Michelle Rhee, the controversial American school reformer, made her name as the scourge of classroom unions, firing scores of underperforming teachers and imposing performance-related pay on a hostile workforce.
But in an unexpected move, the former chancellor of schools in Washington DC has decided that, despite her high-profile run-ins, unions actually do a good job.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘Well, there are so many special interests out there, for example the teachers’ unions, [which are] really the root of the problem’, and I’ve long disagreed with that notion,” she said.
“If you look at… the teachers’ unions, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Their job is to look out for the interests and priorities of their members, and they do that extremely well, every day.”
In her term as chancellor, which lasted from 2007 to 2010, Ms Rhee was notorious for her willingness to close schools and lay off teaching staff. But, despite criticism, she said that unions were simply “using their influence and their resources to further their agenda… that’s the way American politics works.”
Such a rapprochement between the unions in England and Michael Gove seems unlikely after another combative set of Easter conferences, which saw the education secretary described by one NUT official as a “demented Dalek on speed”.