A Letter to Stephen Twigg by a Disillusioned Teacher

I emailed the following letter to Stephen Twigg this morning at stephen.twigg.mo@parliament.uk and I will post it to his office: 229 Eaton Road, Liverpool, L12 2AG early next week. I encourage every school teacher and parent to make their views known.

Dear Mr Twigg,

I am writing to you as an English teacher highly disillusioned with the direction of the corrosive educational policy being conducted by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. I am not writing to Mr Gove – he is a myopic ideologue who is simply undertaking his openly stated goal of bringing market forces to bear in education. I am writing to you because you are the primary cause for my current state of disenchantment. Unfortunately, as a life-long Labour supporter, born down the road from your West Derby constituency, your complete failure to challenge the systematic dismantling of state education has left me saddened and angry. I feel like there is little political choice to exercise in our defence, little protection for our profession and our state schools and, most importantly, the children we represent.

I understand that many a pragmatic politician in opposition disappears into the shadows, becoming non-committal on any detail of future policy so as not to compromise future votes. As a young star of New Labour I am sure you are subtlety aware of the nuances of reelection politics. The spectacular flaw in your current plan is that the education system that grew under the last Labour government is being dismantled at an alarming rate – the school system will be so fragmented as to be beyond repair for any prospective Labour government or future Education Secretary. Teachers across the country are crying out for a representative and advocate that challenges Gove openly, skilfully and in a sustained manner. My perception of your challenge is that it is simply non-existent. I for one am completely unclear what your vision for education is beyond what appear to be irregular and ineffectual statements.

In the past week we have seen the futures of thousands of children compromised at the hands of incompetent and corrupt exam boards looking to appease Mr Gove in order to secure lucrative future contracts. This was the time for you to stand up for state education, and more importantly, the children suffering at the hands of a busted right-wing ideology – yet you have failed to present any narrative or vision that challenges Gove’s duplicitous argument about educational ‘standards’. His less than covert plan to drive schools towards Academy status and the profiteers of the private sector is continuing apace and you are completely failing to challenge this state of affairs. The myth of ‘choice’, the chimera of Free schools, and the falsehood of school ‘freedoms’ in a centralising power grab for Gove is going on unchallenged. His ‘shock doctrine’ approach appears to leave you trailing in his wake. You are being trounced in the media battle for hearts and minds – you need to inspire the legions of teachers and leaders behind the cause – you are meant to be the face of a skilled and value driven opposition.

The Labour party is supposed to stand for cooperative values, collective equality and the protection of universal rights for every citizen. Why are you not challenging the existence of league tables, the false idol of transparency and parental ‘choice’, that serve only to promote a narrow ‘gaming’ of the system and negative competition between schools? We have exam boards manipulating results and a powerful business lobby that demeans any of the achievements of our young people. When are you going to challenge the conduct of exam boards? When are you going to defend schools against the attacks by the CBI? We have teachers, committed public servants, who are having their profession regularly demeaned. Do you have a view on the matter? What is your view on the abolition of Qualified Teacher Status and do you have a policy to reestablish true professional status to the teaching profession? Do you have a view on teachers pensions? How about a call for transparency in valuing the teachers’ pension pot – rather than letting Gove do his dirty work of driving down working conditions of public servants. You have said you wouldn’t abolish successful Free schools – I understand your unwillingness to appear dogmatic, but you must know you appear as limp and dissembling if you fail to condemn the inequalities that these drivers of ‘competition’ and ‘choice’ represent. These are winnable battles you appear to be avoiding. You have a staunch ally in teaching unions and thousands of teachers, yet you appear to be ignoring us all (I assume the Unions do not fit a politically centrist obsession), even though these teaching Unions represent labouring workers – the founding value of the Labour party no less.

The Academy system initiated by New Labour, although imperfect, is wholly different to the Academy system propounded by Mr Gove. When are you going to make this clear to the electorate? The PFI funding of new school buildings was flawed, but the state of crumbling schools needed to be addressed and was, but we are now back on the path of decaying conditions for our children, with budgets dwindling whilst the wealthiest in our society flourish. When are you going to challenge this state of affairs? The school fields bandwagon drew you out of the shadows briefly, but the momentum is already waning. Our contemporary politics is fought in the media – you need to engage in that battle with a sustained campaign – enlist the army of willing combatants through social media and by travelling the length and breadths of the land. When are you going to spark the campaign for a positive vision of education which is unequivocally opposed to the systematic break up of our state school system? You will find you will re-engage a massive base of disillusioned voters that dwarfs the small battleground of undecided centrist voters if you were to do so.

Mr Twigg – if this letter appears full of questions it is because I am completely at a loss to articulate what you believe in, what you are defending and what you think should happen in education – even whether you truly oppose the plans of Mr Gove. I am an undecided voter and public servant who wants to know what you stand for and I want to hear it as loud as a drum – from a committed politician who serves their people, not their own career. I am a supporter of labouring workers and I want to know how you will represent us all in the face of this bankrupt coalition.

I would welcome you to articulate your views at my brilliant state school in York, Huntington Secondary School. We have outstanding results and we are a model for how a cooperative and successful state school can flourish with the right values, even in the face of a legion of morally bankrupt educational policies.

Yours Sincerely,

Alex Quigley, English teacher

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About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I have had the great privilege to have written a book, 'Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher', edited by the brilliant Geoff Barton, and I am writing another for Routledge, entitled, 'The Confident Teacher'. I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

16 responses to “A Letter to Stephen Twigg by a Disillusioned Teacher”

  1. Padraig McKenna says :

    I sent a similar email on 9th July. There has been no reply.

    My email was prompted by my realisation that as:

    – a Labour Party Member

    – a teacher

    – a habitual reader of the press, and political and education blogs – at a time when Michael Gove’s latest assaults in his harrying of state education feature most weeks

    – a parent

    I was still unable to recall the name of the Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

    Shadowy indeed.

    • huntingenglish says :

      Ask a majority of people on the street and they wouldn’t know who he is. In such a media driven age that is not acceptable. It isn’t just about sound bites either – it is about presenting a coherent vision and viable opposition – Gove is walking away with it.

      • David Beddow says :

        I agree with you. The Labour Party simply has not made a significant response to Gove and the Tories. I heard Charles Clarke on Radio 4 and he was splendid. Could he not replace Stephen Twigg?

  2. RFM says :

    Apart from being bewildered by the lack of Labour response to Gove’s sneaky ideological attacks on state education (how is he even still in post after attempting to conceal official communications by using a private email account?), I too have been frustrated by the lack of fight against the CBI. These blazer-wearing nincompoops have no conception of what it means to be preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, and instead complain about having to train employees to do their jobs – as if on-the-job training hadn’t been a successful part of any successful company’s strategy since forever. An employer without a training programme is like a football club without a youth system: doomed. Blaming teachers for their shortcomings as employers is the last refuge of the incompetent.

    • huntingenglish says :

      You are exactly right – always complaining and never training. Work based learning has completely died. What happened to apprenticeships? It is always the fault of the public servants; however, the private led economic recovery that the government predicted is non-existent.

  3. Stephanie Oswald says :

    This is brilliantly put, I often tweet Twigg to ask where his response is to the latest Gove utterance.

  4. Liz Fairminer says :

    Just seen on the news that they want to do a survey on the backgrounds some of the teenagers come from. I think this is a good idea because i think that this greedy Government is rubbing their hands in glee because the more teenagers that “fail” their exams or get “low marks” the more fodder for workfare! Cynical me? Damn right!

    • huntingenglish says :

      It is transparent – the Foundation paper has been targeted. The inner-city schools with more socially diverse intakes have a higher proportion of Foundation students. Therefore those schools under threat of being taken over and privatised into an Academy have suddenly been plunged below floor targets for this to occur. It is ideological and the children are simply collateral damage in Gove’s ‘shock doctrine’ style break up of the state system. Then we can have schools run for profit by his buddies like Rupert Murdoch!

  5. Simon Forestiero says :

    Amazing. Articulate and pitch perfect. I await the response….

    As a new teacher (1 year post-NQT), I am becoming so disillusioned with the systematic and rapid dismantling of the education sector under the present government.

    Good for you.

  6. Tim says :

    An excellent article which puts the nail on head about labour policy to combat the evil that is Gove. It seems that Twigg and/or the Labour party are scared of what the public will think if they criticise Gove. Labour needs the balls to stand up and be counted and support the teachers,

    I have been teaching for nearly 30 years and I have never felt so disillusioned about what is happening to education now. Staff are leaving schools in enormous numbers and the rest of us are totally demoralised. If I could go now I would. There are many like me.

    Come on Labour show some support for the teachers,

  7. Richard says :

    Excellent letter. You also have a staunch ally in many school governors who are in despair over Twigg’s failure to react.

  8. Multistripe says :

    I completely endorse your views. As an active member of the NUT in Southampton the tide of schools becoming academies is overwhelming and depressing. I work in a special school, that is part of a cluster of special schools. Recently the other schools in the cluster registered an interest in becoming an academy. It was only through petitioning the governors, and generally raising awareness that our school did not join the others. Children with multiple and profound learning difficulties are surely amongst the most vulnerable in society; and their needs would be threatened and lost in the new business presented by academies.

  9. Faye says :

    Quite simply brilliant!

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