Tristram Hunt wants to reignite James Callaghan’s Great Debate over national baccalaureate qualification

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has called for a “Great Debate” to discuss the future of education in England.

Mr Hunt spoke this morning at the Education Reform Summit in London and outlined the Labour party’s views on education.

He said all pupils should take a “citizenship test”, as migrants are expected to do, as part of a new national baccalaureate qualification before leaving school to recognise national solidarity and diversity in a “formal setting”.

Referring to former Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan’s 1976 at speech on education at Ruskin College in Oxford, in which Lord Callaghan launched the then Great Debate, Mr Hunt called for the public to re-engage in the education discussion.

Mr Hunt said: “A Great Debate should look at whether we need a proper National Baccalaureate qualification for all secondary school and college leavers.

“A framework which could balance important specialist academic, technical and creative qualifications, including traditional A levels, alongside a common core for all learners.

“Which could speak to crucial knowledge, skills and experiences that all young people need to succeed…

“Such as English, Maths, a proper work experience placement, advanced research and project skills and perhaps a basic understanding of critical digital skills like coding.

“And why not discuss whether we should make – as part of a new baccalaureate qualification or otherwise – all pupils take the ‘Life in the UK’ British Citizenship Test before leaving school?

“Surely it is only fair to expect our young people finishing full-time education to possess the same grounding in our history and common values as incoming migrants?

“Because if we are serious about nurturing a sense of national solidarity alongside pluralism and diversity, then it would seem sensible to me to recognise that formally in an educational setting.

“However, once you begin you realise there are so many issues the traditional debate prefers to leave unaddressed.

“Issues like the six-week summer term.

“We know its impact on the poorest pupils is profoundly damaging and that the attendant childcare and holiday costs can present a real financial burden to parents.

“So why not use a Great Debate to build a consensus for a more progressive educational calendar?”

Speaking to Schools Week afterwards, Mr Hunt said he believed a citizenship element should be part of the reform of upper secondary education as part of a new Baccalaureate qualification.

“I am struck by the difference with new migrants, who quite rightly take a citizenship qualification. We do not look to our pupils to have the same degree of knowledge. In Arizona in the USA they are beginning to look into this.

“I think it should be part of the qualification. It should be in the mix.”

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