`Gove drove me out' says top principal

8th August 2014 at 01:00
Headteacher of elite English institution returns to Scotland

A leading headteacher and expert in girls' education has revealed that Michael Gove's "narrow, backward-looking" policies were a key factor in her decision to leave England and return to her native Scotland.

Dorothy MacGinty said that the former Westminster education secretary - whose legacy continues, despite his dismissal in the recent cabinet shake-up - had taken schools south of the border "backwards".

The headteacher, who will take the helm of Scotland's only independent Catholic girls' school next year, accused Mr Gove of having created a damaging focus on exams that did not equip pupils with the skills needed for today's jobs market.

By contrast, she said the Scottish government's Curriculum for Excellence was "fantastic" and provided the kind of "soft skills" demanded by modern employers.

However, she also declared herself to be firmly in the "Better Together" camp and voiced fears that a vote for Scottish independence could jeopardise the country's private schools by driving out major firms - taking the children of their affluent employees with them.

Her comments came in the same week that Tony Little, headmaster of the prestigious Eton College, declared that the English exam system was "Victorian" and failed to adequately prepare students for the workplace.

Ms MacGinty, who was born and raised in Scotland but has taught in England for nearly 30 years, spoke out days after it was announced that she would be stepping down as head of St Francis' College in Hertfordshire to become principal of Kilgraston in Perthshire next Easter.

The respected headteacher, who also chairs the influential Girls' Schools Association's professional development committee, told TESS: "Gove's policies are not the only reason I am coming back but they are one of the reasons why I am returning. England has gone back to measuring success by exams and pupils don't learn the skills they need.

"I think Curriculum for Excellence is fantastic. It's going in the opposite direction to what they are doing in England at the moment by developing the kind of soft, collaborative skills which young people need today."

On the issue of independence, she warned: "I think it would have less of an impact on Kilgraston, but Edinburgh has so many private schools, I think that if a number of big businesses did leave Scotland, Edinburgh schools would be quite [badly] affected."

A spokesman for the Scottish education secretary Michael Russell said that the country had a "proud tradition of excellence in education" and that there was "every reason" to expect improvements after a yes vote.

Meanwhile, the UK government's Department for Education robustly defended Mr Gove's reforms. A spokesperson said the department made "no apologies" for radically reforming GCSEs and A-levels to address grade inflation.

Since 2009, Ms MacGinty has been headmistress at the all-female St Francis' College in Hertfordshire, where she developed a Dragons' Den-style entrepreneurial contest that she aims to replicate at Kilgraston. She also has plans to invite more female role models from the worlds of business and Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) to the school.

Returning to Scotland with her husband and their teenage daughter will also allow Ms MacGinty to be closer to her mother and one of her sisters, who both live north of the border.

Tim Hall, chair of the board of governors at Kilgraston, said that Ms MacGinty was bringing a "wealth of experience" in delivering world-class education.

Dorothy MacGinty

Born: 1958, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

Education: Dunfermline College, Edinburgh. BEd (Hons), 2:1 Religious Education Teaching Certificate


1980-83: St. Aidan's High School, Wishaw, Scotland; religious studies and PE teacher

1983-85: Professional make-up artist in London

1985-86: St. Augustine's CofE Secondary School, London; teacher of human biology and PE

1986-89: Christ's School, Richmond, Surrey; head of girls' PE and biology teacher

1989-90: Kensington Preparatory School for Girls, London; head of biology and PE

1993-2004: Cranbrook School, Cranbrook, Kent; head of department and boarding housemistress

2004-09: Aldenham School, Elstree, Hertfordshire; deputy head

2009 to present: St. Francis' College, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire; head

Family: Married with three children

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