Labour launches attack on education
1:54pm Monday 18th August 2014 in © Press Association 2014
England's education system has been driven by a "target-driven, exam-obsessed" culture in recent years, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has said.
He said he was hopeful that a Labour government could begin to "chart a course" away from this.
In the latest in a string of speeches by shadow cabinet ministers over the summer break seeking to draw attention to key election issues, Mr Hunt said that the education system should focus on vocational studies as well as academic, the quality of teachers, and ensure that youngsters learn character, resilience and grit alongside gaining good exam results.
Speaking at the Microsoft Office in London, Mr Hunt said that Labour's reform agenda would include a wide range of policies, including changes to Ofsted inspections and a "tech bacc" for 16-19-year-olds that includes vocational courses as well as English and maths.
"I am hopeful that we can begin to chart a course away from the top-down, target-driven, exam-obsessed, managerial performance culture that has permeated our education system in recent years," he said.
Labour needs to be "pragmatic in our promises", Mr Hunt said adding that improving the quality of teaching and vocational education are the "pressing priorities to create an education system that offers high standards and opportunities for all."
He insisted that a Labour government will be "relentless in focusing its education reforms on the demands of the future".
"A vision of education which delivers for all of Generation Z: focuses relentlessly on teacher quality; values vocational as much as academic; believes deeper knowledge enhances skills, but appreciate the employment of the future requires a new epoch of learning; and thinks character, resilience and grit stands alongside the great exam results we saw last week," he said.
Earlier, Labour blamed the government for a rise in class sizes, arguing that money has been diverted away from areas in need of more primary school places to David Cameron's "pet project" free schools.
It cited official figures showing 93,665 youngsters in classes of 30-plus - up 200% since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took power - with 5,817 of those sharing lessons with at least 49 others and 446 in groups of 70 or more.
If the last year's trend was to continue through the next parliament, as many as one in four would be affected, Labour calculated.
"In 2008, David Cameron said 'the more we can get class sizes down the better', but as parents and pupils prepare to begin the new school year, there are real concerns about the number of children in classes of more than 30 infants under the Tories," Mr Hunt said.
"By diverting resources away from areas in desperate need of more primary school places in favour of pursuing his pet project of expensive free schools in areas where there is no shortage of places, David Cameron has created classes of more than 40, 50, 60 and even 70 pupils.
"Labour will end the Free Schools programme and instead focus spending on areas in need of extra school places.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: "Tristram Hunt seems to have forgotten that it was Labour who cut 200,000 primary school places in the middle of a baby boom - at the same time as letting immigration get out of control.
"As part of our long-term economic plan, the difficult decisions we've taken have meant we've been able to double the funding to local authorities for school places to £5 billion, creating 260,000 new places.
"But Labour haven't learnt their lesson. Their policy of not trusting headteachers would create more bureaucrats, meaning more resources are spent on paperwork not places. Children would have a worse future under Labour."