From Baker to Balls: the foundations of the education system - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 20-39)


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 State—I, 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 size—I 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 Baker—I think Estelle did, too, to a certain extent—that 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 by them.

  Lord Baker: I am in favour of a testing regime.

  Q23 Chair: At seven; 11; 14; 16; 18?

  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 states—every 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 testing?

  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, but—the Government and the Department certainly did not want to hear this—a 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 the classroom.

  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 say—it must be the former schoolteacher in me; I was obviously rubbish in my job—that I can't believe what I am hearing. Sweden has a National Curriculum that is nine to 18 pages long for the entire curriculum—not 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 schools—in 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 parents—and, for good professionals, schools—real 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 debate—it was proven exactly here—is 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 say—well, you almost said it, to tell you truth—that 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 it—it 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 interesting point.

  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 testing?

  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 schools—high 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 drama—all sorts of things—and 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, isn't it?

  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 to people.

  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 about—the problems were so great—that 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 is—I am not suggesting you are saying this—that 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 hoped—we certainly were in favour of innovation in the curriculum—that 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 academies—or in those days, city technology colleges—could 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 got—it 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 right—although I don't know what the figures are now—that 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 curriculum much.

  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 schools—grammar schools—in 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' desires—David's and Estelle's—to 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 subjects—trying 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 now—I don't mean the schools—and 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 conservative—with 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 five—not per cent. but five—primary schools in the country, where all the teachers, when you went in, said, "It's nothing to do with us—it'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 that opinion?

  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 initiative—I 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 one.

  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 sometimes—I can say this now because I'm not an MP any longer—heads 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 before—good 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 it—for 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 made—there are a number of institutions that are more serious—but 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 laager—a bunker position—in 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 teachers—very 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 NUT—and I don't understand that either—wanted 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 politicians—I occasionally do—thinking the row will look good with the public. I think that politicians in the past have been guilty of that—if the unions disagree with them, the parents will think it's a good policy—and 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 NUT—I 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, education—the pledge—the 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, Ken.

  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 programmes—Teach First among them—was 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 mentioned—funding did make an enormous difference to the quality of the teaching and learning experience—those 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 you—in terms of Ken and his colleagues in the Conservative party—a 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 education—that must have been good—and 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 predecessor—not 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 system—

  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 about that.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 6 April 2010