Another coalition government would mean the “elimination” of universities from teacher training, according to Labour’s shadow education secretary.
Tristram Hunt made the comments at an election debate on education whose audience also heard David Laws, the Liberal Democrat MP and schools minister, criticise the University of Cambridge over its opposition to the coalition government’s policy to scrap AS levels as part of the A-level system, saying school education was “not for the convenience” of Cambridge.
The pair appeared alongside Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP and education secretary, at an election debate hosted by TES, the sister publication of Times Higher Education, in central London on 11 March.
Mr Hunt addressed the issue of teacher training, where the coalition government has shifted places away from universities and introduced School Direct, the school-led teacher training programme.
Mr Hunt, who is also a senior lecturer in modern British history at Queen Mary University of London, said there was “a growing issue about the success or otherwise of School Direct and the progressive elimination of higher education institutions from teacher training”.
“I think universities help to provide a proper relationship with schools: some of the breadth, some of the understanding of developments…some of the multiple components of being a great teacher,” he said.
But he added that “another Tory-Lib Dem government would see the elimination of higher education in its totality” from teacher training.
Mr Hunt said that “if you strip out infrastructure” in the teacher training provided by universities and their relationships with schools, it will have a “negative impact on the supply line [of trained teachers] and the regional supply line”.
Ms Morgan countered that School Direct offers “opportunities for students to train, from day one, in a school environment”.
She said it was a “fundamental difference” between Labour and the Conservatives that the latter were “not being prescriptive”, instead allowing for a choice between training routes.
On examinations reform, Mr Hunt said that if elected, Labour would immediately act “not to go ahead with the elimination of AS levels from this September”.
He cited the opposition of Cambridge to the scrapping of AS levels as part of the A-level system and said the exams had helped poorer pupils gain admission to more selective universities.
Mr Laws replied: “I know what the University of Cambridge has said.”
But he argued that “the last two years of school of education is not…for the convenience of Cambridge University”, adding that the coalition’s move would place more emphasis on learning and help end the examinations “treadmill”.