The Week

18th March 2011 at 00:00

Regular readers of this slot (Hi, mum) will have observed that it is slightly - and, perhaps, unnaturally - obsessed with Michael Gove. So apologies for what follows, but it is still worth highlighting the secretary of state's outing to the ASCL conference in Manchester last weekend.

What with the EBac, the raising of the performance floor target, the emasculation of the local authorities, the encouragement of free schools and the proposed pillaging of teachers' final-salary-pension scheme, this was not an audience about to gather its political master to its collective bosom. But, boy, is Mr Gove a charmer. And, God, how the crowd lapped it up. Brushing nursing, medicine and social work off the table with a single oratorical flourish, the education secretary described the teaching profession as "the noblest of callings", and then thanked them from the bottom of his heart for the work they do. Several times. Special mention must go to Michael Griffiths, head of Northampton School for Boys, who, in honour of St Jamie, asked the speaker to describe his Dream School. Glancing up at his questioner, Mr Gove responded: "Northampton School for Boys, of course". Everyone beamed and giggled girlishly, but none more than Mr Griffiths himself.

Speaking without notes, Mr Gove then explained to the hundreds of school leaders where there was room for improvement - the English school system is "good with outstanding features", he said. Among the essential reforms is, of course, the EBac, which was not exactly popular among the delegates or their leaders. Asked whether there was any room for manoeuvre on this (think the inclusion of RE as a humanity), Mr Gove said that "to me, it is already perfect". So don't expect any U-turns there, then.

All this made the arrival the following morning of Mr Gove's opposition counterpart, Andy Burnham, slightly awkward. While he unmistakably got a larger round of applause from the hungover delegates than his Tory opponent, there was the distinct sense that though it still had a big place in its heart for the Labour party, the conference had developed a naughty, slightly child-like crush on someone else. Don't worry. This will soon pass when they tune into Mr Gove's turn at next October's Tory conference. String 'em up.

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