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Stephen Twigg MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, today said:

“I want to talk today about child safeguarding, something which has been at the forefront of our minds, given the horrific revelations about Jimmy Savile. The terrible truth is that the claims that something like this couldn't happen today don't stand up to scrutiny. Recent child abuse cases, like in Rochdale, show how power relationships are still exploited, and young people, particularly girls, are too often ignored when they come forward. It's why an independent, judge-led inquiry into the Savile case is essential, not just for the victims, but to ensure mistakes are not repeated. 

“I know that Tim Loughton, the former Children’s minister, made proposals to change the regulation of children and young people working in the entertainment industry back in May. As he told the BBC last week and a national newspaper today, those changes were not taken forward by the Secretary of State, and he now plans to bring forward legislation as a backbencher. I want to examine the exact details of Tim Loughton’s proposed Private Member’s Bill. But there is a clear need to ensure that the regulations which govern children and young people working in the media and entertainment industry are fit for purpose. They have not been substantially updated in 40 years, and following the review by Sarah Thane in 2010, there is a need for urgent action. She made a number of recommendations, including improving the quality of education for child performers and improving the chaperone role, recognising its important safeguarding responsibility. 

“So I am today announcing that Labour is prepared to work on a cross party basis, with both Government and other backbench MPs as necessary to develop appropriate measures to protect young people working in those industries. We will consult with the media and entertainment industries and with local authorities to ensure we get this right, but it must be a priority.” 

 

The full text of the speech is below: 

Stephen Twigg MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, in a speech to the National Children and Adult Services Conference, said:

Check against Delivery 

Thank you for that introduction and for inviting me to speak today. It’s great to be here in Eastbourne. I think it’s fair to say that Eastbourne is not a traditional Labour heartland. So I was surprised to read that Eastbourne was a popular holiday destination for both Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Indeed Engel’s ashes were scattered at Beachy Head. One can only imagine the two philosophers strolling along the pier eating an ice cream or going on a donkey ride, and Engels saying, “you know Karl, we really ought to get back and finish writing that manifesto.” 

Now I am unlikely to be accused of being a Marxist, but he was on to something when he said “circumstances are changed by men and it is essential to educate the educator himself.” 

Whether you work as a teacher, a social worker, a council official or a politician – we are all educators. And for all the reviews and structural changes that Governments introduce, I know it is the quality of the workforce that is instrumental to the success of those reforms. 

So I want to put on record my thanks and praise to all of you who work on the frontline, who strive to do your best by the children and young people you look after, often under huge pressure and constraints. I come to praise you, and hopefully not to bury you in more jargon or regulation. 

I know people are here because they want to learn from others so I want to highlight just some of that great practice today. While being in Opposition can be frustrating, I believe we have seen a renaissance in local government in recent years, with Labour councils and others showing the difference they can make – despite swingeing budget cuts. 

In Newcastle, for instance, Nick Forbes and Joanne Kingsland are promoting greater collaboration between schools to raise standards and have developed their own version of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the Newcastle Bursary, which is helping young people with the costs of books, equipment and travel. 

In Plymouth, Tudor Evans and Nicky Williams are developing a city-wide trust for co-operative schools, with pupils, teachers and parents able to become members of a mutual which will provide strategic direction, guidance and advice to schools. Lipson Community College is already operating a co-operative model and has been providing support to local primary schools. 

And in Hackney, Jules Pipe and Rita Krishna have led the way in developing Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs or MASH teams for when children enter child protection or care. These teams, which I know other local authorities have established, bring together key services in one place and ensure far better co-ordination. Hackney and others are developing a more open culture in child safeguarding, whereby mistakes can be openly acknowledged and addressed without the fear of reprisals. Such a culture helps to ensure systematic learning. 

Of course there are many councils run by other political parties who are delivering in times of austerity. Cornwall, for instance, has been assisting its schools to establish the largest co-operative trust in the UK. A big advantage, particularly for rural schools, is that their assets will be held by the Trust, so playing fields and other facilities which might be at risk, are secure and held in perpetuity. Quite a contrast to the reduction in protections for school playing fields that we have seen from central Government. 

As well as delivering innovation, I know a number of councils have had to fight against the grain and stand up to central Government in the interest of their residents. 

Take the fiasco over GCSE English exams. It is disgraceful that so many young people’s futures have been sacrificed at the altar of Michael Gove’s political rhetoric. The shambles has united a diverse group – teaching unions and academy chains; local councils and even private schools - all outraged at the injustice of pupils being downgraded simply because they took their exams in June, rather than January. 

So I want to pay particular tribute to councils such as Leeds and Lewisham who have led the way in fighting this injustice, along with the head teachers, unions and others. Labour will continue to demand a full, independent inquiry to get to the bottom of this mess, and for children to have their papers fairly re-graded, as has already happened in Wales. 

And when it comes to primary school places, I have had the chance to visit places like Southampton and Barking and Dagenham who are facing a huge surge in their primary school population but with inadequate support from the Government. 

This shortage is nothing short of a crisis. While councils like Barking and Dagenham are looking at creative solutions such as converting office blocks into schools, the Government is exacerbating the problem, with a 60% cut to the capital budget and wasting millions on schools that don’t open, lie half empty or are in parts of the country where there are already enough places. 

Throwing darts at a map is not the way to run a school building programme. 

That is why I believe in restoring a partnership between central and local government on school places planning. And Labour will allow good local councils to create new primary schools to deal with this crisis – something the Government fails to do. 

As some of you may know, we have been consulting on our plans on devolving power from central Government to local communities and parents. Michael Gove has been an incredibly centralising Secretary of State. Already, more than half of all secondary of schools in England are accountable only to ministers in Whitehall. 

Whatever the merits of those schools, and I am a firm supporter of successful academies, many of which were set up by Labour, there is a clear accountability deficit, both in democratic and practical terms. It is clearly impossible to run thousands of schools from Whitehall. 

I believe that local government has a major role to play in education, as a champion of high standards, as a broker for innovation, and as a partner with central government on the planning of school places and commissioning. 

I would seek to emulate the success of The London Challenge, which I was involved in as a minister and which developed a constructive partnership between central government, schools and local authorities. The key thing is that it worked: standards in London schools went from being below average to above average. And whatever his other faults, it’s interesting to see that the Mayor of London is seeking to emulate some of the approaches taken in the London Challenge in the report he published last week. 

At the same time, I want to give more schools freedom and autonomy. Through academies and trust schools Labour acted to remove barriers to raising standards. If these freedoms are right, I want to see them extended to more schools. 

But in return for those freedoms – strong schools should take on the responsibility to help weaker schools to improve, something the Government has failed to ensure through its converter academy programme. 

We also need to ensure we provide young people with skills that are right for the modern economy, with a gold standard vocational qualification – a Technical Baccalaureate, and all young people studying English and Maths until the age of 18. 

We need a One Nation education system that raises standards in all schools, through greater innovation and greater collaboration. 

However, we can’t expect schools to do everything. Too often we know children come ill prepared for primary school, so we need a comprehensive approach. 

Labour’s Every Child Matters agenda said clearly that all children, whatever their background, should be healthy; safe; achieve economic well being; be able to enjoy life and make a positive contribution. I want to renew our commitment to that agenda. 

This vision created real achievements – the halving of child poverty and the establishment of Sure Start, for instance. 

However, the Every Child Matters agenda is being systematically undermined by this Government. 

The removal of the Sure Start ring-fence means there are now 281 fewer children’s centres than in 2010. 

The downgrading of nutritional standards in non-maintained schools and the closure of breakfast clubs has left children hungry or eating junk food. 

And the introduction of toddler top up fees for childcare services that should be free, has left many families struggling, and put many women off going back to work. 

But the Government’s approach is yet more of the same. So the new Childcare minister wants to deregulate the childcare sector – which when it was tried in the Netherlands caused costs to triple and quality to fall. 

I say, if we are to assure both the affordability and quality of childcare, we need to look at ways in which we can create economies of scale, rather than just leaving parents to sink or swim in the marketplace. 

I want to also talk today about child safeguarding, something which has been at the forefront of our minds, given the horrific revelations about Jimmy Savile. The terrible truth is that the claims that something like this couldn't happen today don't stand up to scrutiny. Recent child abuse cases, like in Rochdale, show how power relationships are still exploited, and young people, particularly girls, are too often ignored when they come forward. 

It's why an independent, judge-led inquiry into the Savile case is essential, not just for the victims, but to ensure mistakes are not repeated. 

I know that Tim Loughton, the former Children’s minister, made proposals to change the regulation of children and young people working in the entertainment industry back in May. 

As he told the BBC last week and a national newspaper today, those changes were not taken forward by the Secretary of State, and he now plans to bring forward legislation as a backbencher. 

I want to examine the exact details of Tim Loughton’s proposed Private Member’s Bill. But there is a clear need to ensure that the regulations which govern children and young people working in the media and entertainment industry are fit for purpose. 

They have not been substantially updated in 40 years, and following the review by Sarah Thane in 2010, there is a need for urgent action. She made a number of recommendations, including improving the quality of education for child performers and improving the chaperone role, recognising its important safeguarding responsibility. 

So I am today announcing that Labour is prepared to work on a cross party basis, with both Government and other backbench MPs as necessary to develop appropriate measures to protect young people working in those industries. We will consult with the media and entertainment industries and with local authorities to ensure we get this right, but it must be a priority. 

We also have real concerns about the Children and Families Bill, which is currently going through pre-legislative scrutiny. While there are measures we support, such as personal SEN budgets, there are many areas of concern. 

I support moves to speed up the adoption process, though this must not be at the expense of the quality of placement, particularly in complex cases where siblings or severely disabled children are involved. The interests of the child must remain paramount. Local authorities and the courts must minimise delays wherever possible, though I agree that the adoption scorecards are a blunt instrument which don’t always provide a fair comparison between authorities. 

And on fostering, I believe that the care system, and in fact the whole of society, owes a great deal to foster carers. They do an incredible job, and an emotionally challenging one, twenty four hours a day seven days a week. Their lives need to be made easier so that they can get on with nurturing our most vulnerable children. 

Foster carers face immense challenges - struggling with the benefits system, with housing, concerns about money and unnecessary bureaucracy. Tackling these issues is essential to attracting more foster carers. 

The introduction of the concept of ‘shared parenting’ – which was opposed by David Norgrove in his Family Justice Review – overrides a long standing principle in law that the child’s welfare is paramount. We believe it could cause huge delays in the court system and create unrealistic expectations, particularly for fathers. There were real problems when it was introduced in Australia and in Sweden. 

On Special Educational Needs, we have major concerns that SEN children with health or social care needs won’t get an Education, Health and Care Plan, or the support they need even though the purpose of the Bill is supposed to be integration. There are also those children who don’t receive a statement, but do have an SEN of some form, such as speech and language difficulties. I worry they may be overlooked as the Government scraps the ‘school action’ and ‘school action plus’ categories. 

And while we welcome the principle of local SEN offers, there does need to be a minimum set of standards on which local authorities can base them, and clear accountability mechanisms, otherwise you could replace an informal postcode lottery with a formal one. 

Finally, there is a glaring loophole in the proposed Bill which could affect children with some of the most complex needs, such as severe autism. 

While I am a supporter of mainstream education, often in the most complex cases support can only be provided by independent special schools, giving specialist residential care, often one-on-one. 

Despite widespread concern raised during the consultation by groups such as the National Autistic Society, parents will be unable to state a preference for a place in an independent special school. The Government must ensure that this loophole is closed, and that children with the most complex needs get the support they need. 

So, in conclusion I want to praise the work that you are doing as local leaders, in what are some of the most challenging circumstances. 

I quoted Marx earlier, and I wanted to quote Marx again, although Groucho this time. I think he might have summed up Michael Gove’s agenda as this - “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” 

But I know that in spite of that agenda many of you are working to raise the quality of service that you provide to children and young people. 

I look forward to the debate, to continuing this conversation and thank you for listening. 

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