‘It looks as if, at best, we will get little more than “Goveism” with a smiling face’

17th September 2014 at 10:00

Fred Jarvis, former general secretary of the NUT and former president of the TUC, writes:

My memoirs You Never Know Your Luck were published at the beginning of July. The book’s final chapter, “Where the Hell is Education Going?”, contained what one reviewer said was a “blistering attack” on Michael Gove, the then education secretary. Two weeks later, Gove was demoted in a Cabinet reshuffle and became the government’s Chief Whip. Prior to the reshuffle, it had looked as if Gove would be the least likely to be moved and (given what proved to be a rightward shift in the Cabinet’s complexion) certainly not demoted.

Any idea, of course, that my “blistering attack” had played any part in his demotion (downfall?) can be disregarded. It was generally assumed that opinion surveys had shown that Michael Gove’s toxic image and unpopularity with teachers and many voters was the trigger.

Whatever the real reasons for Gove’s change of job, not many in education will have shed any tears over his departure. Personally, I'm not sure which was the more nauseating – what Michael Gove said and did while he was secretary of state, or what his sycophantic supporters have said about his role as “the great reformer”. The “great wrecker” would seem a more appropriate description, in my view.

He was a failure, even on his own terms. He wanted to academise all schools, primary as well as secondary. While a majority of secondary schools have made the switch by choice or compulsion, the overwhelming majority of primary schools remain community schools, in spite of the coercion being applied to some of them.  The number of free schools, a flagship policy, remains miniscule in relation to the total number of schools, and there has been little evidence that the vast majority of parents want these rather than publicly accountable schools. And Gove’s boasts of the success of the academies and free schools have not been borne out by Ofsted reports.

As Estelle Morris, the respected former education secretary, has said, Gove left his successor a number of major problems, including a huge gap with no one responsible for the planning of school places and a confused system of accountability.

Also left in his wake is an impending crisis in teacher recruitment and in school leadership, as potential leaders decide they have no wish to be treated like football managers by government and Ofsted.

Most significant of all is the evidence of the biggest education success of recent years, that of the London Challenge, a project that owes nothing to Gove’s policies and which was based on a belief in the importance of cooperation and partnerships between schools, an approach completely in contrast to Gove’s belief that it is competition that raises standards.

Now the toxic Gove has gone, some may hope his departure will lead to a change of the policies and attitudes that have aroused so much anger among teachers and unpopularity among parents. That is not likely to happen, notwithstanding the noises emanating from Nick Clegg. The ideologue may have gone, but the ideology will linger on.

Indeed, Nicky Morgan, Gove’s successor, was quick to make it clear that she fully supported Gove’s reforms and would be eager to carry them further.

While Morgan has sent a letter to all schools, rather than Bibles, it looks as if, at best, we will get little more than Goveism with a smiling face, and there could be worse to come if the Conservatives win the next election. The fragmentation of education will develop into chaos with the Secretary of State through the government’s commissars (sorry, commissioners) seeking to control the market forces that have been unleashed. The scandalous lack of transparency and absence of accountability of academies and free schools to local authorities and communities will become even more pronounced with the possibility of more "Trojan horses" infiltrating schools.

The “freedom” that the former secretary of state claimed to offer to the schools and professionals over whom the minister has complete control will cause those in academies to be less "free” than when they were within the framework of the local authorities.

To repair the damage that is being done, we need a change of policies and attitudes and, as I say in my book, another major campaign by all those organisations and individuals who want to secure high-quality education for all our children and the provision of lifelong learning.

"You Never Know Your Luck" is available at any bookshop, priced £12 (ISBN 978-1-78148-723-5) or on Amazon, here.


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