In the run up to the general election many whispers of a leadership crisis in the Labour Party have been spread through the media into the all too willing ears of the public. Amongst this chaotic sea of questions, the eyes of the more concerned have glanced across the shadow cabinet to land upon the Shadow Education Secretary Dr Tristram Hunt, whom Filibuster had the opportunity to interview.
By Will Matthias
|Tristram Hunt appeared to be hazy on many key areas of Labour’s education policy.
(Photo: Birmingham Post)
The Times posed the question to me with their headline “Tristram Hunt: Labour’s Next Leader?”
Funnily enough, I asked the Shadow Education Secretary that same question. As was expected from any member of the party, Dr Hunt dived from the question, spewing only his loyal supportive notions of the current Labour leader. Despite his public support for Ed Miliband, Dr Hunt is still plagued by the rumours of his allegiance to other Labour MPs, calling for a leadership shift. We’ll never know his true standing on Ed Miliband perhaps, but publicly at least, Dr Hunt remains a fierce supporter of his Shadow Cabinet friend.
I felt obliged as the interview continued to raise a point that I have recently spoken about myself: engagement in politics and the apathy crisis we face in this country. When asked what he intended to do about political education in secondary schools, Dr Hunt turned back to the old favourite that is Personal Social Health Education. Despite its many name changes, PSHE seems to be failing to truly inform young people of political issues. In an attempt to demonstrate his point Tristram asked the attending Sociology students if they felt PSHE had taught them anything in their high school days. He rather shot himself in the foot however, as not one of them raised their hand. The honourable gentleman looked genuinely surprised by this and it encouraged me to follow up my question. I asked what Tristram had planned to really tackle the issue that he had just demonstrated, what could be done to save PSHE and really begin political education. He recognised at that point that a delivery of specific politics classes in certain academies and private schools had been very successful and did say that the Labour party would certainly look into addressing this issue, really pushing for a stronger, more effective curriculum in this area.
His mention of private schools of course raised other questions; both Dr Hunt and his children attended or currently do attend a private school. Despite this, he has recently spoken out in opposition of the establishments, saying more needs to be done to dig into the key issues of elitism and unfair teaching between those who can and can’t afford private school education. After a moment of fond reflection of his days rubbing shoulders with many a Tarquin, Dr Hunt did say that unfair education is a problem and he believes in raising the standards of state schools to match all private schools. Equal opportunities seem to be a value he holds dear then, but Dr Hunt failed to say whether or not he would see private schools abolished.
He did however, say that the recent shift amongst many state schools into academies that has occurred under the coalition has made very little difference to the standard of education. A hint perhaps, that his stance on this change is a negative one.
The biggest issue, which I’m sure many voters could be swung on is tuition fees. We’re all aware of the tripled prices of entering a university in England, but Labour’s stance on this key issue has remained somewhat hazy. Dr Hunt doesn’t have any direct control over the policies of higher education, which is looked after by another Shadow Secretary. All he had to say was the Labour would be releasing their stance on the matter within the next month.
The coalition government has come under fire recently after the events in some Birmingham schools over radicalisation of children in education, in their personal lives and on the internet. Dr Hunt reinforced this criticism; he stated that a change in teaching is necessary to help stop this problem. Of course, he wants rigorous checks upon teaching staff, an improvement in checks within schools to ensure that radicalisation cannot occur. Something that Tristram seemed to be exceptionally concerned about was the use of the internet to radicalise children and British citizens in general; he pushed the point that Labour would take a strong stance to stop the radicalisation of people as a preemptive step to prevent any British involvement in terror attacks or extremist movements.
Some 40,000 children in this country are currently in Tory-introduced Free Schools. They have generated a mixed view from the public and Labour’s stance has remained hazy for the most part. It was however, finally confirmed as Tristram Hunt categorically confirmed that it is a Labour plan to scrap Free Schools, and place the 40,000 children in state schools elsewhere. As for how they intend to do this or where they intend to send these children, we are still none the wiser. Perhaps they are too.
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