Gibb v Twigg, round 3
Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, has replied to Stephen Twigg, his Labour shadow. This is getting rather long, so I won’t try to reproduce the pdf* of the letter itself, but this is what it says:
Thank you for your letter.
Unfortunately you declined properly to answer the points I made.
You did not confirm whether you supported the increased protections for playing fields that we introduced.
You did not explain why any of the decisions made by ministers over playing field sales were in any way wrong.
You did not explain why the last Labour Government cut capital spending on new school places. You did not say whether or not you believed we were right to increase spending on new school places, and if so, by how much.
And, most tellingly, you did not apologise for your totally unjustified slur against Michael Gove.
I will answer your points.
You ask about new regulations on playing fields. We have committed to all schools being subject to the same requirements providing better, and more balanced, provision for all. For the first time they will specify that “suitable outdoor space must be provided in order to enable physical education to be provided to pupils in accordance with the school curriculum; and pupils to play outside safely”.
A consultation on these proposals was open between 3 November 2011 and 26 January 2012. We have had no response from you to that consultation. Now, in response to a press campaign, you have registered your views, without any supporting evidence. When did you decide to take a view on this matter? After considered reflection on the complex issues involved? Or when you glimpsed the approaching bandwagon?
You ask about central targets and mandatory controls on the time spent on sport and PE. Given your desire to prescribe the amount of time set aside in each school for national curriculum subjects could you tell me how many hours you wish to see set aside for each national curriculum subject? Both teachers and I would be keen to see exactly how you would like every school week to be centrally-designed. If other subjects are not to have centrally-set times for teaching could you let me know why PE alone should be so prescribed? I am interested in how this detailed prescription fits with your claim that “one of the freedoms that we gave to academies that’s continued is more freedom over the curriculum. If that works and makes sense, which I think it does, let’s extend that to all schools” (BBC 1, Sunday Politics, 10 June 2012).
You ask about School Sport Partnerships. The former Sports Minister Kate Hoey said “It was always expected that, if School Sport Partnerships were a success, they would become embedded and the Youth Sport Trust would then withdraw. If schools and parents feel that their SSP has been valuable, I suspect that it – or at least many of its functions – will continue in some form. Where the contribution of the SSP has not proved valuable, new solutions will be sought. This is exactly how it should be: schools themselves taking more responsibility for school sport”. We are following Kate’s approach.
If you would like to see more money from the education budget spent on this area, could you tell me what we should cut? Or is it one of the unfunded spending pledges Ed Balls has ruled out: “we cannot and should not at this stage make firm commitments to reverse each of those decisions unless and until we can say how those commitments will be paid for” (Politics Home, 16 February 2011).
In every one of the points you make, the desire to prescribe more from the centre, rob professionals of autonomy, and spend more taxpayers’ money on centrally directed schemes rather than giving it to schools, is apparent. Is this consistent with the direction of policy reformers in the Labour party pursued when the academy programme was set up? Or are you now moving away from that approach?
While I mention academies, two new free schools are being set up this September, backed by Everton and Derby County, both superb football clubs. Can I count on your support for this initiative? Or are you still opposed to the free school policy? (“Our policy was to oppose free schools and we voted against them”, Stephen Twigg, BBC 1, Sunday Politics, 10 June 2012).
You ask about the five specific cases where ministers have overruled the panel’s advice and allowed playing fields to be disposed of. As I pointed out in my first letter to you, in every case the local authority supported this move and facilities for young people were enhanced.
Further, on Friday we released the following information about the five schools:
Woodhouse Middle School
The school wanted to sell surplus untended grassland that had not been used for sport for five years. The Government approved the application and the money was dedicated to supporting a new library and improved changing facilities.
Clarborough Primary School
This was originally a school based on two sites. A rebuild of the school meant one site became surplus. The Government approved the sale of the surplus site and the money was earmarked for sports facilities at other local schools.
The school wants to enhance its academic and sporting provision. Its sporting facilities are dilapidated and out of date. The Government approved the application. The sale will fund a new Multi-Use Games Area to host competitive sports fixtures such as football matches, which they cannot currently do. They will also replace their old gym with a state-of-the-art indoor four court sports hall facility.
Ingleton Middle School
When the school was closed the site wasn’t needed. The government approved the application. Proceeds from the sale were used to improve the changing rooms at Settle College.
Netley Primary School
The school is on a constrained site in north London. The local authority wants to sell a small part of the school’s land. It wants to redevelop a unit for vulnerable children which neighbours the school and improve the primary school’s facilities. The Government approved the application after the leader of the council made an appeal for the project to be approved. Delay could have affected the whole project with unhappy consequences for the children concerned.
I therefore ask again, which of these decisions was wrong? Unless you can let me know, once again I must conclude, as many others are, that you are engaging in irresponsible opportunism by objecting.
Finally, I turn to your unusual and uncharacteristic refusal to apologise for publishing a slur against Michael Gove.
You acknowledge now that the Department made an error and therefore there was no cover up. Yet precisely that charge was published in the Daily Telegraph and remained online for days. You say that article was “a draft”? Did you write it yourself? If so, why did you submit it for publication, and leave it online, with that slur for so many days? At what precise point did you amend your draft? Was it before or after my letter? Are you in the habit of publishing inaccurate, even defamatory, articles and then, when deliberate slurs are brought to your attention brushing them off by saying that the article was merely “a draft”?
You try to defend your slur by pointing out that the Department for Education makes mistakes. Indeed, all Government departments do. But Michael Gove and I, like all ministers, take responsibility for any mistakes that occur, set the record straight at the soonest opportunity and, above all, apologise. You have not. Can I invite you again to do so?
With best wishes
*Although if you want it as a pdf, it is here.Tagged in: academies, public service reform, schools
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