Going, Gove, Gone

With Michael Gove gone, I am now on my 9th Education Secretary. I haven’t hated them all (Gillian Shephard was my only other Tory, and she was all right) so, for now, I’ll give Nicola Morgan the benefit of the doubt and welcome her in. I know she has a dodgy voting record, but it seems all parts of her face move so she will be an improvement on Gove on that front, if nothing else.
What credit can I give Gove? Some say he put schools at the forefront of the political agenda. I don’t recall a time when education was not politicised, so I’m not sure he wins that bauble. Also, given that he last week accused striking teachers of being ‘politically motivated’, even he doesn’t regard politics as a positive. He is a champion for social mobility, some say. One indicator of that has been his setting (and then raising) of floor targets, and more recently the introduction of ‘Progress 8’ as a measure of every pupil’s attainment. This, some say, has made slack schools sharpen their practice. Perhaps. But he began his stint with a bonfire of quangos and chucked Balls’ targets in the incinerator, claiming they led to ‘gaming’ and caused problems further down the line. Gove, like other animals of his kind, has merely painted new spots to replace the old. Gove has freed school leaders from centralised dictats, and placed power in the hands of those who best know what to do with it. Fine words, but a fallacy, and I believe the ones that finally got him the sack. Gove surely has overseen the most radical up-shake of the school system, with thousands of academies and (fewer) free schools; and their headteachers have been let off their leashes to disapply the National Curriculum and ignore teachers’ qualifications. But this same unleashing has led to tabloid headlines of budget fraud and Trojan horses. (Well, at least he can claim a greater respect for the classics.) And, lest we forget, the decentralising was a mirage as more powers were aggregated to the department.
That was me trying to be nice. When I’m just being me, I get angry at so many things that I’m in danger of being the bloke giving his leaving speech who leaves out lots of people he ought to mention. Do you remember when university education departments ran PGCEs and built up trusted links with local schools? Those departments have closed down, or shut courses, or diluted their subject specialism because schools are now in charge of advertising, recruiting, training, placing, assessing and employing teacher-trainees. The standards they have to meet (well done, Mr Gove, I like these much more than the last set)… well, you don’t really need to meet them if you work in an academy because they can employ ‘unqualifieds’, but if you don’t meet them while working in a local authority school you will get sacked within 4 weeks. We used to have a GTC and a TDA: no more. The NPQH was recognised internationally for its high quality preparation for new headteachers, until Gove said you didn’t need to have it. Labour said it wanted a ‘Masters-only profession’, as an indicator of its commitment to quality in the classroom: Gove ended the funding. We were beginning to address the criminally high rate at which students left school aged 16, with the Educational Maintenance Allowance holding on to the very kids most likely to leave. Gove axed EMA. BSF…
To even begin to discuss what and how we actually teach is a daunting prospect. Gove has meddled with every exam every student will take, with the content of every subject. He has abolished NC levels, altered the meaning of GCSEs and deprived AS exams of significance. He has introduced rigour to the examination system. No he has not. He has driven down success rates and claimed this (surely uniquely amongst the world’s education secretaries) as a success in itself. Teachers start teaching courses this September not knowing how they will be assessed at any key stage. Subjects have got ‘harder’. This means they emphasise knowledge over skills, and are therefore not ‘harder’ at all, just less meaningful. They will be harder to teach in an interesting way, that’s for sure.
Gove has done all of this, and I haven’t even begun to address the issues we went on strike to protest. Below inflation pay rises. Obliteration of national pay-scales and increments. Postponement of retirement until most of us will be joining the kids on the free bus into school. Emasculation of local authorities, the bodies best-placed to collaborate on good practice and to hold schools to local account. The marketization of a once properly ‘public’ sector, tenderising us for the meat-eating academy chains.
Nicola Morgan, you have some act to follow.

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2 thoughts on “Going, Gove, Gone

  1. So true Mark. I think Gove has done huge damage to the years of ‘professionalisation’ that led to some of the breakthroughs you mentioned. Teaching has been downgraded – it’s just something bright people do naturally once they have picked up some tips from a short apprenticeship. The Standards are pretty much meaningless in reality, because they fudged the assessment decision about the benchmark for gaining QTS and blurred the expectations between entry-point standards and on-going standards for teachers. I was talking to some international colleagues recently, many of whom thought their countries were implementing teacher education policies borrowed from England. When I explained the current situation they were incredulous. The amount of time and money being wasted on ‘innovative’ schemes and routes is criminal, especially when we consider that we had all but solved the teacher recruitment crisis and were seen as a world leader in teacher education. Simply put, the one problem Gove didn’t have was teacher education, and the effect of his 4 years in office is that the entire sector is in turmoil. Somehow the detail of this get too easily glossed over in the media – it’s too specific or niche for mass reporting, and perhaps Gove’s own ideological narrative is too alluring. But, if this chaos leads to the scale of problem we had before (when the whole national superstructure of teacher education was invented) and parents find their children being taught in maths and science departments by non-specialist supply teachers on a regular basis, or even when classes get collapsed together in assembly halls due to a lack of teachers, we will have to remember who dismantled the system that had solved those problems. In the meantime, to fill the gaps and try to save the system from falling apart, experienced teacher educators in universities are spending increasing amounts of time putting together contracts and service agreements, brokering deals, and being gazumped by (and gazumping) ‘rivals’ in order to keep School Direct going and keep their provision viable. This time and effort is all being diverted from the actual process of teacher education into the administration of a bizarre ‘business’ system for teacher education. It’s a prime example of policy getting in the way of education, and that’s before we even get to schools, curriculum and teachers’ pay and conditions…

    • Thanks, Lee. Your gazumping analogy is apt. Whatever cooperation that was possible before within the ITE sector is much less likely to thrive now.
      One of the great problems with writing an obituary for Gove is that he did so darn much! I have heard many people recently say that his real offence was one of tone, as if we prefer our burglars to be gentlemen. No. He did real structural damage. He destroyed careers. There are people who will never enter the professional because of him. There are children (my son in one) who will gain school qualifications that no one will understand. That’s more than bad manners.

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