It doesn’t seem entirely fair that Stephen Twigg’s speech has been left to the final day of the Labour conference, when many have packed up and left Manchester already. But today Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary is to announce more reforms to education as part of the party’s new One Nation project.
The idea is to make teaching an ‘elite profession for top graduates’, and Twigg plans to achieve that by offering incentives for high-flyers to work in tough schools such as paying off some of their student debt, funding for teachers to do master’s degrees and a National College for Teaching Excellence to develop new teaching standards.
The centrepiece of this New Deal for teachers is a doubling in size of the popular and successful Teach First programme to 2,000 placements. The aim is that Teach First, which places graduates in tough schools after six weeks of training, will become one of the main routes into teaching. This is very interesting indeed: only a couple of months ago the teaching unions were furious that Michael Gove had announced academies can now employ unqualified teachers, and here is Twigg, supporting a scheme which disregards the year of university-based training that is currently the norm for teachers and instead uses a summer school before placing as-yet unqualified teachers in the classroom. I understand that Twigg accepts that while there are some excellent university-based courses out there, not all of them are tip-top, and thus the increase in Teach First places would be funded from the existing training budget.
Twigg is an intriguing shadow minister. He often appears pulled in all directions on policies: he is most certainly what Len McCluskey would call a Blairite ‘cuckoo‘, and his instincts are constrained by caution from the party leadership and the unions.