Clegg on schools, post-Gove: “We need to reset the relationship”

clegg - tardisNick Clegg has used a major interview in the TES magazine to signal a turning of the page in the Coalition Government’s relationship with teachers following the removal of Michael Gove from the Department for Education.

Clegg on Gove’s departure:

“It’s an open secret that Michael Gove and I did not agree on a number of important substantive issues … It’s an opportunity to turn a page on the somewhat acrimonious relationship that existed between the government – and the Department for Education in particular – and a number of teachers,” he said. “We need to reset the relationship. Not, I should stress, by summarily abandoning all government policy or reforms, but first and foremost by ensuring that, where there is debate and discussion between the teaching profession and government, it is conducted in a spirit and tone of mutual respect. And that we seek out every opportunity to celebrate, and not always seek to denigrate, the fantastic work that teachers do.”

Clegg on the teachers’ strikes:

“[Striking] is highly disruptive to parents,” he said. “I just happen to believe that it doesn’t actually help the teaching profession…It’s not the best way, to put it mildly, to elicit sympathy from millions of working parents. I think it does need to be avoided wherever possible. There will be disagreements between this government and the trade unions, whether Michael Gove is there or not.”

Clegg on teachers’ working hours:

“Teachers are getting up very early in the morning and working until very late at night, and feeling very stressed and tired … I’ve met too many teachers now who feel somewhat beleaguered by the amount of administrative form-filling, some of which they don’t feel makes much sense, or is repetitive or somehow seeking to second-guess their professional judgement. I can’t wave a magic wand for every single one but I can signal, as deputy prime minister, that firstly it’s a problem we recognise and we’re not going to duck, and secondly we want to engage with the trade unions in good faith to try and take steps to reduce it.”

Clegg on his support for infant free school meals:

“Because it’s good for education reasons, it’s good for nutritional reasons, it’s good for social reasons and it saves families money, I think it’s important we press ahead with this. The naysayers on the Right of British politics will always dislike a big, bold, progressive policy like this.”

Clegg on teaching standards:s

“I take it as a given that my children should be taught by qualified teachers and that there should be a core body of knowledge,” he said. “I think it’s right, for instance, that all our children should be taught about the beauty of Shakespeare.”

Clegg on the Lib Dem education legacy:

Mr Clegg said he was pleased with his party’s work in education since 2010, not least in introducing the pupil premium – “one of the great legacy policies of this government” – and when he “personally intervened” to protect schools from budget cuts in autumn 2010. “The fact that we’re travelling as a country through this period of enormous economic turbulence and significant fiscal retrenchment and we’ve done it without de-escalating the schools budget is something I’m extremely proud of,” he said.

You can read the TES’s summary of the interview here.

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16 Comments

  • David Evershed 1st Aug '14 - 12:27pm

    We know that the coalition demands on teachers to improve education standards has meant a sharp decline in
    teachers’ support for the Lib Dem party.

    So it is understandable that Nick Clegg wants to win back their support.

    However, he should remember that there are far more parents who want education standards to improve than there are teachers. Promising to reduce the hours of work of a group who get far longer holidays than any other profession is not going to help improve the standard of education.

  • stuart moran 1st Aug '14 - 1:04pm

    David Evershed

    I am a new poster for information

    I suppose you can provide us with a link that proves the numbers of hours worked by teachers is linked to academic attainment of their pupils?

    Does your comment suggest that pupils should spend much longer in school, or teachers should go in during the holidays just to make up some hours?

    I think there are a number of other factors such as behaviour, parental support, class sizes etc which will also impact on the efficiency of learning – it is not all about the hours in class

    I am sure 100% of parents want educational standards to improve – do you know anyone who wants them to reduce so that is really a moot point. You though seem to focus on one particular variable so I suppose you can back in up with a wealth of statistically valid analysis?

  • If he didn’t like Gove’s policy, why did he and his party vote for it?

  • Katherine Hesketh-Holt 1st Aug '14 - 9:19pm

    I think Nick is absolutely right to try and build bridges, but I fear that it is too little too late and that many teachers see the ‘work’ done by Gove as supported by the coalition government as a whole.

    @David your comment suggests that teachers do not want the very best standards of education for the children in their care – that they sit back whilst parents are pushing for higher standards. It is this sort of attitude that has created such a bad relationship between the government and teachers.

  • Nick Clegg has inadvertently highlighted the key factor in opposing teachers’ strikes. It is their role as child minders in a working parents economy not of their making.

  • stuart moran 2nd Aug '14 - 8:59am

    Brian D

    I think this is a good point.

    The main complaint you here about strikes or the long holidays is more around ‘who will look after the kids’ rather than academic attainment

    The corollary to that is that parents are also up in arms about not being able to take kids out of school for holidays with no worry about them missing that time…..I actually oppose these draconian penalties for parents in these cases but it does undermine the argument being about teaching time

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Aug '14 - 11:02am

    I am pleased to see that Nick Clegg wants to improve the relationship between government and teachers. But it is not so much about workload; it is more about the fact that Gove (apparently supported by Lib-Dems in government) ignored the advice of teachers and other educational professionals. For example, I am reliably informed that the new primary curriculum does not have much support from those who really know about these matters.
    As a school governor and a member of the Lib-Dem Education Association it is clear to me that teachers are fed up with government interference in these matters in such a dictatorial way. I noticed last year that Kenneth Baker, the Conservative who introduced the national curriculum, has strongly condemned Gove’s entire approach to matters of teaching method and curriculum content, implying that Gove’s ideas in this area could do harm to students who are less academically inclined. Parents as well as teachers will be concerned about that.
    I am also disappointed that Nick Clegg has not clearly acknowledged that policy also needs to change. For example, the need for local supervision of all schools, including academies and so-called free schools. Then what about the way in which scarce financial resources have been diverted to academies and free schools to the detriment of community schools. If Nick Clegg really wants to get on a better relationship with teachers and others with an interest in education then he must call for changes in government policy that reverse some of what the coalition has done.
    The point is not first and foremost teachers workload, it is allowing teachers and the professionals to improve education for all in ways that actually will work; I know as a former teacher myself, that most teachers are wiling to word damn hard, it they are suitably motivated by what they are doing and not instructed to do things they feel is wrong or in an unfair system.

  • David Evans 2nd Aug '14 - 3:04pm

    The relationship should never have been allowed to become so bad. Nick should have stopped it all long, long ago. His failure to realise until it was too late what he needed to do in coalition was one of his larger failures as a so called leader.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Aug '14 - 4:45pm

    @David Evans “The relationship should never have been allowed to become so bad. Nick should have stopped it all long, long ago.”
    Bridge-building now. General election soon. Seems pretty cynical to me.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Aug '14 - 4:46pm

    “Clegg on his support for infant free school meals … The naysayers on the Right of British politics will always dislike a big, bold, progressive policy like this.”
    Those naysayers were the Lib Dems a few short years ago.

  • George – this was not found to be a problem in the pilots.

  • Katherine Hesketh-Holt 2nd Aug '14 - 8:27pm

    @George I agree that this is a potentially huge problem and it has been flagged up as a concern by the NAHT – there will be a lot of onus on school’s to identify and support these parents to ensure the funding is received by the school. Surely the funding should be based on eligibility, not uptake.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Aug '14 - 9:55am

    @Tim Leunig “this was not found to be a problem in the pilots.”
    Do you mean that there was no drop in applications for free school meals or that there was but it was not a problem?
    The pilots pre-dated the Pupil Premium so fewer applications to process would actually have been a benefit!
    As mentioned by George, there is a real risk that without the incentive of free school meals, fewer parents will divulge details of their financial situation and the Pupil Premium will not reach all of the schools that need it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '14 - 10:16am

    Katherine Hesketh-Holt

    I think Nick is absolutely right to try and build bridges, but I fear that it is too little too late and that many teachers see the ‘work’ done by Gove as supported by the coalition government as a whole.

    Yes, there’s an article in the Education section of the Guardian today which uses the words “the coalition’s educational policies” to mean Gove’s eccentricities, as if all of us in both coalition parties have sat down and carefully agreed to them. I’ve noticed since the coalition was formed this tendency to use the word “coalition” in contexts where the word “government” would have been used previously. It seems to me there’s a big political bias there when it is used where the word “Labour” or “Conservative” would not have been used when we had a majority Labour or Conservative government. I suspect a deliberate intention to damage the Liberal Democrats, because the word “coalition” tends to interpreted as “Liberal Democrats”. The reason for this is that the Liberal Democrats are the party most associated with the “coalition” concept, we are the only party whose leader and national public relations people go on and on about the “coalition” and how wonderful it is and how pleased we are with ourselves for being in it. Note, the Tories don’t do that.

    So the result is that even the sort of things we have to let Tory ministers indulge in though we ourselves don’t like them and certainly would not be doing them if we had a full Liberal Democrat government are written up and interpreted as if somehow we are the driving force behind them.

    The problem is that Gove and his wacky educational ideas are VERY popular in the Conservative Party and in Conservative circles in general. They would be easier to block for us to block if there wasn’t such massive support for them there. However, blocking something which is so central to what the Conservatives thought they were about in the May 2010 election would cause massive resentment, and quid pro quo blocking of things that mean a lot to us. If we had a bigger share of MPs in the coalition it would be easier.

    To what extent a more competent leader of the Liberal Democrats would have been able to stand more firmly against these things I don’t know. I appreciate it is easy to be critical when one doesn’t know what goes on behind the scenes. It does look like Clegg was paid off to accept it by being thrown the free school meal thing. In the same way, the Liberal Democrats were thrown gay marriage (which has caused ENORMOUS resentment in the Conservative Party – it’s been flagged up as a major cause of membership decline, with those leaving because of it muttering about the Liberal Democrats and their ideas being too dominant in the coalition) as a sort of bone to chew on and keep them distracted from much else that the Tories are pushing through that would go against what Liberal Democrats would want.

    The tactic of triumphantly waving the bones the Tories have thrown at us and saying “look, we are seeing real Liberal Democrat policies enacted, how wonderful it is to be in coalition” just isn’t working. We need to find a way of distancing ourselves from it, making it clear that what comes out of the coalition is NOT the Liberal Democrat ideal, and it wouldn’t be like that if we had a Liberal Democrat government.

  • Peter Watson 5th Aug '14 - 12:13pm

    @Matthew Huntbach ” It does look like Clegg was paid off to accept it by being thrown the free school meal thing.”
    As far as I recall, Clegg was thrown the free school meal thing in return for the Tories getting a married couple’s tax allowance. I expect that the Tories’ pre-election bribe for voters will be getting favourable headlines immediately before the general election while the Lib Dems’ one will probably be associated with teething troubles and additional costs in September.

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