Get set for a busy summer as Gove gets cracking

14th May 2010 at 01:00
The signs are that his radicalism in Opposition will survive coalition compromise

"David Cameron faces the toughest hand of cards ever dealt a new prime minister," opined Simon Jenkins in The Guardian this week. Churchill, who was putting together a similar coalition government 70 years ago as German Panzers raced to Dunkirk, would have thought his difficulties a tad more pressing in comparison, but the economic prospects do indeed look bleak. In education, the Prime Minister's new secretary of state will be responsible for a sector exhausted by relentless Whitehall initiatives, fearful of looming budget cuts and riven by an insurgent Sats boycott.

As The TES went to press, the exact make-up of the Government and its education policy was unknown, but Michael Gove was confirmed as Education Secretary. He developed a very clear and radical educational agenda in opposition, and given the overlap between Conservative and Lib Dem policies, teachers are unlikely to get the period of legislative calm that many in the sector yearn for.

There will almost certainly be a pupil premium - though its implementation could be a couple of years away - and fresh impetus for the academies programme. Quangos will be torched, special needs education will be reassessed and teacher training is likely to be overhauled. The Social Partnership is unlikely to continue - but it would be a mistake to assume that union leaders would be cast out in the cold; several have good relationships with the incomers. How "Swedish" and "free" our schools will become is unclear, but restrictions on pay and pensions look inevitable.

It isn't all gloom. The Labour government, to its credit, left education in far better shape than it found it. Schools have never been better equipped or staffed. The quality of teachers has never been better. Standards, despite the carping to the contrary, have been raised; they may not have kept pace with rising expectations, but those too were rightly inflated by a government that understood the value of education.

The former administration's biggest failure was a philosophical one: it did not trust the profession to teach. It not only set out what it expected schools to do - which was perfectly legitimate - but also, in soul-crushing detail, how to do it - which was not. Whatever the specifics of the new Government's education agenda, its philosophical prejudice to liberalism should incline it to set the profession free. Whether schools and teachers will appreciate autonomy - if indeed they get it - after years of spoon-feeding is another matter.

Michael Gove had made no secret of his desire to get cracking on his educational programme if he was given the opportunity. Now he has and it will not be to everyone's taste. But in Mr Gove, teachers have a secretary of state who cares passionately about education and who will be one of the big hitters in the new administration. It will not be a dull summer. How much excitement we will have and how much we can handle is another matter.

Gerard Kelly, Editor; E: gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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