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Podcast | Season 2 | Episode 1: A Different Vision for Education - Interview with Wes Streeting MP

๐Ÿ“Ž A Different Vision for Education - Interview with Wes Streeting MP

To kickstart the new season and to launch the programme of content for our April show, we looked back at one of the highlight sessions from last November's virtual extravaganza.

On the 19th of November we were delighted to have hosted an interview with David Laws and Wes Streeting MP and there were some wider sector perspectives, a return to which seemed appropriate for the first episode of 2021.

Considering a Labour vision for the schools sector, we replay snippets from the interview interlaced with some comments from us, the organisers, about how we hope to cover these topics more extensively at Aprils event.

Key topics covered will include:

  • The role of Ofsted during and after the pandemic
  • School Structures and the role of local authorities
  • Exams and assessments beyond 2021

๐Ÿ’ก Wes Streeting MP, Shadow Schools Minister, The Labour Party

๐Ÿ’ก The Rt. Hon David Laws, Executive Chairman, Education Policy Institute

๐Ÿซ This episode was aired as a recorded video at the Schools and Academies Show Online on the 19th of November 2020.

Listen to the full episode below.


The Schools & Academies Show makes its anticipated return online on the 27th - 30th April 2021. Join us for another opportunity to hear directly from leaders across government education, and engage with the community as we further explore key solutions that will tackle the current challenges impacting our sector.

Registration is completely free; you can secure your free pass here.


Austin Earl
Hello and welcome to the Schools & Academies Show Podcast. I'm Austin Earl, I organise the show and your host for this the second season. For the first episode of the season, we're looking back at some of the highlights from November's show. But before we get into the episode, I want to say a big thank you to our speakers, partners and sponsors, who are working with us to continue to provide CPD content and online learning. We're committed to providing a free resource of practitioner led instruction and conversation so that professionals such as yourselves don't have to put their progression on pause.

Austin Earl
UK's education sector whilst managing what seems like an impossible situation of teaching and caring for nearly 8 million children in primary and secondary education, still deserve access to learning themselves, and we are happy to provide this. In fact on the 27th to 30th of April, the Schools & Academies Show Online is returning with a host of talks, discussions, roundtables, interviews and networking opportunities for the whole sector to enjoy for free. We are looking forward to hearing from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, that's Baroness Berridge, and the CEO of the Chartered College for Teaching Dame Alison Peacock. In addition to this, we're also looking forward to the Director of the National Teaching Programme Emily Yeomans joining us at the show. You can find all the details by heading over to where you can also register for the show and sign up to our subscriber list.

Austin Earl
Now we know that the whole sector is dedicated to recovering from the impacts of the pandemic as soon as possible. But it's been said many times by many people, the return to normal is neither tangible nor desirable. The sector is therefore collectively moving the narrative from recovery to rediscovery. The past year has been an occasion to reflect on what it means to be educators as well as what schools can and should mean to students, teachers and the communities which they serve. With these big questions in mind, we hope the show will provide the sector with the opportunity not to just deal with the immediate future, but to co-design a long term vision. At last year's show, we were lucky enough to have the Shadow Minister for Schools Wes Streeting MP to share his thoughts on the future of the sector. For this episode, we'd like to pick up on three areas during that interview, which we hope to extensively cover at April's show namely exams inspections and school structures. Wes was interviewed by the Right Honourable David Laws, Executive Chairman at the Education Policy Institute and Minister of State for Schools under David Cameron's coalition government. For David Laws first question, he asks Wes about Labour's vision for school structures.

David Laws
At the last election, there was a bit of a feeling from the Labour Manifesto, that some of that structural change, which I suppose actually accelerated quite a lot post 2010 really needed to be reversed. There was a suggestion in the Labour Party manifesto that local authorities should have a bigger role, again in education is what you see for any future Labour government involving a large element of turning the clock back? Or is your assumption that the education system that we've got today that the mixture of local authorities, schools and academies that you're going to more or less sort of freeze things as they are now?

Wes Streeting MP
Yeah, I think we've got to turn our face firmly into the future. We could spend an awful lot of time, legislative time, potentially court time as well as public money, trying to unscramble the system, recreate something from the past and not make a single bit of difference to the educational experience of any child in the country, or the experience of any member of staff turning up to work, whether teaching staff or support staff. I think you've got to follow the evidence. I mean, one of the things that we now have, in terms of shaping education policy in this country is more data, more evidence, more practice than ever before. So I think that's what we have to do when we think about how we want to build a 21st century education system is really follow the evidence. I'm really interested actually in going around the country and meeting schools that have used their freedoms to do interesting, innovative things. I want to make sure that space for innovation doesn't just exist for those schools that happens to be free schools or academies but also exist within local authority maintained structures to. More broadly, I think there is a role, a question at least to examine the role of local authorities in terms of championing the interests of parents of pupils, and making sure that across the board in their communities, we've got schools that are really delivering and getting the best out of their pupils and setting them up to succeed in the future. Whether or not that's, you know, the recreation of local educational authorities, I'm not sure. By the way, I think there's an awful lot of water under the bridge since. But I'm interested in that role of local authorities in terms of accountability. But my instinct is, that's about creating a new dynamic between local authorities and schools, and also a more collaborative environment for different types of schools to work together within a community, rather than just trying to reinvent models of the past. So I think my instinct is to be very forward looking about this and not sort of hark back to days gone by, or even to pretend that everything was perfect and rosy back then, because evidently, it wasn't, I think we've got to look at what's working well, which approaches are working well, and how schools are getting the best out of their pupils and their staff. I think that's a lot less about who's running schools and more about how good leadership, good teaching is delivering for pupils.

David Laws
It sounds like you're thinking, therefore, of a bit of a mixed economy, really, in schools in the future where if schools want to continue to be academies, they'd be able to, to do so and those schools that are in local authority groups would be able to do so as well. But are you thinking, your comments there about the role of local authorities? Are you suggesting that the local authority role might evolve a bit? So that's in some of the more strategic areas, local authorities have a responsibility both for academies, schools and LA schools? Or do you really just see a choice between the existing local authority model and academies and some schools operating under one model and some under the other?

Wes Streeting MP
I think the danger, the danger is this, this conversation sort of opens up a whole set of can of worms in terms of whether or not you want to transfer schools from one, you know, one authority from another, whether that's a Multi Academy Trust or a local authority, and whether you want to move between one or the other. And, you know, you know, I'm not sure that necessarily fundamentally changes what goes on within a school, and helps to achieve either of the two missions I described earlier, raising standards and tackling educational disadvantage. What I am wanting to spend quite a bit of time focusing on and talking to people about are particular towns, communities, where progress on raising standards and tackling educational disadvantage has not moved in the direction that we would want and has not moved as fast as we would like. There, I think when you take the London challenge, as an example, having really good local leadership, with the resources to back it up, focused on getting the right teachers in place, the right leadership within schools in place that had a massive impact on on capital city. There are lots of other areas where I'd like to see a similar focus on turning around, schools on tackling disadvantage and I think some of those and this goes actually some of my broader political instincts actually. I think there's far too much centralisation of power and decision making and resources in our country and I'd like to see a lot more of those decisions and responsibility and crucial resources devolved locally and I'm interested in exploring, I don't have kind of particularly fixed views about how best we do it, this conversation I want to have, but but I do think there's something about that local leadership and local focus that really made a difference in London and we should seek to replicate elsewhere. Clearly, just taking the London challenge model and sort of dusting off the manual as it were, and sort of thinking that will roll out in Knowsley or Blackpool or Stoke on Trent, that's not quite right, different communities will have different challenges and different opportunities. That's why I think local leadership is really important. So it may be that local authorities or metro mayors or other other ways of localising leadership could deliver the outcomes we want and that may not necessarily be the same by the way as those local authorities or mayor's directly running schools. For me local leadership and having been a local councillor myself, local leadership is really about making sure that public services are delivering for people in our communities and that may not mean direct local authority controlling the way that we've seen in the past. But I think what we've ended up with and I think actually the reason why we're having this conversation is over the last sort of decade or more, we've ended up with a quite a lopsided and complicated system. I think we've got to go back to first principles about how we get the very best out of the workforce, how we get the best out of pupils and, and how we create a framework for schools to work collaboratively together. Those are the sorts of things I'm interested in exploring.

Austin Earl
So there we are a return to first principles and a framework for schools to collaborate. Indeed, schools and educators generally are collaborating more and more to build shared resources, and co-create best practice where it previously may not have existed. With an abundance of best practice coming from all directions, it's not always clear who to go to but one information relationship, which has grown stronger over the past year is that of the local authority, and all schools within its areas. At April's show, we're looking to try to redefine this relationship in the wake of the pandemic and we assess the importance of locality. We're also excited to explore regional initiatives such as the Education Commission's react teams, just as important as how schools are structured is our approach to how progress is measured both in regards to student and school performance. In Wes's interview, David digs into how Labour might address these two areas, if in power.

David Laws
Wes you mentioned, exams and assessments in your answer and talked about what's happened in 2020 and what may happen in 2021. There are a lot of people in education, including amongst the teacher and headteacher unions who think that there is an opportunity now to move away from an education system that has too many exams to many assessments, that has turned into a bit of an exams factory. But there are also people including some of those who were ministers in the last Labour government who've argued that unless you have exams and assessments, then young people, particularly for more disadvantaged backgrounds are going to fall behind, there won't be proper accountability and pressure to help them to catch up. Where do you stand in this debate over whether we should keep a quiet sort of high assessment, highly examined system, or move away to something where there is less formal assessment and examination, or maybe a bigger role for teacher assessment?

Wes Streeting MP
To be honest, like, I come to this with an open mind, but let's just all go back to first principles, really, what is it that we were looking for, with the exams that we have? Well, firstly, it's recognition for pupils about what they've learned what they've been able to do, and to demonstrate their abilities and to have some recognition of that in the form of an exam and grades and certificates. That then enables them to move on to the next stage of their life, whether further education or, or employment. The second thing is, it helps to give us a sense of where the, you know, particular school and the system as a whole is in terms of standards and achievement. It provides a sort of benchmark for policymakers, you know, government and parents to make judgments about how the system overall is doing. Convinced that exams are the only way to do this, then they've got there are a number of ways in which we can look at people's achievements and in many respects, I lament, the extent to which government has been stripping away various ways for pupils to demonstrate their learning and abilities and achievement before they get to the final high stakes exam. So sort of taking the extra coursework and taking the extra modular examinations. That worries me because frankly, if we had the government hadn't done that there would have been a broader evidence base for for the government and Ofqual to have arrived at some better decisions around last year's A-Level debacle, for example. There are other ways of looking at school performance, but fundamentally, I think the one of the reasons why I sort of fall down in favour of exams overall is they do provide a consistent and accessible way in which to make assessments and judgments. I know that there's been a sort of strong argument in favour of greater teacher assessment. But I do think last summer once we reverted to the centre assess grades, and teachers got a bit of a taste of what that could look like, in terms of a number of parents being very unhappy about judgments that schools or and individual teachers have made, and reducing schools to an individual awarding bodies and the danger of the sharp elbowed parents turning up to say, why Jeremy and Jemima were being given sevens when they deserve nines. So I think there's, you know, I'd say to the professional on on greater teachers estimate is be careful what you wish for. But as I say, this is an area that I sort of approach with an open mind there is a question about whether we're examining too often, and whether we're examining too much in some subjects where where we could use other assessment methods so we're approached with an open mind. The good thing about my appointment at this stage in the electoral cycle is we got a good few years until the next general election and the manifesto being written. I'm approaching it and it's genuinely open minded and intellectually curious way.

David Laws
That sounds very sensible, particularly for a man who's only a few weeks into his role. But I suppose there is one issue around assessment and accountability, where people do tend to have instinctively strong views on one side or the other. That's on the issue of whether there should be a school's ispectorate, Ofsted as it now is. Now under you know, that the New Labour government of Blair and Brown, there was very strong support from the top for something like Ofsted and a view that, you know, you have to have strong accountability and inspection of schools. The last Labour Manifesto, suggested getting rid of Ofsted. It did hint at some other type of inspection system for schools, but it didn't set out any details of that. What are your own instincts on this at this early stage to mean, do you think we should stick with Ofsted? Or do you think there is a strong argument for for getting rid of it?

Wes Streeting MP
Yeah, I'm glad you asked that question, David. Because whether it's the conversation we just had about school structures or about exams, what I would say to people in terms of how to how to approach us in the shadow Education team is don't tell us what you want to scrap. Tell us what you want to build. So if you think that school structures aren't currently arranged in the way they should be, and decision making isn't right, well tell us how to improve it if you don't think that the way that we currently assess and judge pupils is right or tell us how to improve it. If you don't think that Ofsted is doing its job well enough for tell us how we could make it better. But sometimes there's a an approach that says all we want to scrap these exams and we want to get rid of free schools and academies and we want to get rid of Ofsted without actually thinking about what those is, especially in the case of Ofsted, what it is it's trying to do. I mean, fundamentally, Ofsted is there to assure us whether it's Parliament or parents or the public, that standards in schools are as we would expect them to be. What's going on in schools is fundamentally delivering for our nation's children and that's a really important role. My sense is from talking to teachers in my constituency and some of the conversations I've been having early in this role in recent weeks. I think that the general sense is that Ofsted has improved in a number of respects in recent years and certainly things like thematic reviews, I think people consider it to be broadly useful.

Wes Streeting MP
Sometimes I think that Ofsted is trying to achieve too much with the current inspection and it may be that we should be looking at different elements of the inspection different ways safeguarding being a good example. You know, safeguarding inspections are really important. Whether or not it should be just lumped in on the on the only current high stakes visit is something else. Whether or not there should be a single high stakes visit is a reasonable question that people ask. But ultimately, if you didn't have Ofsted, you would need to reinvent it. So I'm simply hoping we can scrap Ofsted and all of the problems that people have with external inspections regime goes away I'm not sure that's right. I think what Labour got wrong if I can be frank before the last election was that the public heard the scrap Ofsted bit they didn't hear the we want to replace it with something better bit. As a result, I mean, I had I can tell you that that one cut through pretty quickly to parents and grandparents who are saying why are you going soft on standards? That's not where where I'm prepared to be where I think the Labour Party should be. But you know, the fundamental point here is don't tell us what you want to scrap tell us what you want to build.

Austin Earl
Since November we have of course suffered another lockdown and witnessed a painful shift in policy towards exams, painful because we've seen the havoc caused by disjointed assessments. The Department for Education digests the information from one of its largest ever consultation programmes we know that for this year at least, grades will be determined in some form by teachers. On both the place of Ofsted and assessments perhaps this is a chance to pause and think differently for more future proof vision indeed, the establishment of rethinking assessments coalition with such names as Geoff Barton and pioneering head teachers as Leanne Forde-Nassey demonstrates the end of the beginning of this rethinking process. With lots on the table, we're working to build a programme of content for this April's show to highlight some of these areas told from the perspective of school leaders, school leaders such as Jackie Smith from Brunel MAT, David Anderson from Uppingham Community College, Karen Giles, Headteacher at Barham Primary School and Mufti Hamid Patel from Star Academies. I could go on listing all the great leaders, we're so proud to be working with, but I encourage you to check them out on our website, where you can also register.

Austin Earl
Thanks for joining us for the first episode of the second series. If you'd like to get involved, have a story to tell or share your perspective on education policy and practice. please get in touch via our website. Until then, thanks for listening.