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Michael Gove kindly warns Stephen Twigg: people think you’re weak

19 June 2013

What a lot of fun Michael Gove is having with Stephen Twigg’s latest policy pronouncements. The Education Secretary has written a fabulously long letter to his Labour shadow following up on Monday’s speech with 36 questions. He charmingly writes:

‘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.’

That exhaustingly long paragraph (all one sentence) comes at the end of the letter, which asks questions designed to trip up Twigg about his Labour colleagues who have worked in schools without teaching qualifications, about whether his plans to sack unqualified teachers met EU law and the Human Rights Act, and what he really thinks about school choice. You can read it in full here.

Some of the questions will be difficult for Labour to answer until the conclusion of David Blunkett’s review of school supervision, as Gove drills down into a great deal of detail about the freedoms that free schools and academies might lose if they were brought under local authority supervision.

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Others are part of a fightback on the issue that Labour feels most confident on: unqualified teachers. The party thinks that polling showing parents hate the idea of their children being taught by untrained staff means Twigg is safe to oppose the measure, which has offended the teaching unions no end. But it is an easy argument for the Tories to win, given many leading independent schools employ staff without qualified teacher status. Academy heads will also be able to point to gifted staff in their schools who would lose their jobs under Labour based on their failure to tick one box, rather than their prowess in the classroom.

But this letter feeds into the attack line that the Tories are focusing on – and that we saw deployed at Prime Minister’s Questions today – that the Labour party is weak and dithering over policy, a ‘blancmange in a hurricane’, as Gove himself put it.

UPDATE, 16.45: When it comes to letter-writing, though, Twigg is no blancmange. His reply to Gove is brilliant. He writes:

Thank you for your 1300-word letter.

I was very interested to hear, during Prime Minister’s Questions earlier today, the Prime Minister defending the Government’s decision to allow unqualified teachers to teach in classrooms.

I am delighted to see the attention you are paying to Labour party policy but might I suggest focusing more attention on your own policies?

With a primary places crisis, over 5000 unqualified teachers in academies and Free Schools, a fall in the number of apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds, youth unemployment at almost a million, a looming teacher shortage, and a new curriculum rejected by employers and teachers, surely your time would be better spent addressing these issues rather than being a pigeon carrier for Lynton Crosby’s gimmicks?

I fear, however, that you will continue to while away the hours sending letters to me, writing forewords to the Bible and dreaming up new names for GCSEs.

UPDATE II, 18.10: These letters have legs. We may need to set up a Gove vs Twigg liveblog. In the meantime, here’s Gove’s response:

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for your response to my letter.

You suggested I should spend more time attending to the government’s education policies. Since the general election we have:

·         Opened 81 free schools and approved 211 more, to provide 130,000 extra places once they are full.

·         Increased the number of sponsored academies from 203 to 699.

·         Allowed all schools to convert to Academy status – an option 2,225 schools have taken so far, so that a majority of secondary schools are now academies.

·         Opened 16 Studio Schools and approved 28 more.

·         Drafted a new National Curriculum that will be taught in schools from September 2014.

·         Given all schools freedom over the length of the school day.

·         Given teachers the power to search pupils without consent for banned items.

·         Given heads the final say on exclusions by removing the rights of appeals panels to overturn their decisions.

·         Given teachers the power to enforce same-day detentions.

·         Increased fines for truancy.

·         Set out plans for more rigorous GCSEs that will be taught from September 2015.

·         Introduced the English Baccalaureate which has led to a doubling in the percentage of pupils studying an academic core at GCSE.

·         Enlisted the Russell Group to design new A-levels.

·         Restored marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSEs, which your government abolished.

·         Scrapped excessive modules, coursework and controlled assessment.

·         Commissioned the Wolf Report into vocational education and implemented its findings in full.

·         Ensured only high quality vocational qualifications that lead to employment and further study count in performance tables.

·         Ensured all young people who fail to get a C in English or Maths GCSE carry on studying those subjects to 18.

·         Introduced a £2.5 billion pupil premium to target funding at those most in need.

·         Scrapped eight education quangos.

·         Cut bureaucratic guidance to schools by three quarters.

·         Announced that, from this September, rigid pay-scales, which led to automatic pay rises regardless of performance and prevented heads from rewarding great teachers, will be abolished.

·         Introduced £20,000 bursaries to attract top graduates in maths and science to teaching.

·         Encouraged a record number of top graduates to apply to become teachers.

·         Expanded Teach First, with quadruple the number of places on the scheme by 2015-16.

·         Moved teacher training out of lecture halls and into classrooms through the introduction of Teaching Schools and School Direct.

·         More than doubled funding for extra school places to £5 billion to deal with the shortage of primary places that is the direct result of the last government’s failures to control immigration and plan for a rising school population.

·         Scrapped the wasteful Building Schools for the Future programme which you have admitted squandered billions of pounds.

·         Published more data on school performance than ever before, including data on how many children from each school get to a top university – data kept hidden by the last government.

Of course there is plenty more to do to raise standards, but I hope this reassures you about the progress this government has made on education policy.

Perhaps you could now set out the progress the Labour party has made on education policy since the general election by answering the questions I put to you earlier?

Yours sincerely,


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Show comments
  • Alexander Simples

    Such a pity Gove cannot tell the truth. He has not implemented the Wolf recommendations in full, what about number 13? Also the free schools are failing, e.g. Discovery new school (Crawley) is in special measures and three others ‘require improvement’. Some of the freedoms he claims for Heads are nothing new e.g. Extending the school day has always been possible provided the school consults and has agreement from parents. I could go on, but Gove is not worth it.

  • Alexander Simples

    Such a pity Gove cannot ell the truth, he has not implemented the Wolf recommendations in full, what about number 13?

  • rosey

    i think that Michael shouldn’t do that stuff, i am happy with the way our schools are and if i got good grades in university i don’t want them to convince me to become a teacher.

  • Felix

    “But it is an easy argument for the Tories to win, given many leading independent schools employ staff without qualified teacher status.”

    Oh yeah, given that the free school just rated by Ofsted as inadequate and preparing children for illiteracy is full of them? Typical Hardmann hubris. Mix with the proles outside London Isabelle and you might discover that they don’t care what independent schools do, they want other things for their children.

    • Alexander Simples

      So true, but many independent teachers are asking to be trained and gain QTS as they are being hounded by parents who require minimum basic standards for the teachers of their sons and daughters. In my institution we had 20 doing an accelerated route to QTS last year only 15 made it though, the rest needed extra training. Of the 15 who made it 12 had been teaching for over 10 years. The other 5 had been teaching over 3 years. The 5 who did not make the standard had over 30 years experice between them and one was a head of department. Even the school was shocked by how bad the HoD was – the comment from the senior master was that the majority of his pupils got excellent grades due to private tuition and therein is the issue of non-qualified private school teachers. Pupils succeed despite their teachers, not always because of them and it costs the parents a fortune in extra tuition!

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    “weak” …politically not a helpful label.
    But then “arrogant”, “incompetent” and “ambition obsessed” aren’t exactly a bonus either.

  • Joe Jones

    Well Mr Gove, least people don’t think he’s a c**t

    • Gary Smith

      It’s a good job you are sterile, and so cannot pass on your idiotic genes to some poor unfortunate child !

      • Joe Jones

        You should try telling that to my Master’s Degree

  • Koakona

    Noticed an article on the BBC website earlier. It declared a large percentage of universities do not discriminate based on class, wealth, educational background, family or race. I thought wow this is great, look how well our universities are doing. However reality sank in as the article went on and “experts” started attacking the universities for basing decisions on ability, declaring instead that ability is less important than if you are the first in your family to go to Uni or if you are dirt poor or filthy rich. What? Discrimination is discrimination, meritocratic processes are the only just acceptance practices.

  • Whyshouldihavetoregister

    Izzy, dear, ‘brilliant’ is not a synonym for ‘useless, evasive, stupid and not proofread.’ (What’s a pigeon carrier?)

  • Nicholas chuzzlewit

    Yes very funny Mr Twigg but how about some answers.

    • starfish

      Looks like worzel is stumped for answers, maybe because he has none after his party’s latest u-turn

  • telemachus

    Best thing for Twigg to do is to take a leaf from Telemachus and answer with a knights move to get across the message that is important
    Namely that trying to improve schools by jungle competition consigns groups of disadvantaged children in the sink schools to the scrapheap

    • starfish

      Yes.much better that they all sink together.after all we would not want to offend producer interests would we?

      • telemachus

        Either shut them or send in a hit squad to revive them
        It is a sign of weakness that Gove can do neither

        • starfish

          No.leave them to founder in their poor teacher comprehensively correct right on education
          Parents who care must have the option of going to schools where achievement in education is the top priority not some lazy half-witted politically correct all shall have prizes glorified child care mediocrity run by the NUT

          • telemachus

            You have not got it have you
            “Parents who care”
            Sadly many parents of sink school children do not
            We above all have a duty to these unfortunates
            Your post encapsulates why, for the good of society, we need to get rid of Gove and his party
            For good

            • starfish

              No you don’t get it. Parents have a duty to their children. It is not the State’s responsibility. That is the problem. The Nut and people like you think there has to be a grand socialist plan to take over.

              • telemachus

                Your utopian world works in Wentworth
                But we have a duty to Tower Hamlets where children barely know their mothers never mind fathers

          • jaydeepee

            All prejudices in one paragraph! Well done but no prize.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Then close the sink schools and open free schools in their place. Oh, and you can bugger off to Labourlist.

      • telemachus

        Close them
        But not promote a jungle competition and withering

    • paulus

      No you are wrong, we are forcing these children to compete with kids from homes with motivated, well educated parents, they cannot compete they cannot win. If they cannot win the game we must change the game.

      Tailoring schools to reflect the communities that they cater for will bring rewards. This is only the first step. Lay out your vision at the election and we will take every middle class seat in the North.

      • telemachus

        I do not get your drift
        My actual vision is a system of education that allows each and every child access to the same value added education with actions to identify the gifted and feed their minds within the same environment that you identify the weak and remediate

        • ButcombeMan

          “actions to identify the gifted and feed their minds”

          Something like the 11 plus then but maybe at 13?

          Do that and I am with you.

          • paulus


          • telemachus

            As long as the secondary modern thread you create is educated in the same environment by good teachers who identify and feed the altitudes discovered

            • ButcombeMan

              “secondary modern” !!!!

              You are truly stuck in the dark ages, you sound like a Grauniad Op Ed from 1970, what we need is technical academies with real training for jobs and the skills the 21st century demands.

              As for your “same environment” bollocks, not everyone who gets a University Education gets an Oxbridge type environment.

              No wonder Labour failed, on “education, education, education”, despite Blair’s high flown rhetoric.

              • telemachus

                It looks to me that it is you proposing a secondary modern system
                What we need is an an egalitarian environment stimulating the gifted and remediating the weak
                We should put effort into creating this not creating more elite schools

                • Mr Arthur Cook

                  What does “remediating” mean?

    • OldSlaughter

      “Namely that trying to improve schools by jungle competition consigns groups of disadvantaged children in the sink schools to the scrapheap”

      You have never explained how that occurs

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