Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt today outlined his three key campaign pillars as Labour heads into its general election campaign.
Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Manchester, he outlined his priorities, including childcare reform, a qualified teacher in every classroom, and an education system “which works for the forgotten 50 per cent”.
On childcare, Mr Hunt said: “Across Britain, the cycle of disadvantage begins in the early years.
“Because if we don’t tackle inequality early, especially for those with special educational needs, then the gap only grows.
“For those working parents struggling with the cost of living, a Labour Government will increase free childcare from 15 hours per week to 25 hours per week for the three and four-year-olds of working parents, the support will continue into primary years.
He renewed his pledge that a Labour government would legislate for childcare support in schools from 8am to 6pm, for more breakfast and after-school clubs and for extra-curricular activity which “makes the difference”.
He also re-emphasised his commitment to teacher quality, adding that as a “first step”, all teachers “must be qualified or working towards qualified teacher status” and go through greater training “year on year” to make teachers better at their jobs.
He described technical education as the Tories’ “greatest failure” and referred to the “forgotten 50 per cent” of young people who didn’t go to university and were denied “the rewarding education they deserve”.
He added: “So, the third plank of our plan, is a vocational education system to rival Germany’s.
“A Labour Government will ensure Further Education colleges focused on training for local jobs, proper apprenticeships lasting two years, a technical baccalaureate, with respected qualifications, careers advice, technical degrees so young people can earn and learn.
“The old barriers between academic and technical crumbling under the next Labour government, righting the wrongs of the last five years.”
He renewed his commitments to extend London Challenge outside the capital, saying it had transformed London’s schools and would “tackle poor results and raising standards in coastal towns, counties, and regional cities”.
But in a direct appeal to the unions, he also committed to re-establishing the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, which was scrapped by the current government.
He said his plans for better quality teaching would depend on “hard-working staff” and spoke of a “hidden army” in schools, “the cleaners, janitors, dinner ladies, teaching assistants”.
He added: “As our friends in Unison, UNITE, and the GMB have long campaigned, this hidden army of our schools, it is time their contribution was recognised.
“Conference, the next Labour Government will re-establish that Negotiating Body for the lowest paid – to deliver dignity at work for those who ensure our young people succeed.
“Right around the world, no education system exceeds the quality of its teachers. The Tories think teachers are the ‘enemies of promise’. I believe great teaching is the surest route to social mobility.”
Hunt was unable to resist a quick dig at former Education Secretary Michael Gove and his successor Nicky Morgan.
He said: “Michael Gove might have been given the boot. Apparently, he wasn’t qualified for the job. But his terrible influence lingers on.
The Tory record on education is shameful. Rising class sizes, more unqualified teachers, the tripling of tuition fees. “And, now, in Nicky Morgan we have a ‘Continuity Gove’, auto-pilot Education Secretary.
“She is the Equalities Minister who voted against equality for gay marriage, and the Education Minister who has refused to rule out for-profit schools.
“So the message from Manchester needs to go out far and wide: only a Labour Government will ensure our schools are not privatised for profit.”