Teacher leaders scorn 'power junkies' who talk up localism but won't let go
Upon publishing the Education Bill last week, Michael Gove declared that his department's second piece of legislation would empower heads and teachers across the country. It demonstrated, the education secretary said, that the Coalition was "absolutely" on the side of those on the education front line.
But despite his claims of ceding power to schools, Mr Gove has been accused by headteacher groups and teachers' leaders of grasping more control for himself than any of his Labour predecessors.
Indeed, the NASUWT claimed that the bill had been "conceived by power junkies".
"The rhetoric surrounding the bill is 'localism'. The reality is an unprecedented, massive centralisation of power," said general secretary Chris Keates.
"The bill gives the secretary of state around 50 new powers. He can seize land to set up new schools, revise local authority budgets, close schools on a whim and make up his own definition of what early education means."
Mr Gove undoubtedly wants to give more power to schools to tackle poor behaviour in an attempt to remove what he views as one of the main "barriers" to people joining the profession.
Teachers would have the power to search pupils for any item they feel could be used to commit an offence or disrupt learning.
Likewise, teachers would be handed greater powers to restrain unruly pupils, and the bill would enable teaching staff to impose "no notice" detentions, removing the need to give 24 hours notice when imposing the punishment.
The bill will also make it easier for heads to exclude pupils permanently, and reforms exclusion appeal panels so they no longer have the power to reinstate an excluded pupil.
"We are absolutely on the side of teachers," Mr Gove said. "Teachers will now find it easier to detain pupils, headteachers will find it easier to exclude pupils and staff will have more protection against false allegations."
But for almost every power the education secretary plans to devolve to the front line, another will be taken under his control as secretary of state, or given to the Department for Education.
The most startling is the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), which would bring all allegations of unacceptable professional conduct under ministerial control.
The education secretary made it clear that, under his proposals, decisions to sack incompetent teachers will be taken by headteachers. But when it comes to disciplinary action for unacceptable professional conduct, it will be Mr Gove who has the final say.
"Something like fewer than 15 teachers have been struck off by the GTC for incompetence," he said. "So you can't say that the GTC is an effective mechanism for removing incompetent teachers. The most effective mechanism is having a good head in place who has the authority for moving those people on."
The fact that the secretary of state would become chief custodian of a list of all teachers banned from teaching has caused alarm.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "While the GTC didn't exactly win the hearts and minds of teachers, there is no mention of what it will be replaced by. It will however be a problem if it is the secretary of state, who will then be acting as judge and jury for the teaching profession."
She added: "Despite the education secretary's claims that he wants to remove the 'dead hand' of Government from schools, this Bill appears to do exactly the opposite and will lead to a greater centralisation of power."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said the move to abolish the GTC and the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) may leave the education secretary with some explaining to do.
"While we understand the motivation behind the dismantling of agencies such as the GTC and TDA, the profession will need convincing that an increase in the powers and responsibilities of the secretary of state does not signal a decrease in accountability and effectiveness," Mr Hobby said.
As with the GTC, the TDA will also see its powers transfer to the education secretary, who will have control over the funding and training arrangements of entrants to the profession.
In addition, the DfE would be able to intervene in failing schools and order local authorities to close those deemed not fit for purpose.
The secretary of state will have the power to order a local authority to close schools in special measures, requiring significant improvement or failing to comply with a warning notice.
Mr Gove said he would have "absolutely no reluctance" to order the closure of an academy if it were deemed to be failing.
He will also be handed powers to seize any recently closed school sites and hand them to academy providers.
The move is intended to address the shortage of school sites, which is seen as a barrier to parents and teachers who want to set up free schools.
The DfE is confident that the Education Bill will make its way through parliament without major complications.
If it is passed unchanged, heads and teachers will be more empowered than they have been for some time.
But they may also find themselves under the control of Mr Gove and his Department to a greater degree than they ever thought possible.
The bill in brief
- Increase teacher search powers
- Reform exclusion appeal panels
- Remove 24-hour notice for detentions
- Abolish GTC, QCDA, Young People's Learning Agency and TDA
- Strip down Ofsted framework
- Create 16-19 and PRU academies
- Raise school participation age to 18
- Ofqual to compare England's schools with international peers
- Require schools to participate in Pisa global rankings
INSPECTION FRAMEWORK - Stripped bare
The bill proposes to strip down Ofsted's inspection remit to just four "key" areas.
The schools watchdog would focus on teaching quality, leadership, pupil behaviour and achievement, freeing teachers, says Michael Gove, from "ticking boxes".
He said: "There are areas of Ofsted inspections, such as community cohesion or regulations governing what students bring in their lunchboxes at lunchtime, which are entirely peripheral.
"One of the problems is that they are asked to inspect and measure for things which, by definition, are hard to judge and not central to what schools are about."
NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said he was "pleased" with the plans.