Tristram Hunt's diary: Why has Gove allowed a school that makes women wear the hijab?

I will sort out the failures in education policy — as soon as I stop staring at Cameron's red face

19 October 2013

9:00 AM

19 October 2013

9:00 AM

ONE OF THE MINOR sociological treats of being appointed shadow education secretary is a frontbench view of David Cameron’s crimson tide — that half hour journey, every Question Time, during which the Prime Minister’s face turns from beatific calm to unedifying fury. It starts at 12.04 with the merest ripple of annoyance in his shiny, placid countenance. At 12.07, the ripple has become a swell of irritation, still far out to sea, at anyone daring to question the wisdom of government policy. By 12.10, it is a wave of indignation and wounded amour propre at the wilful duplicity of his opponents. And by 12.14, the crimson tide is crashing over the rocks of the dispatch box, back and forth for the next quarter of an hour. Close up, it is a marvel to behold.

OCTOBER is Black History Month, when schools celebrate the lives and achievements of the black African diaspora. In recent years, the event has been turned into an unedifying beauty contest between the relative merits of the Crimean War nurses Florence Nightingale and Jamaican-born Mary Seacole. During the recent controversy over the history curriculum, Nick Clegg demanded the reinsertion of Seacole into the syllabus. All well and good. But I do fear this paints the Lady of the Lamp as the reactionary historical figure to Seacole the progressive. In fact, Nightingale was a noted Liberal in her politics. In addition to her remarkable advances in improving the quality of medical care in Britain, she worked hard on the alleviation of sanitary problems in Bombay and supported the ambitions of the Indian National Congress. Seacole, by contrast, might best be described as a pro-Imperial Tory.

BUT THE REAL EVENT of October is the British Ceramics Biennial, when everyone who knows their fettling from their dipping heads to the Potteries for Europe’s finest display of ceramic art and artefacts. And it is once more being hosted in the China Hall of the old Spode works in Stoke. Some 200 years on, Spode’s trademark ‘Blue Italian’, that curious medley of Italianate and Oriental styling in blue and white, remains totally bewitching. Indeed, this summer’s sell-out art auction was at Trelissick House in Cornwall, when Ida Copeland’s 2,500-strong Spode collection went under the hammer. The wife of Ronald Copeland (president of Copeland and Spode), Ida was one of my more remarkable predecessors as MP for Stoke-on-Trent. She beat Oswald Mosley for the seat. And far more extraordinary, she was a Conservative — not a habit we encourage in North Staffordshire.

WESTMINSTER has felt a little deserted this week with George Osborne and his army of acolytes off in Beijing. The Chancellor is drumming up business for Britain — and good luck to him. But what has surely been remarkable over the past few years is not just the extent of Chinese and Indian investment into the UK, but the style. Money from the rising empires in Shanghai and Delhi has been involved in a subtle process of counter-cultural-colonialism. In 1851, the Great Exhibition was a signal of Britain’s imperial prowess. Now Boris Johnson is backing a plan by Ni Zhaoxing, chairman of ZhongRong Holdings, to rebuild the Crystal Palace. Even more interesting is the work of Sri Prakash Lohia, who is using his fortune to rebuild Sheridan House in all its 18th-century glory. On the back of Lohia’s polyester business, the home of the colonial soldier General John Burgoyne and the Whig politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan is being recreated as Robert Adam designed it. A century ago, the British Viceroy Lord Curzon started to protect the historic fabric of Mughal India with his restoration of the Taj Mahal. Today, it is the Indians and Chinese who are reviving our national heritage. Empire is a funny business.

FAR LESS AMUSING are the events taking place at the Al-Madinah School in Derby, where Michael Gove’s ideological experiment in free-for-all schooling has hit the buffers. In an extraordinary tale of ministerial negligence, Gove has allowed a taxpayer-funded school which segregates children on gender lines, enforces the wearing of the hijab amongst female teachers, employs unqualified staff and has questions to answer about the nature of its curriculum and financial management. This presents a knotty problem for The Spectator: on the one hand, we have Douglas Murray’s concerns about the need to counter the threat of radical curriculums; on the other, we have the editor, Fraser Nelson, and his Swedish-inspired advocacy of free schools. I look forward to Murray’s take on Al-Madinah’s Ofsted report. In the meantime, 400 kids have been sent home and huge sums of public money wasted on Michael Gove’s watch. My new job is to expose such policy failures and flesh out Labour’s alternative of high standards and top-quality teaching. That is, when I am not staring out across the green benches, watching the crimson tide roll in.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Tristram Hunt is shadow education secretary and MP for Stoke-on-Trent. His books include Building Jerusalem and The Frock-Coated Communist.

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Show comments
  • Ethdhelwen

    Dear Mr Hunt,
    As a teacher who hold a degree in History from Oxford, I would love dearly to understand exactly where you gathered the impression that there is some kind of epic battle going on in our schools concerning Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, or that the teachers you intend to lead are too stupid to understand them. For you to construct such a strawman argument smacks of the same kind of off-the-cuff hyperbole that many mock Mr Gove for relying upon to make curriculum policy. The way in which you bring up Black History Month, only to dismiss it as less important than a Staffordshire pottery exhibition, disturbs me greatly. You seem to be under the impression that you should make value judgements based upon whether you feel personally that you have ‘heard enough about’ this or that when it come to the history curriculum, forgetting that you have had a privileged and complete historical training, without which you too would be ignorant of many facets of history. Where do you think you first heard about Seacole, the Mughal empire and Martin Luther King Jr? To make things clear for you, most teachers are not spending Black History Month only communicating in hip-hop rapping, which is the image I fear you have in the back of your mind – except, of course, when it will achieve learning!
    As for your sudden, spirited criticism of free schools, I can only conclude that you have forgotten the speech that you yourself made during this week, vowing to continue to support this idiocy of allowing untrained middle-class parents to ruin the educations of neighbouring children in the cause of their pet educational delusions or desire to save on private school fees. I shall certainly be reminding any Labour Party rent-a-supports, who regularly try to muscle in on our education marches only to disappear into the mists, of these issues.

  • “My new job is to expose such policy failures and flesh out Labour’s alternative of high standards and top-quality teaching. ”

    High-quality teaching under Labour?

    Labour had plenty of time – well over a decade – to achieve high-quality teaching but it failed completely. Instead it dumbed down expectations and real achievement, and hyped up the grades so that it seemed as if our children were doing better.

    They weren’t.

    This is hardly surprising given that left-wing ideologues believe that children do not differ in terms of their abilities, and that any intellectual differences between them are wholly, or almost wholly, due to their environments rather than their genes – which is nonsense.

    As for the author, Tristram Hunt, his view of the world and its inhabitants seem mostly to be based on political correctness and left-wing mumbo-jumbo.

    IOW, he is very well suited to being a Labour MP but not likely to be of much use when it comes to helping our children to achieve higher standards.

    • Shazza

      Another Bollinger Bolshevik well versed in Cultural Marxism as are Harman, Milliband, Balls and the rest of the Party of Mass Destruction’s millionaires who pose as champions of the poor. Pass the sick bag.

      • rtj1211

        Your broad-minded inclusivity would make you a shoo-in to replace Ban Ki-Moon at the United Nations……

        • Shazza

          Again, the Loony Left resort to ad hominem attacks in the face of an absence of any coherent, rational argument. The Left just shouts down any opposition – always the same.

    • rtj1211

      Your assumption is that intellectual training in a classroom is the sole route to human success and enlightenment.

      This may suggest that your own intellect is on the lower half of the Bell shaped curve, but there we are…

  • BoiledCabbage

    Its a disaster to allow Islamic schooling to operate in Britain because politicians – including Cameron – are bending over to attract the muslim vote. Its not the hibjab thats the problem, its the curriculum and the teaching skills which matter. Generations of muslim youth fluent in the Koran but backward in other areas – because strands of Western thought are considered ‘un-islamic’ – is a recipe for the social disaster. What will MI5 do when, rather than a few thousand ‘radicals’, it has to watch 50,000? or 200,000?

    • Shazza

      You delude yourself if you think there are only ‘thousands’ of radicals. There are millions of the followers of the religion of peace living here and bear in mind, there is no such thing as moderate islam. Only islam. Ask Mehdi Hasan – a ‘moderate’ who openly calls non-moslems ‘cattle’ etc. if he would deny any aspect of the koran’s teachings. The Trojan Horse is here and the ‘moderates’ are primed and ready to go.

      • rtj1211

        You’ve been paid £2m the past 5 years to interview 200,000 Muslims to confirm your hypothesis have you??

        • Shazza

          If you are a moslem I can understand your discomfort.

          If not, you are a dhimmi.

  • Iodine

    Re – Cameron’s red face – Hunt was clearly a bully at school. Old habits die hard.

    • Shazza

      Typical Loony Leftie. Resort to ad hominem attacks when you have no winning argument to debate.

      • Iodine

        Hunt biog. The son of a Westminster School educated Labour Councillor and Labour life peer, Lord Hunt of Chesterton put his principles first and sent young the Tristram to the local Comprehensive where he picked up a degree in street slang and knife techniques….. oh hang on…… he sent him to University College School (Paulatim sed firmiter) a member of the Eton Group…. this is all very confusing. What and he worked for the BBC?

        • Shazza

          Just gotta love the hypocrisy of these Bollinger Bolsheviks!

  • Ricky Strong

    “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” Oscar Wilde

    Some of the most successful people on this earth both today and throughout history, would have by our contemporary standards been deemed intellectual failures during their school years. To measure an individuals intelligence or academic ability by grades alone is absurd.
    Education should be about exposing young minds to a myriad of experiences and information allowing them to digest it all and let their own interpretations of the facts (or not as the case may be) shine through. This idea of some rigid structure that fits all is stifling.

  • Peter Stroud

    Mr Hunt, just what is your policy regarding Free Schools? In fact how are you going to reform the education system, to bring it up to the standard of most of our competitors? Your government left a mess: pray tell us how you intend to clean it up.

  • John Lea

    The problem with Hunt is that he is, quite literally, shameless. Ditto: Harriet Harman. Privileged people enjoying privileged lives, ensuring their own offspring sample the best education the UK has to offer, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the great unwashed are condemned to a God-awful state education.

    • rtj1211

      The problem with John Lea is that he says that anyone who identifies a failing school and intends sorting it out can only be allowed to do so if they inhabit a ‘Right Wing’ political party…..

  • grammarschoolman

    I will prevent pupils from having the good education I had.


    T. Hunt

    • Shazza

      Yup. Keep the useful idiots in their place. Brainwash them with trashy tv, encourage breakdown of marriage, encourage drinking, etc. etc. Dumb ’em down, give them benefits – keep the Labour vote up so that the Bollinger Bolsheviks can feel morally superior as they quaff their pinot grigio with the likes of Polly Toynbee in their Tuscan villas/Hampstead mansions well away from the cultural enrichment that they have visited upon those same useful idiots.

      • rtj1211

        And you think that the ‘genetic destiny’ argument of the Tories is Socratic wisdom do you??

        That argument can be demolished in 10 seconds, as I have already done in an enraged email to DC, but I’ll let you use your 200 IQ to fathom out the answer yourself……

        • Shazza

          Well, you can continue to delude yourself that all those Left wing i.e., Nazi/Fascist/Commie governments brought such wealth and happiness to the countries they ran.

          USSR including Eastern European countries
          North Korea
          Etc. etc.

          And yes, genetics do play an important part in IQ. Be brave, look it up.

  • rtj1211

    Mr Hunt, I suggest you also take lessons in the nature of entrepreneurship.

    Entrepreneurship flourishes most when sufficient risk is taken to enjoy the benefits of innovation. By its nature, you must make judgments on imperfect information, with uncertain outcomes.

    Of course, those skilled at doing due diligence on entrepreneurs have a good check list and the better you are, the fewer cocks up you make. You can make no cock ups but make a little bit of money or you can make more cock ups and make a lot more money. If you make no cock ups and make humungous amounts of money, you are the Warren Buffett of seedcorn VC funding. So far as I know, that person has not yet lived.

    If I were you, therefore, I would embrace the concept of Free Schools whilst making the due diligence and monitoring more rigorous.

    If you are a back-scratching corporatist, of course you will let three or four private sector operators build up a cartel and start letting them draw dividends.

    Are you??

  • Oh, like “Education, education, education T Bliar” fixed it last time ?

    No thanks.

    Alan Douglas