SKETCH: He’s Hon Hon Free Schools, Then He’s Off Off Them

He really is gorgeous, any responsible sketch has to deal with that. The hair, the gilded complexion, the easy manner, the complex title. The hon Member for Stoke Central – son of a Lord Hunt – is an hon by birth as well as achievement. He is so posh he’s a double-barreled Hon.

The Hon-Hon Tristram said the Tories were obsessed with him – and who can blame them? I’m reconsidering my heterosexual status even though I’m not a Tory voter – and even though I can’t rely on his being any good at it. He isn’t qualified. He didn’t complete the course. He lacks the certificate.

Could his inspiration, his talent, his passion make up for a lack of professional regularity?

To the debate.

Despite recent publicity given to his own brilliant but unqualified teachers he denounced the principle allowing them to have taught him. “You need more qualifications to work in a burger bar!” he grieved.

A Tory asked whether his inspirational teacher Terry Morris had been qualified, and Hon-Hon replied that Tories were obsessed with him. For some, this was an incomplete answer. He went on. He wanted “to train teachers up, not talk them down.” He want to pursue Finland. And where were they? “Up the value chain”. That’s where he wanted Britain to be. It sounds a frightful place, but that’s Britain doing better under Labour. As for the standing of Terry Morris’ qualifications – Hon-Hon left that to one side in the hope that no one would notice.

However, the question lay at the crux of the argument and the Tories returned to it more than once. Graham Stuart, chair of the Education select committee tore into it. Never had teachers been so overseen, inspected, rated, he said. A headteacher went out on a limb to appoint an unqualified teacher and would make doubly, trebly sure that he or she was performing better than their qualified colleagues.  Tristram’s face when thus chastised does need more careful, more lordly regulation.


His weakest point extrapolated the recent failure of Al Madinah to all Free Schools (as a Free School it failed and was shut down promptly – this doesn’t happen to sunken sink schools run by local authorities). But he had one hit, as well. “Passing a driving test won’t mean that no accidents will happen, but that’s not an argument for abolishing the driving test.”

Michael Gove enjoyed himself (not always a good sign). He laughed at Hunt’s evasive answer to the question of the much higher number of unqualified teachers under Labour: “We should focus on the future,” he had replied, to loud Tory laughter (not all of it faked). Gove said: “He may have a PhD from Cambridge but he must learn the lesson that you don’t pass if you don’t answer the question.” That’s not always true in the House of Commons.

He went on to the splits in the Labour party. “He knows all about a body politics wracked with division”, particularly in the person of the Civil War expert who stood before him.
Cavalier Tristram had announced he was putting “rocket-boosters” under Free Schools, and then a few hours later, Roundhead Tristram denounced the program as a “dangerous ideological experiment.” He was a “walking split.”

Gove also took a remarkable intervention from Ian Austin (class warrior, late of Gordon Brown’s praetorian guard) who he described as “increasingly my Honourable friend. His aim is noble, his heart is in the right place … And logic will lead him onto this side of the House.” Ye-ess. Let’s see how that goes.

Austin was arguing for a far more radical education policy to give open access to a better education. A voucher system allowing pupils to move from public to private system. Too radical even for the radical secretary of state.

Sharon Hodgson struck a note I didn’t expect to agree with. These inspirational teachers probably do favour the clever ones, the self-motivated. But good teachers, she said, have to take the whole class with them. Difficult – perhaps impossible in a mixed-ability class. There are other answers to that, but that’s for another day.

Kevin Brennan’s summing up laughingly spoke of a Government member so brilliant that he had a double first from Cambridge enabling him to hold two completely contradictory ideas in his head at the same time.

This was an easy lob for David Laws summing up for the Government. He traced the evolution of Tristram’s thinking on Free Schools from “vanity project for yummy mummies” to wanting to “put rocket boosters under them” to the current “dangerous ideological experiment” only just short of child abuse. That’s three contradictory ideas, but never mind. Perhaps it was a treble first.

PS: Kevin Brennan raised a point of order on the vote – the Noes voting against the Opposition motion only amounted to 263. No Lib Dem voted with the Government including the Schools minister himself (David Laws) who had spoken against the motion. “Is that in breach of the Voice and Vote provisions of Erskine May,” he asked.

A point of Interest rather than of order but well made nonetheless.

It seems that the purpose behind Labour revealing its splits was to reveal the split in the Coalition. Thus, everyone was a winner. Or, if you prefer, a loser.




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