Clegg opens up gulf with coalition partners on schools

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Nick Clegg has accused the Tories of failing to enforce “basic standards” in schools as he dramatically disowned key planks of the coalition’s education policy.

The Deputy Prime Minister opened coalition dividing lines by insisting all teachers should be qualified, and the national curriculum should be taught in every school.

Speaking on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme, Mr Clegg insisted his criticism of “ideological” measures championed by Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove was not a government “crisis” or political positioning, but a “perfectly sincere difference of opinion”.

“This is something I have made clear publicly and privately in government for a long time,” the Liberal Democrat leader said.

“Coalition works that we agree on a lot on education... but of course there are tensions and pinch points. We are not identical parties.”

Mr Clegg said: “The Conservatives really don’t want any minimum amount of basic standards to apply to schools who have these new freedoms. And I think what we need to do is a sensible balance.”

He insisted it was “complete and utter nonsense” to suggest the Lib Dems were adjusting their policy to appeal to Labour in the case of another hung parliament in 2015. The Opposition wanted to “strangle” school freedoms, he said.

Mr Clegg also played down suggestions of a rift with fellow Lib Dem and schools Minister David Laws, who last week defended the performance of unqualified teachers.

Mr Clegg will detail his party’s approach in a speech at a London school on Thursday.

“I’m proud of our work over the last three years to increase school autonomy, which, in Government with the Conservatives, 
has been through the academies programme,” he is expected to say.

“And it is Lib Dem policy to give all schools, whether they are academies or not, those same freedoms to attract and reward excellent teaching, set their own term dates and vary their school day.

“Looking to the future, there are aspects of schools policy currently affected by the priorities of the Conservative Party which I would not want to see continue.

“For example, whilst I want to give schools the space to innovate, I also believe every parent needs reassurance that the school their child attends, whatever its title or structure, meets certain core standards of teaching and care.”

Mr Clegg will ask: “What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools.

“And what’s the point of having brilliant new food standards if only a few schools have to stick to the rules?

“And, frankly, it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers.”