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Byrne bombs

The new shadow minister for universities, science and skills nosedives after a promising start, writes Alison Goddard.

Liam Byrne, the new shadow universities, science and skills minister, has stressed the importance of engineering to the UK economy in one of his first editorials published since he took up the post last month. Alas the article is badly written, poorly constructed and scores cheap political points instead of grappling with significant issues. In the piece published on Politics Home yesterday Mr Byrne states: "1 in 10 teachers in Free Schools are unqualified, meaning they do not need any qualifications at all to teach in schools – a fact which seriously threatens the standards of teaching in STEM subjects." Even ignoring the grammatical howlers, tautology and jargon, it fails to engage with the argument that many good schools in the private sector employ teachers who have undergone no formal training.

Which is a shame, because Mr Byrne came across extremely well at the debate on the role of science and engineering organised by the Campaign for Science and Engineering and held at the Royal Society last week. He prefaced his initial remarks by saying, "Three weeks into the job, I am going to offer you more enthusiasm than expertise" before proving himself to be extremely well-briefed in an impressive performance that combined charismatic personal anecdotes ("This job is, by far and away, the job that my children are most excited about") with powerful political admissions ("We are not picking winners because all too often, as we learned in the early 1970s, you end up with losers picking government rather than government picking winners. I will go and fight for ring-fenced long-term funding for science"). Here’s hoping his performance last week is more indicative of his prowess than his more recent writing.

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