass and undermine great academies and free schools which were showing up failing local authority schools?
  • Would local authorities have increased powers over academy and free school revenue budgets?
  • Would local authorities have increased powers over academy and free school capital budgets?
  • Would local authorities have increased powers over academy and free school contracts with suppliers of educational support services?
  • Would local authorities have increased powers over the governance and leadership of academies and free schools?
  • Is the increased role for local authorities you propose supported by Lord Adonis?

I am sure your speech was the result of a well-thought-through reflection on schools policy and all of the above questions were considered, and fully addressed, in preparation for your announcement and so you will be able to reply promptly and put to rest the idea, which more and more people are regrettably succumbing to, that Labour schools policy is a confusing, uncertain and incoherent assemblage of sops to the trades unions and local authorities which reflects poorly on the intellectual rigour and moral courage of the current Labour frontbench in comparison with all previous oppositions, confirms the risible weakness of the Labour leadership in the face of vested interests, and risks undermining the hard work of all those great teachers who are driving up standards in schools today.

Yours sincerely,