Michael Gove has been in the position of Secretary of State for Education now for three years, and I have to say that he certainly has made measures to stir up the educational world. His impact can be felt throughout every facet of education, from the teaching profession to the curricula of our secondary schools. To anyone interest in, or writing about education, he is a gift, as I can always find something to write about on Gove – in my view the most controversial Education Secretary to ever grace the position since Thatcher. Thus, I would like to devote this article to assessing just what he’s done so far, which from my perspective has been nothing but U-turns and the creation of general infuriation amongst almost everyone working in, or interested in, education.
Let’s first assess his impact on the teaching profession. As my previous Backbench Cabinet article showed, he has been unequivocally loathed by the teachers whom I had the pleasure of interviewing – but the views of my teachers don’t seem to be the view of the minority. Take for instance the fact that 100+ teachers came together in solidarity over Twitter to defend the ‘Mr. Men’ teacher Russel Tarr by changing their avatars to Mr. Men. Such a show of solidarity filling my twitter timeline hasn’t been seen before by me, and perhaps just shows how despised Gove is by teachers and how much activism he stirs up amongst them. Indeed both the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers have passed a vote of no confidence in Gove, perhaps the biggest sign of teacher’s verdicts on Gove as an education secretary. But why does he inspire such hate, and is it deserved? I believe it is – he is completely shaking up the teaching profession in a negative way, calling for longer hours, making unreasonable and harsh demands for teachers – such as having to teacher 70 topics in 72 hours for History teachers. As well as performance related pay, which may trap teachers in lower achieving schools in a vicious cycle of low results and low pay for things that are out of their control. But what happens when teachers speak out against this? Why, Gove writes an absurdly McCarthyist article branding teachers who dare to speak out as Marxists!
Another area is his attempts to attach religion and education into a loving relationship. This angers me the most by looking at what drivel some of his free schools have spouted. Take for instance St. Michaels Catholic Free School in Cornwall, a free school that says homosexuals are discouraged to apply! He even breaks secularism within our country by allowing the possibility for the Catholic Church to absorb failing secular schools under our wing. It should be within a society as diverse as ours that faith schools shouldn’t be in the majority, the current 1/3 amount is the maximum that it should be, any more faith schools seems unrepresentative, and in my view secular schools are the only schools that can truly welcome diversity as they accept all faiths. Gove chooses wilfully to ignore this and welcomes the potential imbalance to our society.
As well as this, Gove has throughout his term often used polls to shock the public into revealing just how supposedly inferior our education system is in comparison to others. Such as his revelation that 1 in 5 teenagers believe Winston Churchill was fictional, and other such shocking evidence. Where were these statistics from? YouGov? The ONS? No, UKTV Gold! That fountain of knowledge and reasoned debate. He even used the likes of polls conducted by the Premier Inn and London Mums Magazine. It strikes me as frightening that a figure wielding so much power in such an influential cabinet position is using such ridiculous and flimsy ‘evidence’ as this to back up his arguments. No wonder teachers are so aggressive if the changes he postulates have evidence backed up by comedy nostalgia channels.
Another failure of Gove was his attempts to introduce the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – something that Gove seemed very passionate to make a reality. This EBacc would have only focused on five traditional academic subjects and ignored other subjects that I consider vital, such as Religious Education, I.C.T and Design and Technology. I reflect on the concerns that one of my R.E teachers voiced: “I do think that changing the whole education system and exam system – with reference to the English Baccalaureate – would be detrimental to schools as it would be more about change than the pupils”. Thankfully, the EBacc managed to drift away into obscurity and failed to materialise – like many of Gove’s proposed changes to education.
But the failures don’t stop here – his new plan of ‘Troops for Teachers’ seems to be a project that he thought overnight, whilst drunk. I echo the concerns voiced by Chris Keats of the NASUWT: "To say you can simply transfer the skills from one to the other is an oversimplification of the complexities of dealing with pupil behaviour in schools". It seems absurd that this course only offers 1 day a week in a university, and thinks they can match the level of a graduate, with a PGCE as a result of this slap-dash scheme. What I propose would be something similar to the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008– passed by the U.S Congress it encouraged social mobility for scores of soldiers by widening higher education for U.S military veterans who served for three years in the Armed Forces. This would allow soldiers to go into teaching, but have the same qualifications and training as civilians hoping to teach. Whereas Gove’s scheme would create either a qualification that would allow civilian teachers to be undercut by a less-rigorous qualification, or create a qualification that is less valued by schools.
Finally for the negative side of this article – I feel the need to address another one of Gove’s poorly thought attempts to reform GCSEs, for the fourth time! I don’t know why he’s trying again, as every time he tries he is rightfully lambasted from all corners of the educational world. Every time he ends up embarrassingly having to conduct a U-turn and go back to the pub to come up with another half-baked attempt to reform the system. His decision to try and scrap coursework is concerning, as many students are more suited towards doing coursework. Even the British Dyslexia Association has condemned these latest set of reforms – as they could possibly discriminate against those with specific learning difficulties. These latest set of reforms could bar many disabled students from higher education, which is nothing short of disgraceful. And all it is doing is throwing pupils into disarray who are currently doing and teaching ‘easy’ exams. Indeed, are they going to be less valued than the qualifications of students who take the reformed GCSEs? And what of the teachers, who don’t know what they will be teaching in the future, and are slowly losing confidence in what they are teaching now? You really can’t question why the teaching unions passed a motion of no confidence in Gove.
The only real success story I can consider having come from Gove is the opening of the UCL Academy in Camden – I have been keeping an eye on this since its fruition, and now it’s opened it seems like an excellent idea. This new school will have excellent provisions at its disposal – such as assistance from professors and PhD students, as well as undergraduate students who wish to gain experience of teaching and pass on the passion for their subject to the academy students. I only hope other universities make similar links with their community, I know Manchester and Leeds universities make great efforts to reach out to GCSE and A-Level students, and things such as these will be what makes the UK education system more robust, I only hope Gove follows the example of the UCL Academy by encouraging universities to have more links with secondary schools and colleges in their surrounding area.
To conclude, reflecting on Gove’s term in office so far doesn’t paint the most flattering of pictures for the Secretary of State for Education. From my perspective it has been nothing but U-Turns, controversy and very, very little success, which is wholly understandable. The reforms he is trying to push through Parliament are unsubstantial, based on flimsy evidence and only anger those within education. Moreover, any critics within education who dare to open their mouths are instantly ‘Marxist enemies of promise’, which makes one wonder why people are annoyed at the NUT or NAHT having a vote of no confidence In Gove – he deserves much more criticism from teachers! His aspirations of leadership, seen through his Prime Ministerial speeches on the EU and other issues, suggest that he is trying to emulate Margaret Thatcher, who followed the path of going from Education Secretary to Prime Minister. However, not even Thatcher could whip up the controversy that Gove is doing as we speak, and I would fear for the state of the Conservative Party if they placed such an unpopular and clearly inefficient politician as their leader. As was said in the Guardian recently: “if Gove really were transported back to the 1950s Ministry for Education, he might find that some of his ideas looked rather old-fashioned even back then.” Indeed, the criticism seems be coming from all sides of the political spectrum, another fellow Backbench commentator, Adam Isaacs – a conservative – called Gove “completely out of touch”. I find it difficult for anyone to defend Gove now, to sum up; he is in my view, the worst person to have ever graced the position of Education Secretary and for the sake of our education system he either needs to listen to those in education, or leave.
Backbench Minister for Education