Tensions in the Coalition over education will erupt again today when the Liberal Democrats call for every state school to follow the national curriculum and employ properly qualified teachers.
The Lib Dem manifesto at next year’s general election will include a “parental guarantee” that all children will be taught a core curriculum and by qualified teachers. The pledge moves Lib Dem policy closer to Labour and away from the Conservatives, who allow academies and free schools to depart from the national curriculum and employ unqualified teachers.
Nick Clegg’s move follows allegations that some schools in Birmingham promoted Islamic extremism. A senior Lib Dem source said: “Many people will have been shocked by the revelations in Birmingham this week that show how easy it is for some schools to drop subjects parents might think are important but which might not fit with a particular governor’s point of view.”
The Lib Dems accused the Conservatives of inconsistency, pointing to calls by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, for all schools to promote “British values” while denying academies and free schools a means of ensuring that through the curriculum.
Mr Clegg insisted: “Lib Dems want more teachers and schools to enjoy freedom from Whitehall diktats. Under the Lib Dems there will be no return to the bad old days of Labour where teachers received a constant barrage of emails, regulations and guidance telling them how to run their school. But that does not mean parents and children should not have some basic safeguards."
The Deputy Prime Minister added: “There is no reason why a child attending an academy or free school should not enjoy the same basic right to be taught by a qualified teacher or to follow a core curriculum as any other child. These changes will guarantee parents that, whichever school their child attends; they will enjoy a world class education that will help them fulfil their potential.”
David Laws, the Lib Dem Schools Minister, said: “Education will be at the heart of the Lib Dem manifesto in 2015 and ensuring there is a qualified teacher using a core curriculum in every classroom will be at its centre. We know that these reforms enjoy the support of teachers and parents and respond to the recommendations of Ofsted made this week.”
The party’s manifesto will say that commitment that by September 2016 every school would employ teachers that are properly qualified, or working towards a teaching qualification. All schools would deliver a core curriculum, set by independent experts, including the essential skills and knowledge that every child needs to succeed.
A Conservative Party source said: “The Lib Dems helped us massively extend academy freedoms by voting for the Academies Act in 2010. It’s thanks to the votes of Lib Dem MPs that 4,000 schools now have the freedom to set their own curriculum, compared to just 203 schools four years ago. It’s obviously a shame if the Lib Dems now want to roll back those freedoms. We are taking power away from politicians and bureaucrats in Whitehall and handing it to heads and teachers, as they are the ones who know their pupils best.”
The two Coalition parties have also clashed over Mr Gove’s proposals to reform GCSEs; the inspection regime for chains of academies and Mr Clegg’s plans to provide free school meals for all five-to-seven year olds.