Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
DORKING CH, RT
BLUNKETT MP, RT
CLARKE MP AND
8 MARCH 2010
Q20 Chair: We tried to do it,
Charles, but as soon as it became Children, Schools and Families,
it was very large. We see Ofsted regularly, and we have tried
confirmation hearings, but you may remember that we were the ones
who caused a certain amount of
Mr Clarke: I do. You will recall,
Mr Sheerman, that I was on your side in the discussion. I genuinely
think that these organisations that sit at arm's length from government
and have no public exposure, perhaps for a long period, other
than in the relationship with the Secretary of StateI,
and I am sure others, used to have formal meetings with the chair
and chief executive of each of the organisations. There was an
annual letter of appointment, and they had to report to Parliament,
and there is a set of procedures, but putting more guts into it,
which the Select Committee can do, is a good thing.
Q21 Chair: To extrapolate from
Douglas's question, if you just look at the sizeI haven't
looked at the personnel, but I get the feeling that the number
of people working in Ofsted, and for QCA, now QCDA, and Ofqual
is very large now compared to what it was, certainly when you
were Secretary of State, Ken, and you, David.
Mr Blunkett: We didn't have Ofqual
either. There is a danger in all the education service of duplication
of people checking each other, to the point where you wonder in
the end where it will stop.
Lord Baker: On the whole social
welfare side, the role has become so much greater. I personally
think it was a mistake to combine the social welfare of children
with education. I think the skills, the experiences of the staff
and the areas are totally different. Ofsted has to report on assessing
schools for education ability, and also to assess local authorities
on their care of children in care. I hope that an incoming Government
will break that link totally. I think that the skills required
to run an education service are very different from those required
to run a social welfare service.
Q22 Chair: I want to move to Andrew
in a second, but first want to return to something with Douglas
that crosses the reports that we have produced. You took the logic
that he put to you and responded, Lord BakerI think Estelle
did, too, to a certain extentthat more power has been given
to schools. There is no doubt that, if you are looking at the
major players, this run of nearly 20 years has seen a move away
from local authority power, and greater power to schools and much
greater power to a centralised education Department. But what
we picked up when we looked at testing and assessment is that,
if teachers were so busy teaching to the test, the space to be
inventive, to think about the curriculum and to innovate was squeezed
out of them. There was a real problem. If you expect that kind
of innovation, flexibility and so on at school level, you do not
get it if you have so many tests and so many teachers' lives dominated
Lord Baker: I am in favour of
a testing regime.
Q23 Chair: At seven; 11; 14; 16;
Lord Baker: Absolutely. I think
that children should be assessed at those ages. I can see no reason
why not. I am sure that you have looked at other systems around
the world. In the American system, they test every term in many
statesevery term. I went to a Church of England primary
school and remember the old report books. Looking through them,
I discovered that I was tested every term and marked, marked out
and so on. I've still got them. That was a state primary system
and the old-fashioned way of doing it.
Mr Blunkett: And, Chairman, the
private sector tests to destruction. It really does.
Lord Baker: Yes, what David says
is perfectly true.
Mr Blunkett: It does. The question
is whether teachers and heads, who should be able to see what
is happening, are imaginative enough. Do they have leadership
skills? Have they got a grasp of their own profession? Do any
of the four of us not agree with proper, organised and sensible
Mr Clarke: I am afraid, Barry,
that I am completely with Ken Baker and David Blunkett on this.
I have read your report and many other things on this, and I do
not agree with the charge that teaching to the test is destroying
the quality of education in schools, and I do not believe that
there are too many tests. I would not abolish the tests in the
way that the Government currently intend. Maybe I am just a distorted
victim of the type of vicious private school system that David
just described, but I had a substantial amount of testing throughout
my life. Everybody did it. It did not reduce innovation or creativity
in any respect whatsoever. I think there is an issue about fashion,
and the approach of parents and their fears if their children
do not perform, to which schools sometimes have to respond. There
are some quite difficult issues there.
Chair: This is most interesting.
Mr Clarke: The whole trend of
opinion for 10 years has been to reduce testing and say that it
is dangerous, distorting and so on. I just don't believe it.
Chair: To be fair to our Committee, we
didn't say that.
Mr Clarke: I know you didn't,
but others did.
Q24 Chair: We said that if there
is a pendulum, it has swung too far towards too much testing and
that it needs to swing back a bit. We actually started the report
by saying that we believe in a system of national testing. We
believe in it, butthe Government and the Department certainly
did not want to hear thisa lot of people who gave evidence
to the Committee said that it had gone that much further and that
there was an inability to innovate. Everyone became obsessed long
before the tests were due, so that was all they were doing in
Lord Baker: One of the classic
tests is that, if the Conservatives win the election, I understand
that they are going to introduce the Swedish system, which I strongly
support, and various groups of parents will come together and
form schools. Local communities will form schools. You can bet
your bottom dollar that those schools will be tested to destruction.
The parents will want to know.
Q25 Paul Holmes: I must sayit
must be the former schoolteacher in me; I was obviously rubbish
in my jobthat I can't believe what I am hearing. Sweden
has a National Curriculum that is nine to 18 pages long for the
entire curriculumnot for one subject, but for the whole
curriculum. I have visited Sweden's schools and they do not do
testing like that. That is true across Scandinavia. It is true
in Finland, which tops the PISA studies for educational success
all the time. Ofsted, which was your creation between you, said
that teaching to the test is utterly destroying and distorting
what is happening in our schoolsin junior schools and at
secondary level. It is all, totally, at odds with what you are
saying. Do you not understand the difference when you talk about
the testing that went on when you were at junior school? I was
tested when I was a pupil in David Blunkett's constituency in
Sheffield. When I was a teacher we tested all the time, but it
was formative testing. It was assessing the children. It was looking
at how they were doing each week, each term and so forth so that
you knew what to do to move them on. It was not high-stakes testing
where you, as a teacher, and the school as a whole, would be crucified
by league tables. We are told that you must have league tables.
We are about the only country in the world that has league tables.
Even Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland don't have league tables.
Mr Blunkett: They have information.
We get hung up on titles. There is no way we are ever going to
go back to not giving parentsand, for good professionals,
schoolsreal sensible comparators. You have discussed this
in this Committee. To have comparators, you need information.
To get information, you need some form of assessment testing that
ensures there is consistency.
Q26 Chair: But surely the difference,
David, is between testing for pupil attainment to check that a
child is making progress, and testing for school accountability
that will end up in a published table? We were walking across
to vote with another former Secretary of State for Education who
boasted that he was the man who introduced SATs and he was the
person who introduced all the testing and the publication of the
test scores. We cannot put it down to any of you four because
we have just had a confession outside this room.
Lord Baker: Who was that?
Chair: Ken Clarke.
Baroness Morris: I apologise because
I have not got the greatest of voices today, but I think it is
a bit more complex than that. To complete the quartet, I am absolutely
in favour of testing. When I think of what we know, on a national
level, a school level and a pupil level, because we assess children's
progress, I think it has helped to transform the education system.
I am absolutely in favour of testing. If we went away from testing
at key points in the education system we would be doing a huge
disservice to children. That is my fundamental belief. Paul, I
know what you saying. I talk to teachers and some of them say
that. I think there are three groups. There are those people who
have never liked testing. They don't think it is right to do it.
They think it shows up schools that have more difficult children
to teach. They have always been against it and they are against
it now. There are those like us four who have always been in favour
of assessment, and then there is a group in the middle who I think
are in favour of testing, but say that there could be improvements
in the current system. I think that that group has grown. I think
that group ought to be listened to. The problem with the debateit
was proven exactly hereis that the minute the issue of
testing is introduced, we go into our polarised positions. We
all four said that we were in favour of testing; it would be awful
if we dropped it. You didn't saywell, you almost said it,
to tell you truththat it is terrible because some schools
are made to look bad. That is gone. That is a past argument. Where
there is a debate to be had it is this, and I think this is the
most challenging thing that faces the education system. There
is no need to test more than four times. There is no need to do
practice tests. There is no need to teach to the test. There is
no need to narrow the curriculum. In fact all the evidence shows
that the schools that do best in the tests are those that do art,
drama, sports, citizenship and self-esteem and do it well. Your
confident head teacher knows that. The problem we've got is that
the head teacher who is not that confident teaches to the test.
To some extent, our education system is as good as the average
teacher, not as good as the very able teacher. I think the challenge
is: how do government, or how do the agencies, give that clear
message to schools that you don't need to do the testing and standards
will rise? It is somehow in there. We never talk about it. The
minute it was mentioned, you went to one end and we went to the
other. What I would say, Mr Chairman, is that from your report
there is an issue to be discussed, and it ought to be discussed,
but it ought to be against the background that testing is good,
information in the public domain is right, and comparators are
inevitable in the sort of society we live in.
Q27 Paul Holmes: So you all think
that Ofsted is entirely wrong in its report on teaching to the
test and the way it distorts schools? Four Secretaries of State
all think that Ofsted got it completely wrong?
Baroness Morris: I do not think
that schools need to teach to the test. I do not think good schools
need to do itit is not required by the testing system.
You're a teacher, Paul. You must go to heads in Chesterfield who
don't teach to the test but get really good results. The challenge
is how we give the rest of the schools the confidence to know
that that's possible. Where we are in error is that all too often
when the issue is raised we go back to saying, "Testing's
got to stay," because we are frightened of the reaction.
We are nervous about what the press will say. We have to grow
up and get over that. How many years are we on from the introduction
of national testing, Ken? It's not wrong to look at some of the
fallout from national testing, but it would be wrong to have a
debate that questioned the importance of and the need for testing.
Chair: You know that our report looked
very much at that balance of testing for what, and at balancing
testing with assessment.
Baroness Morris: That's the most
Chair: Andrew, do you want to ask a question?
Q28 Mr Pelling: I come with the
prejudice of having been involved with Donald Naismith and the
Croydon curriculum, and introducing some of the first CTCs, and
having fights with trade unions about testing. Why do you feel
that the Conservative party has made this very long journey back
to being very sceptical about the role of setting curriculum and
Lord Baker: Why has the Conservative
party become sceptical about that? I think only certain elements
of the Conservative party are sceptical about that. The party
hasn't been in office for some time, and I think that when it
is in office it will find the virtues of some of the things I
have been talking about. I think it will find that lots of parents
want to see tests, and that lots of parents rather like the National
Curriculum because there is a broad body of knowledge. It is very
interesting that, in the middle of the 19th century, Matthew Arnold
wrote out a National Curriculum that is broadly what we have today.
Rab Butler and the Board of Education in 1941 decided that after
the war there should be three types of schools: grammar schools,
technical schools and secondary modern schoolshigh schools.
Very interestingly, in 1941 they said the change should be at
13. Rab Butler said he wanted children from 11 to 13 to go through
a common mill of experience, and I think that that is what we
have been talking about. The National Curriculum is, if you like,
a common mill of experience. But I do think that that is now necessary
up to 14, but at 14 you need to have a real fundamental examination
of where you go, and where the English education system is going
to go. I agree with Estelle that this is the age of transfer.
I think that this is the next big change in English education.
That raises all sorts of very interesting possibilities. It requires
schools not only to have technical and vocational education alongside
English, maths and science. You might have schools post-14 specialising
in classics, the broad humanities, or art and dramaall
sorts of thingsand that gives you tremendous flexibility.
I think 14 is the watershed.
Mr Blunkett: Perhaps Ken might
agree with this: lessons should celebrate, not denigrate, the
empire. English classes putting more emphasis on classics is Michael
Gove's stance. Is it a framework or is it a curriculum?
Lord Baker: Changing the nature
of the curriculum, as Michael will want to, takes a bit of time.
Mr Blunkett: It will take him
about 20 years.
Q29 Annette Brooke: I have two
fairly quick questions. Why is it appropriate that some schools
should not have the National Curriculum applied to them and state
schools for the most part should? Why do we have two tiers?
Baroness Morris: It's not logical.
It's not appropriate.
Q30 Chair: But it is what we have,
Lord Baker: When we established
the city technology colleges way back in 1986-87, I was opposed
by a large body of traditional Conservative LEAs. We wanted to
inject as much variety as we could into the system, and the only
way to do it was to establish institutions and give them as much
freedom as possible. That was the reason we did it. They could
vary the National Curriculum, but in fact city technology colleges
now follow it quite closely. They did the things that in those
days were revolutionary, such as staying open later at night,
opening for breakfast, and specialising much more in computer
technologies and IT. We wanted them to give that degree of variation
Mr Clarke: A similar logic worked
with the academies. The theory with the academies, in the early
days, was that the achievement had been so poor in the areas that
we were talking aboutthe problems were so greatthat
you needed to have the ability to innovate in whatever way was
thought necessary to deal with those kinds of problems. However,
you raise some serious issues. The question of consistency is
important. But, the one thing I would say isI am not suggesting
you are saying thisthat you can't say that you want to
move away from the National Curriculum and, at the same time,
abandon all forms of testing. The whole point was that there might
be better curricular ways of getting to the test results that
were necessary for children in those areas. It is not consistent
to deal with the two matters in that way. I hopedwe certainly
were in favour of innovation in the curriculumthat there
would be some positive things to come through that would teach
us how we might better be able to enable children to perform.
Mr Blunkett: I always saw it as
being much more a case of laboratory schools, rather than the
abandonment of the curriculum. You need to be able to experiment
to move forward.
Baroness Morris: I don't think
that freedom ought to remain with any one category of school.
It is not logical and I think it is a nonsense. In the Education
Bill that was passed when I was Secretary of State, I think clause
1 referred to the power to innovate. In actual fact, schools that
are not academiesor in those days, city technology collegescould
take the power to innovate and have quite remarkable freedoms.
Q31 Chair: They hardly ever used
it, Estelle, did they?
Baroness Morris: I know that.
That is part of the challenge. There are many freedoms that schools
don't use. That's the problem, to tell you the truth. Schools
don't use the flexibilities they've gotit is not that there
is not enough flexibility.
Chair: They were all terrified of the
Department and the National Strategies.
Baroness Morris: Sorry?
Q32 Chair: As I said earlier,
I am not going back to testing and assessment, but people were
rather terrified that they were going to displease someone, like
the Department, Ofsted or whoever. Okay, the National Strategies
are now going to be abandoned, but when we were taking our evidence,
we found that many people thought they had to follow the national
strategy and that it wasn't optional.
Baroness Morris: Some people felt
that, but I think it was a decreasing number. There is a lot of
innovation in schools, but our problem, Mr Chairman, was that
they did not apply to the Department to use the power to innovate.
They tended just to say, "Well, we'll get on with it."
Innovation was there, but you're rightalthough I don't
know what the figures are nowthat the power to innovate
was not hugely popular when we introduced it. The point I was
making in the context of this question was that it shouldn't only
be one category. That power to innovate right across the state
sector was a bit of a match for the freedoms the academies had.
The academies haven't used their freedom and flexibility in the
Q33 Annette Brooke: I still find
it quite odd that, for example, the independent sector, much of
which is admired by people, obviously does not have to follow
the National Curriculum. Yet similar schoolsgrammar schoolsin
my constituency have been refused permission to do various things
recently by the Department. How can that be? If it is good for
independent schools, why is it not good for all state schools?
Mr Clarke: I don't know about
the cases of schools in your constituency, but I am surprised
to hear that. Certainly, when I was Secretary of State, the culture
was to allow proposals for innovation, rather than to stop them.
I don't know the reasons in the cases of the schools you are talking
about, but I was certainly keen to encourage that ethic, and I
think I was being faithful to my predecessors' desiresDavid's
and Estelle'sto encourage innovation of that type. But
I don't know enough about the detail of what you're actually describing.
Q34 Annette Brooke: My second
brief question is on initiative overload. I will exclude the National
Curriculum aspect from my question if I may, but I think at least
three Secretaries of State probably introduced a number of initiatives.
I would like to ask you which initiatives you think can really
be defended and which ones were really too much and over the top.
Chair: We'll start with you, David.
Mr Blunkett: I plead guilty to
initiative overload, because there seemed to be so much that needed
tackling all at once. Most of the criticisms afterwards are, as
ever, that you did not do enough on this or that area, particularly
in relation to secondary. I suppose that we could have eased off
a little bit in relation to what we were doing in demanding changes
in teaching, but if we had done that, we would have reduced the
change on quality. We were demanding the most enormous amount
of change from teachers, but frankly it was needed. I am a trained
teacher. It was just desperately needed. We had a crap teaching
profession. We haven't any more.
Mr Clarke: I think initiatives
like the literacy and numeracy hour, which were extremely controversial
with lots of people, were necessary, and I think they have improved
standards of education in a very important and significant way.
That said, I think there is an absolutely core problem in education,
certainly over the recent period, of too many initiatives, too
much change, lack of consistency and change of personnel both
in terms of Ministers and senior officials, which has been a problem
in the whole process. The biggest kind of structural failure has
been failure to be able to build serious partnership with the
teaching profession on change. As I said earlier, I was in favour
of trying to do it around particular subjectstrying to
get an agreement with maths teachers on how you should develop
in maths, what training was needed and so on and so forth; but
it has not been a healthy set of relationships. I think that is
still true. I think it has been true over quite a period. Why
is it the case? All four of my grandparents were teachers. I respect
the teaching profession very deeply. I respect the teachers who
taught my children in our local schools a great deal; but fundamentally
I think there is a real problem, which is that the pace of change
in life is so fast for everybody nowI don't mean the schoolsand
the equipment people need to deal with that changing life is essentially
education. People have to be able to update themselves the whole
time on everything that's happening, and I think that the teaching
world is a very conservativewith a small "c"world.
And I think that is a real problem. Unfortunately, I share David's
view. The issues that needed to be addressed in 1997 were very
deep. I had a school in my constituency that was in the worst
fivenot per cent. but fiveprimary schools in the
country, where all the teachers, when you went in, said, "It's
nothing to do with usit's the parents."
Baroness Morris: Or it's the kids.
Mr Clarke: Yes. It made me weep.
It was absolutely unacceptable. It may be that we took the wrong
powers, and did not do it in the right way, or whatever. I think
there's room for debate about whether we did the right things,
but I honestly believe there is no room for debate that action
needed to be taken and the structure that was there was not adequate
to deal with the problems the system faced.
Mr Blunkett: Estelle had to go
and calm them down when I upset them. Isn't that right Estelle?
Baroness Morris: Frequently.
Q35 Chair: Estelle, do you share
Baroness Morris: Yes, there have
been too many initiatives, but each by themselves could be justified;
that's the problem. The best initiatives are those which are now
owned by the schools and the professions, and they've forgotten
it's an initiative. But changing the ship of state that is schools,
you have to have some pushing and tugging and levers. I just jotted
a few down: after-school learning, holiday learning and breakfast
clubs. Schools do that now because they know it's the right thing
to do and it helps raise attainment of students. All those were
initiatives in our first two years. We put money behind it and
we almost made schools have them. I remember those first summer
holiday schools for catching up on literacy before the transfer
to secondary schools. Now no one would say, "We've got a
breakfast club tomorrow morning. It's an initiative, and isn't
it terrible?" The best initiatives are those that have now
been owned by the schools. Some of them were things we wanted
to do, but we should have let go on. The one I can think of is
the homework initiativeI think David sent me out to justify
it, to tell you the truth, but I think I was in favour of it at
the time. Homework is a good thing, but that the Government should
have a policy that said 10-year-olds should do 30 minutes and
14-year-olds should do 45 minutes isn't worth the effort. It's
not worth it.
Mr Blunkett: That's the failure
Baroness Morris: That was good,
David, for me to think of a failure one on our behalf. There's
always a reason for doing it. I know why we did the homework initiative,
but sometimesI can say this now because I'm not an MP any
longerheads would say to me, "I got a letter from
the Department last week. There it is. You know what I did with
it? I threw it in the bin." And I would say, "Good for
you. If your judgment was that it wasn't of use to you and your
school, the bin is where it should be." Heads did that thinking
I would say, "That's terrible." It goes back to what
I said beforegood heads chose the initiatives they wanted
to take on, but unconfident heads tried to react to every one,
and that was absolutely impossible. There have been too many initiatives.
There is no doubt about it. We need a different way of managing
and introducing change.
Lord Baker: Let us leave National
Curriculum and testing aside. When you want to reform education,
you have a choice. You can either try to reform the existing institutions
or set up new institutions. It is a very clear choice. I began
by asking, "Can we reform existing institutions?" I
found that there were too many vested interests, for the reasons
that David and others have given. That is why I started city technology
colleges. They were the first institutions free from local education
authority control and state money. It was a breakthrough and from
that, the academies developed, as did special schools, which gave
schools the freedom that they wanted. They would not be told what
to do by the LEAs. We must not underestimate the degree of freedom
for grant-maintained schools and the rest of it. It will clearly
be the pattern in the future. That is the rim of the wheel. I
have no apology to make. It was the right decision. It was not
the hub of the wheel. I hope that Mr Carswell will recognise that.
Q36 Mr Stuart: A former Secretary
of State, like yourselves, once said to me that he thought that
collectively the teaching unions had done more damage to the social
fabric of this country than any other group since the second world
war. I won't say which party he was. To what extent do you think
the unions crippled positive change in the system?
Lord Baker: The most depressing
things were the Easter conferences of the trade unions. At the
worst, loud-mouthed teachers seemed to get on to television expounding
the most dreadful policies and diminishing the status of teaching
in the eyes of the public. That is a great disservice to education
services. I get very depressed each time it happens, every Easter.
We were all invited as Secretaries of State to speak to the conferences.
Mr Clarke: I refused.
Lord Baker: That was very wise.
I only did one, and that was enough.
Mr Clarke: This is a very serious
and problematic question. I didn't go to the NUT one year when
they invited me. The reason was that I thought the way they treated
previous politicians, including David, with very outrageous behaviour,
was completely unacceptable for people who thought they were teaching
people about society and how things should operate. I looked for
some guarantees that they would operate in a respectful way, and
they were not ready to do that. That said, we had a tremendous
set of agreements with the trade unions on workforce reform, which
was extremely positive. The teaching unions involved were absolutely
positive about what has transformed an important set of working
relationships in schools and improved educational standards. The
NUT stood outside that, and still stands outside itfor
reasons that utterly defeat me. It is an awful thing to say, but
I came to the view that there was not much point in talking to
the NUT about education. I felt there was not a useful dialogue
to be had, and I very much regret that. I have asked myself whether
we made mistakes when I was a junior Minister under David, and
whether we should have tried to work in a less performance-related
pay approach to teachers and have a more partnership approach
in the way we did things. The question whether our industrial
relations strategy was the right strategy is interesting. Could
we have done it better? Why? Because we cannot go past teachers.
Teachers are fundamental to the success of the education system,
and to have a stand-off relationship is terrible. I tried to talk
to the NUT leadership successively when I was Education Secretary.
Obviously, we had plenty of dialogue, but I would not say that
it was fruitful and positive. I would not associate myself with
the remarks a previous Secretary of State madethere are
a number of institutions that are more seriousbut teachers
and their organisations have to embrace change, because education
is about change. Simply saying that you cannot change, unless
you get the money for it or whatever, is just wrong. It is not
the way other professions or other employees operate in many walks
of life, if you look at the attitude to training and to change
in any area. I would say, certainly for my period, that I have
to plead guilty to having failed to put it on the right footing,
with the important exception of the work force reform programme,
which was and is an important period of change. There has to be
a cultural change in all this. I have written a piece about it
which I shall let you have if anyone is interested. We need to
go back to square one. People like me have to do a mea culpa and
say we were wrong in the way we handled some aspects of it. The
trade unions concerned have to do a mea culpa, and we have to
say, "Okay, what can we do to improve the situation?"
We are in a total laagera bunker positionin which
I don't see any positives at the moment.
Baroness Morris: The phrase goes
too far, but there is no doubt that unions have opposed change
a lot of the time. It needs to be said that some individual union
members are brilliant teachersvery innovative and committed.
We're talking about the institution of the union. Some of the
most radical unionists I knew when I was teaching were some of
the best teachers in our school. I always felt that if only people
could see them teach rather than demonstrating at the Easter conference
the perceptions would be different. Teachers for some reason are
always fighting the last reform but one. They get into a habit.
They come round to it two reforms later and say, "Well, maybe
the one two times ago wasn't that bad." They're always behind
the pace of change. One of the things that I find amazing is that
they are very innovative in their schools. They cope with change
all the time. Anyone who has done any teaching knows the amount
of change you have to cope with when there are 30 children in
your class. They're actually skilled at it. But the minute it
comes on a strategic, school or system level, they resist change.
I think to some extent in the past they were badly led by unions
that opposed things almost for the sake of it rather than asking
what the issue was. Charles is absolutely right. The work force
reform, which was the most important bit of work I did in terms
of setting it up, was right. When you think why that went right,
there were lots of reasons why the unions, apart from the NUTand
I don't understand that eitherwanted to buy into it at
the time. If there is a lesson to be learned, Charles, it's probably
about trying to buy them in, rather than politiciansI occasionally
dothinking the row will look good with the public. I think
that politicians in the past have been guilty of thatif
the unions disagree with them, the parents will think it's a good
policyand we really ought to move on from that. We've grown
up. The last thing I would say is that the unions, certainly over
the past three to five years, have behaved differently, with the
exception of the NUTI don't know if they're still talking
to the Department or not. But I think we have had some very good
union leaders in recent years. John Dunford is to stand down at
Easter, and no one could say that he has not been a positive contributor
to education in this country.
Mr Blunkett: I still talk to some
people in the NUT.
Baroness Morris: I'm still a member.
Mr Blunkett: We had some terrible
fall-outs, but the daftest thing was when they got a much better
barrister than the Department to stop us putting pay up under
the work force development scheme. That was one of the saddest
moments. You have to remember that Michael Barber once worked
in the research unit at the NUT, and there was a time when the
NUT had a terrific research unit, where they actually did address
educational change, so it comes and it goes and we have to put
up with it. But it is sad. I'd like to pay tribute to a very nice
former general secretary, Fred Jarvis, who I see regularly. As
he brings me a really nice bottle of wine from France, I can't
possibly criticise him.
Q37 Mr Stuart: Can I take you
to the subject of standards? Looking back over 13 years of a Labour
Government with education, education, educationthe pledgethe
big increase in expenditure and the deployment of top guns like
yourselves to run the Department, there was a real hope for the
transformational change that Estelle mentioned earlier. Can you
sum up what you think are the great glories of the new Labour
years in education, and perhaps the shortcomings?
Chair: Shall we do it chronologically
and go back to you, David? I'll come back to you in a moment,
Mr Blunkett: First, accepting
that the world had changed and being prepared to modify but to
roll with the changes that had taken place and address the future
rather than the past. It's hard to remember now what it was like
in '94, '95, '96, but it was a seminal moment when we weren't
prepared to simply chuck everything out and start again. Secondly,
Charles has been very generous about the National College for
School Leadership, but I think that leadership, quality of teaching
and changing the teacher training programmesTeach First
among themwas absolutely fundamental. I started with this
and I finished with it. It didn't matter what we did. As crucial
as literacy and numeracy programmes were, and as crucial as freeing
up what we were doing in terms of funding, which we have not mentionedfunding
did make an enormous difference to the quality of the teaching
and learning experiencethose things apart, in the end it
is what takes place in the classroom that matters. Whatever happens
after the election and whoever wins it, if they keep their eye
on standards, not structures, which was my mantra in the build-up
to the '97 election, it might help.
Q38 Chair: David, is the biggest
difference between you and what went before youin terms
of Ken and his colleagues in the Conservative partya question
of ideology? Are there deep ideological differences? I ask that
because what has come out of this exchange is that you agree on
a great number of things and you have refined them, moved them
on and developed them; they include Ofsted, testing and assessment
and much else. However, I suppose that the profound difference
for you was that you had a Prime Minister totally obsessed with
educationthat must have been goodand who was willing
to spend an awful lot of money.
Mr Blunkett: John Major restricted
what Gillian wanted to do. There is no question about that; she
said so publicly. He wanted her to calm everything down and not
rock the boat at all, after her predecessornot the two
Kens, but the predecessor who came in between them. Therefore,
she had her arms tied behind her back. By contrast, the Prime
Minister from '97 onwards wanted us to act. It was not an obsession
of his, but it was an absolute priority for him, and that helped.
My main task from 1994, when I was shadow Secretary of State,
was immediately to stop the total obsession with structures. More
than half the Labour party press releases that went out in 1993
were about grant-maintained status. They had nothing to do with
the issue of standards; I will get shot for this, but they did
not. We had to turn that around. We had to accept that information
was here to stay and we had to try to concentrate on what we believed
really mattered, which was a transformation for the lives of those
children that we all in this room represent and that we want to
see improved. The mantra of "Give us more money and leave
us alone" was a pathetic answer to the drive that we were
trying to put in place. That mantra still exists, by the way.
The curmudgeon in the corner of the staff room that we used to
talk about, who is against everything and everybody, and who believes
that nothing can change and nothing can improve
Q39 Mr Stuart: But David, have
things improved? If I look for a crude proxy for the education
Mr Blunkett: A 20 percentage point
improvement in literacy and numeracy is undeniable. We had all
the inquiries as to whether that was a con or not. Rose had to
come in and do the business and have a look. There is no question