All three MPs gave rousing preliminary speeches with Ed Balls stating that he was all for excellence and opportunity for every young person in every school and David Laws commenting that although standards in schools have undoubtedly risen they have done so from a low base and at different rates for different parts of the country.Michael Gove began his speech by turning the editorials of TES editor Gerard Kelly back on himself which Mr Kelly accepted with equanimity and humour.
In following discussions and in response to questions from the floor Mr Balls stated his wish to give more discretion over funding and teaching to local communities. He envisioned schools supporting schools in chains with schools that have excellent leadership and teaching supporting other schools in their area and helping them to improve. Mr Gove was very aware that the focus on C/D borderline students is a concern and ‘teaching to the test’ is also a problem – he considered that all accountability measures put into place seem to eventually fail. He thinks that Ofsted’s 18 areas of inspection should be cut down to 4 basic ones – quality of teaching, quality of leadership, pupils attainment and pupils behaviour and is convinced that Ofsted needs reforming. Mr Laws stated the obvious in that the quality of leadership and teaching makes all the difference in schools. He was emphatic that social partnership is a very good thing with all bodies having the chance to have their say and this needs to be as inclusive as possible.
All three politicians skirted around a question about pupil voice and indeed during the whole debate very little mention was made of students. A few questions from people not actually present were put to the panel but I was disappointed to see that those keeping up with the debate live on the internet and via Twitter were very much observers and not participants.
When asked to vote for the party with the best education policies the room was a sea of red and yellow with very few blue cards held up which must have caused Mr Gove some chagrin. All in all it was a very tame debate with not enough talk of the issues that are really concerning the education community and with rather too much waffle – but I guess that’s politicians for you. I don’t know that I’m any clearer as to whom I should vote for now but I do know who I won’t be voting for so I guess that’s progress.