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18/07/11

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Is Michael Gove in the Murdoch sewer?

Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove is a former Times columnist and reputedly a frequent visitor to Rebekah Brooks’ Chipping Norton set. This much we know.
But it is Gove’s ideological connection to Murdoch that could really have an impact on the future of our schools as Allan Beavis has pointed out on this site . A key link is Joel Klein, former chancellor of New York City schools and now CEO of News Corp’s education division. He flew into London to help fire fight the phone hacking scandal so he is obviously not a very good firefighter!
But this was not his first visit to London this year. In January Gove invited Klein to give the keynote lecture at the inaugural Free School Conference. Klein was reported as saying “I’m excited by the opportunities that Free Schools will give children of all backgrounds in England and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences on how to achieve this at the conference”
Klein’s record in NYC is controversial to say the least. He was notoriously anti-union, but also obsessed with standardised test scores which he believes are crucial to ensuring accountability. To get a full picture of his politics it is worth reading his farewell letter entitled The Failure of American Schools.
Murdoch believes that technology is central to the future development in education. His purchase of Wireless Generation an education technology company that seeks to develop hand held wireless technology to support classroom teachers illustrates his intent. Commenting on his new acquistion, Murdoch said
“Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”
Klein is even more explicit here.
“Last, to shake up the [education] system, we must change how we use technology to deliver instruction. … [O]ne of the best things we could do is hire fewer teachers and pay more to the ones we hire. And, as in any other field, technology can help get us there. If you have 5,000 math teachers, many of whom are underperforming, significantly improving overall quality is nearly impossible. But if you get the best math professors in the world—who are great teachers and who deeply understand math—and match them with great software developers, they can create sophisticated interactive programs that engage kids and empower teachers.”

Do parents really want to see schools sitting their children in front of computers rather than teachers?
Is News Corp really suggesting that technology will replace teachers or are they more interested in cutting costs and breaking the alleged influence of demon trade unions?
Are Gove’s plans for free schools part of this agenda? Free schools are explicitly modelled on the Charter school movement beloved by Joel Klein. Gove boasted recently that his “reforms are about creating a generation of world-class schools, free from meddling and prescription”. But in Sweden, free schools have significantly fewer qualified teachers and students spend more time on computers.
Deregulation and privatisation are the watchwords of the Murdoch empire. Gove wants to bring this, and all the baggage that comes with it, to our schools.
Some may afford him the benefit of doubt over his flirtation with the Chipping Norton set. But anyone who cares about our schools needs to look below the headlines and question the direction of travel of his education policy. It is time to #getgove

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  1. It is no surprise to me that Mr Gove was at this Murdoch party http://t.co/PWdfppo .

    Free School policy is about giving privilege to your mates!

    The Headteacher of the high profile West London Free School has recently appointed his own wife as Head of PE http://t.co/Fq9I5Ou .
    Is this a model for other Free Schools? Is it appropriate for schools to indulge in Murdoch like nepotism, with public money?
    What moral lesson is this for our children?

    Is it right for us to have publishers sponsoring Academies, and determining that their books should be purchased and read?
    The RSA are becoming large Academy sponsors http://t.co/W327QNQ . They produce curriculum materials http://www.rsaopeningminds.org.uk/ and all of their academies will follow this curriculum. Should curriculum policy be driven by commercial concerns? How independent will school curriculum leaders be in determining curriculum policy in Academies and Free Schools?

    Mr Gove’s policies are about giving power to people who are unaccountable, know they are right, and know that they are better than other people.

    Unaccountable power corrupts. When teachers are working for Free School founders, or large independent Academy chains, who will “speak truth to power”? As we have seen with the Murdoch empire, once such a system becomes established it is damaging on many levels, and very difficult to correct.

    Mr Gove’s experience as a Murdoch journalist will have taught him how seductive the offer of power is, to those seeking it.

  2. Janet Downs says:

    In his article “The Failure of American Schools” Mr Klein made an explicit link with educational software and his job at News Corporation:

    “…we must change how we use technology to deliver instruction. (This is what I’m now seeking to do at News Corporation.)”

    That’s not to say that technology shouldn’t be used to support education – UK teachers have been doing that since the first BBC 8-bit machines were introduced. However, Mr Klein’s motivation extends from this laudable aim to reducing the number of teachers:

    “…one of the best things we could do is hire fewer teachers and pay more to the ones we hire. And, as in any other field, technology can help get us there.”

    Mr Klein has an interest in providing educational software, and he is a huge influence on Mr Gove who sees no difficulty in obliging schools to adopt a particular teaching method and then providing financial incentives to schools to purchase supporting resources. And Mr Gove has appointed only one primary literacy expert to the national curriculum review committee – one who has a business interest in selling materials supporting Mr Gove’s favoured method (synthetic phonics).

    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6086551

    http://www.educationappg.org.uk/2011/07/appg-for-education-calls-for-action-on-barriers-to-literacy/

    Mr Gove’s inclination to mandate particular teaching methods, his Department’s support for businesses selling particular teaching materials, his friendships with Mr Klein and the Chipping Norton set , together with his ongoing contract with a subsidiary of News Corporation (Harper Collins) to write a biography show that he has conflicts of interest. This begs the question: how far do these conflicts in interest influence his work as Secretary of State for Education?

    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/regmem/?d=2011-06-20#11858

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