A letter to Stephen Twigg, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Dear Stephen,
I still remember the wonderful night in 1997 when you unseated arch-Thatcherite Michael Portillo. It felt like the end of a long nightmare. Like many, I found the record of the Labour government that came to office bitterly disappointing. It failed to make a radical break with the policies of the previous administration.
Maybe we are in a similar situation today. This is the most confrontational and ideological government in generations and it is doing untold damage. Millions want an alternative to the catastrophic record of the Tory-led coalition. Many of us are starting to fear that Labour will repeat Tony Blair’s policy of continuity rather than change.
You are Shadow Secretary of State for Education so let’s confine ourselves to that area of policy. Michael Gove is a most irregular verb and an even more bizarre politician. Combative and blundering in equal measure, he has been forced into a number of apologies and U-turns, most obviously over the Ebacc.
Strangely, you as his Shadow do not seem to be distinguishing yourself from him sufficiently to inspire the teaching profession. Labour does not appear to be formulating a vision of education.
What is your view of the History curriculum, for example? Most teachers want to see a stirring defence of critical thinking and analysis. They want to see the opposition promote a conception of history teaching as one which equips youngsters to examine historical events and develop their own conclusions. They certainly do not want to see a Kings and Queens, Island Story approach based on a rosy, romanticised view of Nineteen Fifties teaching.at least
Where do you stand on the Year One phonics test? Don’t you think the government is going too far, too fast in testing very young children? Don’t you think that knowing phonemes is only part of reading and that immersion in reading and an appreciation of meaning are at least equally important?
Where do you stand on primary grammar tests at Year Six, tests that have been viewed as “really flawed” even by experts consulted by the Government?
Where do you stand on the future of state education? Your party promoted academies when in office. Do you now see that the entire system of education in the UK is now fragmenting disastrously? We are even seeing 27-year-olds without a teaching degree being fast tracked as school leaders.
Where do you stand finally on an inspection regime that is becoming ever more punitive and detached from the views of the majority of the teaching profession?
I ask this because I do not see Labour assembling a coherent, satisfying and inspiring rebuttal of Gove’s wretched performance. That is something we desperately need from the parliamentary opposition. Sadly, I don’t feel that you are providing it.
Yours faithfully,
Alan Gibbons

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