An interview with Stephen Twigg: GCSEs, school sport and the quality of teaching

I interviewed Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, this week.

Here's a transcript.

On the future of qualifications:

What's very important for me is securing a vocational pathway alongside the academic pathway that exists now.

The big concern that I've got is that we are still not addressing what people describe as the other 50%.

We've rightly been expanding higher education. Getting more young people from a working class background into higher education should be a priority but we need to have that alongside good quality vocational education.

I certainly welcome the strengthening of higher level apprenticeships, the requirement on FE colleges with regard to English and maths.

We need to go further on English and maths, we are examining this as part of the policy review, requiring some English and maths learning between the ages of 16 and 18. I don't think its just about retaking for those who haven't achieved at GCSE.

We've seen the usual stuff from the Tories about Mickey Mouse subjects. If you look into the detail of some of the qualifications removed or downgraded, there's a real risk of some good quality qualifications - in areas like engineering, IT - these qualifications being downgraded as well.

What we attempted with the diplomas, including the engineering diploma was to provide a rigorous and challenging course linked to employers. We were starting to get to the point where we had a high quality rigorous option at 14. The Tories ripped that up. There's no sign of a credible replacement for it.

The key is that we don't fall into the trap of saying there's one route for some people at 14, a different route for other young people. We need a broad education that is high quality, has English and maths. We can learn from some of the countries that do this better than we do currently, certainly Germany, certainly the Netherlands, have succeeded in giving practical subjects the kind of status they haven't had in this country, and have 14 to 15-year-olds doing a mix of academic subjects and vocational options. [Giving examples of high quality vocational options] There are obviously high quality courses like engineering, areas like construction, [if you're] getting it right with ICT, this is not a soft option by any means.

Of course knowledge is important, but that must not be at the expense of skills; communication skills, team working skills should be reflected in all qualifications.

The playing fields row and obligations on academies:

I've always believed in schools having independence and flexibility. I believe in school autonomy, but I think there's a certain basic entitlement parents and children expect of a state funded school. The national curriculum [for example] should apply to academies and free schools.

The government has removed the minimum space requirements for outside space, [and] when challenged, said it doesn't matter because all these decisions have to go to the secretary of state. The problem is that the secretary of state has overturned [the advice of the independent panel] five times.

For all state-funded schools, there should be a minimum expectation of the amount of time spent on sport.

On teaching:

When you look at what matters most in terms of the differences between schools, it's the quality of the teaching.

There's a specific proposal in the education select committee report that I'm keen to take forward; teacher taster sessions. Sixth formers and university students get a chance to go into schools and and get taster sessions as teachers. The other is the suggestion of establishing a College of Teaching independent of government.

If we're going to see significant further improvement, it will be about the quality of teaching. Michael Gove has a tendency to use teachers as human shields. If something goes wrong the easiest thing to do is talk about teachers as the enemies of promise. David Cameron did this on school sport, we need to get completely away from that sort of approach.