Stories + Views
Does anyone in the education system actually believe Gove knows anything?
Michael Gove’s latest attack on teachers and school governors is unprecedented for an Education Secretary. Sure, we’ve had Secretaries of State who have enjoyed taking pot shots at the unions and at teachers at times, but Michael Gove’s aggressive assaults on the profession are unique, not only in their wide-ranging nature, but also in their wrong-headedness. His latest barrage of criticism not only attacks the unions as being full of Trotskyites (this from the man who expresses admiration for Chairman Mao) but also denigrates governors and teachers who are members of professional associations. Throw in his well known, if off-the-record, jibes at civil servants, and you begin to think: is there anyone in the system that he actually approves of? Basically, the only kind of person in education he appears to have any time for are: not members of a teaching union; not members of a professional subject association; not a governor; not a local authority bureaucrat; not a supporter of a local authority school; and not a civil servant. But, of course, it has to be someone who agrees with everything he says.
Er Michael…there aren’t many left, are there? I hate to tell you this, but many private and grammar school teachers are members of professional associations like the National Association for the Teaching of English, which you attacked in such an ill-informed fashion in your latest speech for failing to support your catastrophic dictats to teach what you call “grammar” — although I’m not sure you really know what “grammar” is judging from the complete mess of the your new National Curriculum for primary schools. I attended NATE’s conference in York last week, and I’m familiar with the exhaustive research that has gone on within NATE concerning the teaching of “grammar”; the serious examination of what we mean by the word, the search for a meaningful ‘meta-language’ to describe the processes that happen within language, the careful consideration of how we might best teach the multiple facets of the subject. You said in your speech that the leader of NATE described the teaching of grammar as oppressive; this is a complete mis-representation of his and NATE’s perceptions of the matter. If any professional group of people were more concerned about the teaching of grammar, it’s NATE! They have resources galore to help teachers with this very tricky curriculum area; their approach is not prescriptive, but it’s eminently sensible. NATE researchers and teachers like Helen Lines, who has conducted fruitful research on the teaching of grammar for the government and produced numerous resources for NATE on this area, have shown that “grammar” can be taught well, but teaching it requires training, patience and plenty of critical reflection on the part of teachers. Being a member of NATE myself, I know that the association embraces a wide range of views; that’s the whole point of the organisation, it gives a voice to English teachers and their diverse opinions.
Then, there’s governors. Your attack on them was not only gratuitous, it was actually very puzzling given the fact that you have encouraged schools to become academies, where it’s largely only “local worthies” who are running the show, particularly in the unsponsored academies. Local authority bureaucrats — actually paid professionals — have no place on the governing bodies of academies and free schools in the way they are entitled in local authority schools. You appear to be attacking the very people you are expecting to carry out your own “revolution”!
If there are any people in the education system who actually support Michael Gove, could they put up their hands please? (No, not you Toby Young — you don’t count, you’re a governor now!)