Stop the 'whingeing' and get on with it

4th November 2011 at 00:00
Mr Gove is on the offensive on attitude and accountability

Perhaps he simply got out of the wrong side of bed, but at a low-key event first thing on Monday morning, the usually charming Michael Gove managed to offend nearly every headteacher in the land, before admitting there was no proper accountability system for his academy programme.

The education secretary took to the stage to address a relatively sedate audience with little expectation of any major announcements, but he made the surprisingly frank admission that there weren't enough mechanisms in place to keep tabs on the growing number of academies.

However, the comment was not the first thing that made his audience prick up their ears - earlier in his presentation he had told his listeners that struggling heads should stop "whingeing" about a lack of resources or ministers' decisions and get on with their job. Brutal language from the normally urbane politician.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting organised by academy chain Ark Schools in central London, the minister said one of the most "striking" things about successful schools and academy chains was that they were "relentlessly positive" about their success.

"They do not spend their time whingeing about resources, or complaining about ministers' particular priorities," he said. "They know that they are masters or mistresses of their own destiny, and they can show up ministers if ministers happen to be wrong, and they can make a little go a surprisingly long way."

Mr Gove's statement comes just a week after think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated that the Coalition was making the biggest cut to education budgets since the 1950s.

The comment, unsurprisingly, was received particularly poorly by heads and heads' leaders, who warned that the Conservative MP needed to be careful about the message he was sending to the profession.

John Morgan, head of Conyers School in Stockton-on-Tees, described Mr Gove's comments as "ridiculous". He added: "If you saw heads working in their own school you would see that they are endlessly positive and rarely doing anything but strive to raise standards in their school.

"Anyone in a leadership position would not be carrying out their job properly if they were not offering criticisms. People realise that decisions to cut budgets were made for many reasons and they have meant the time of plenty is over. But to say the less successful heads are whingers is very patronising."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, cautioned that Mr Gove's words would go down "very badly" among the profession.

"It's a bit rich to suggest that people who complain during the biggest budget cuts in a generation are whingeing," Mr Hobby said. "I assume the secretary of state agrees that the current system is not perfect and that is why he has embarked on this large system of reform - I would say he has been doing exactly the same thing in whingeing about how the system is not working."

One of the major reforms introduced by the Coalition has been the expansion of the academy programme, and at the same event Mr Gove admitted there was no proper accountability system in place for academies.

When asked whether there were enough accountability mechanisms to monitor the schools, the education secretary responded frankly. "I do not think we do yet, but no one has put forward what the ideal set up should be. Greater transparency of data helps. A refocused Ofsted that complements (that) helps.

"But I absolutely wouldn't say the current system of accountability is perfect. It is an improvement, but it is not perfect."

Mr Gove added that there needed to be an "intermediary level" between individual academies and central government.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was an "extremely worrying statement". "He has cited that the most successful education systems in the world are the ones which have high levels of accountability," Mr Lightman said. "It is essential that there is a proper level of accountability between schools and central government."

Creating a new system of accountability is by no means a simple task. But unless Mr Gove turns on his charm, the task of winning over headteachers will be a great deal harder.


According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

The overall real-terms spending cut on education is 13%

The real-terms spending cut to schools is 1%

The cut to capital expenditure in schools is 60%

The total real-terms cut to 16-19 and early years is 20%.

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