Who won again? Why Gove's u-turn might be quite the reverse
Michael Gove may or may not be the legendary Diablo from Bryan Singer’s 1995 noir thriller (although it would make a magnificent triple-twist) but something similar happened yesterday and I’m still pinching myself to check I’m awake. Everyone thinks Gove has slipped on a banana skin, when in fact, he’s dancing on the top branch of the tree, smacking his undercarriage with abandon, hooting at his nemeses.
I mean the Ebac. I woke up, like many, to headlines that screamed humiliation. Any suggestion, however, that Charlie Brooker had scripted Gove’s diary that day, were dashed; it was only the Great U-turn. Like an Aberdonian Fisher King, the Man and his Policies are one. Few are the politicians so closely identified with his work; few too are the public figures so guaranteed to inspire admiration or contempt. The man can barely boil an egg without someone lighting a scarecrow on a pole.
And his works, it seemed, were in tatters. The flagship Ebac was being measured for a shroud. The EBCs were slurry. The GCSEs had prevailed. Twitter was in fine form by this point, as everyone got their barely-formed opinions off the starting blocks, hours before anything official was announced. In the fog of uncertainty, one tattoo began to beat: Gove is toast, Gove is toast. Part of the confusion lay in the decision to name the EBCs and the Ebac so similarly, making today’s discussions sound like a sketch from Miranda (‘Oh, LUDO: I thought you said you were taking up judo!’ etc).
I was halfway through my Cheerios before it hit me. Was this a humiliating defeat at all? The EBCs would never draw breath; they fell, to quote David Hume, still-born from the press. Plucky GCSEs would stay, albeit given a makeover. But what a makeover. Modular exams binned: two year examinations; coursework all but exterminated; content toughened; essays emphasised….hang on, I’ve heard this before. Oh yes, that’s right: the EBC. The only thing that’s been dropped, it seems, is the name. GCSEs will be desiccated, shaken like an etch-a-sketch and rebuilt in almost precisely the ways the EBCs would have been. All Gove has lost here is the empire building of planting one’s flag on a conquered territory (Govesia?).
And the Ebac itself? Well, it’s had its waist band let out a little. Five became eight. All the bridesmaids caught the bouquet, and musicians, magicians and design technicians tumbled round in a happy barn dance. Best of all, the hated, five A*-C metric finally caught one in the gut, to be replaced by a still imperfect, but lovelier measure based on average point scores, as a generation of kids wobbling on Ds breathed a sigh of relief. But it’s not far off the blueprint. It’s better, in fact.
Gove reminded me yesterday of someone haggling in a bazaar: no one offers the price they want to pay. They go in outrageously low and bargain up. Maybe the same thing has happened here. ‘They’ll never go for adverts in their IWBs,’ he thought, puffing away. ‘I’ll pitch in with the Ebac and see how far I get.’ Who knows? All I know is that this isn’t a defeat, unless you screw your eyes up; it’s almost everything he was looking for in the first place. Frankly I regard a day as a victory if I get both my legs in my trousers. If this is defeat, I’m terrified to know what winning looks like.