'Making opportunity more equal? Are you a socialist, Mr Gove?

30th April 2010 at 01:00
When shadow schools secretary Michael Gove popped in for the latest in our pre-election web-chats, TES readers again pulled no punches

airy from our forum: What will happen to the pupils of "failing" schools whose parents don't or can't set up a school of their own?

Michael Gove: I want to accentuate the positive in education, so we should use words like "failing" sparingly. But there are some schools in difficulties which need help. We've said we would identify those in most need within 100 days of the election and bring in new leadership, with schools being turned round by organisations with a proven track record of educational excellence. In most cases that will be existing great school leaders.

elainesduckparade: Why have you blocked the new primary curriculum?

MG: I like (Sir) Jim Rose (author of the Government-commissioned Primary Curriculum Review) personally and think he did some great work on literacy under Tony Blair. But I don't agree with the direction of his review: it moves away from subjects and downplays the importance of knowledge, a point Robin Alexander made (in his primary curriculum review) which I agree with. I fear that Jim was hijacked by the Government instead of offering a truly independent view built on successful models from abroad.

sulis from our forum: Are the Conservatives going to end the use of cover supervisors in classrooms and use fully qualified and experienced teachers to ensure that children receive a full and consistent education?

MG: Ultimately, staffing questions are, and should be, a matter for each school and each school leadership team. But I believe the single most important thing in education is the quality of interaction in the classroom between teacher and pupil. Children have a right to spend every minute in school being taught by a professional who really knows their stuff and my priority in both spending and broader reform is to make sure we can get money invested in great teaching.

Eleanor (aged eight): I find it best when my teacher mixes together lots of different subjects in learning activities. Would you allow teachers to carry on with this, or would you make primary schools like secondary schools?

MG: Wow. That's a really good question - you must have a superb teacher . I believe we should give great teachers, like yours, freedom to be creative but parents also have a right to expect the basics to be covered properly, that children are secure in literacy and numeracy, and that subjects like history are taught as discrete subjects.

caterham85 from our forum: Do you accept that poor behaviour is a serious issue in most state schools? If so, what will you do about it?

MG: Yes, in many schools. We would alter the rules on searching students to give teachers more power and on physical restraint to give teachers more freedom. We'd also give teachers anonymity if a complaint is made against them, allow suspended teachers to maintain contact with colleagues, and insist allegations against teachers (save in exceptional circumstances) were investigated within a specified time period - a month or so - or dropped.

Thienz from our forum: Where will home education feature in your plans if you're sat in the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) hot seat?

MG: I support the right of parents to educate their children at home if they wish - and stopped those parts of the Children, Schools and Families Bill which would have undermined that freedom

bobby: Why won't you tell us how you intend to pay for your pupil premium?

MG: We would take money, as the Lib Dems would, from bureaucracy elsewhere in the DCSF.

trainee: Do you not think your plan to stop those with third-class degrees [becoming teachers] will stop talent coming in to the profession?

MG: Our proposal is simply to say to anyone with a third-class undergraduate degree - about 10 per cent of graduates - that we would not provide taxpayer funding for their teacher training. In those countries with the best educational performance a rigorous screening process goes on to get the very best people. Alongside a strong academic performance, the best teachers also have emotional intelligence and a love of learning and communicate respect for every child as an individual. And because we want to ensure those who are proven successes in every area can teach, we would open a Teach Now programme to allow people from different backgrounds who had proven themselves in another field to move into the classroom.

Matt Lent: With "knowledge" being so easily accessible in the modern world, isn't how we attain, apply and synthesis our knowledge more important than being able to list the kings and queens of England?

MG: Well, I agree with the guys who set up America's best schools: knowledge is power (KIPP). In history you need to know chronology before you can argue about causality. If you want to have a theory of revolutions you need to know what happened in the English, French and Russian. What drives restless human curiosity is the acquistion of knowledge and its deployment in new patterns.

deeley from our forum: Please sum up the Tories' education philosophy in five words.

MG: Making opportunity more equal.

Richie Millions: Making opportunity more equal? Are you a socialist then?

MG: No, but several of the people I admire who've written about education are on the Left: Lindsay Paterson, Gramsci, E D Hirsch and (TES editor) Gerard Kelly .

Dan Sutch via email: How "free" will schools be? How do you reconcile your policy for allowing people to set up schools that they wish to see with your intended central dictat of using synthetic phonics, no new primary curriculum, a demand for memorising poems, and so on?

MG: Schools will be a lot freer under the Conservatives. On literacy, they will be free to use the methods they wish, but our reading test will mean that for those who fail to get children reading fluently there will be rigorous accountability, and for those who want to follow the evidence and use systematic synthetic phonics we will provide the necessary support. On the primary curriculum, we would not implement a lot of the prescription that Rose specified. And I've never demanded that anyone memorise poems. But I do love poetry, and I don't see why immersing oneself in the most beautiful expressions of the English language should be seen as anything other than exciting. I also know that when parents have the freedom, or the money, to choose schools they tend to favour those which offer a curriculum that includes discrete subjects and the chance to encounter the great canon of English literature.

fincop from our forum: Why do you want this job and where do you see yourself in five years' time?

MG: Education is my passion, the reason I'm in politics. The schools I went to gave me opportunities no one in my family had ever had before. I want all children to have the freedom to decide their own destiny. I want to play a part in improving our education system and I hope in five years' time to be in a position to help carry forward more improvements.

fairynicks: Why did you block compulsory PSHE? Don't you think children need to have proper sex education rather than a lecture on reproductive organs as they have now?

MG: Our objection was specifically on the right of parents to withdraw children from lessons. We wanted to lower the age at which parents can withdraw children to 16, Ed Balls insisted it be 15, and when he didn't get his way he abandoned the whole thing.

soapboxgirl from our forums: Would you bring back grammar schools throughout the country to help drive up standards?

MG: No.

HGJohn via Twitter: In your first week in office you will have to decide what to do about heads who have chosen to boycott Sats. What will you do?

MG: I think the boycott's wrong. I'm a fan of Mick Brookes and like Christine Blower (NAHT and NUT general secretaries, respectively) but this won't help anyone. Our manifesto contains a firm pledge to keep KS2 tests. I hope we secure a mandate which will send a clear message that the public value these measures. We can't have children denied a proper assessment regime.

wotsitagain from our forum: Why are you allowing Carol Vorderman to suggest that primary maths teachers are not doing a good enough job?

MG: I love Carol, and she's never said the country's maths teachers aren't doing a good enough job. Like me she wants to support them and that's why her taskforce includes both primary and secondary maths specialists as well as a great primary head and people who have worked with ACME (Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education) and the Further Maths Network.

GrizzledBear: How can you think moving Sats into Year 7 is a good idea? How can accountability for primary schools rely on seconday schools?

MG: My proposal was intended to address some of the concerns that Mick Brookes and others raised in good faith. I was interested to see that Lord Sutherland, who reported on the last Sats fiasco, thought it was a good idea. But given how badly managed Sats have been in the past by this Government we would pilot any change before introducing it nationwide.

Docksider55: Given your previous comments (some containing typos), should we teach typing to all students?

MG: Probably - and regular spelling tests, too .


For the full webchat, and previous talks with Schools Secretary Ed Balls, Liberal Democrats' schools spokesman David Laws and David Willetts, the Conservatives' university and skills spokesman, visit: Election 2010

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