Stories + Views
Gove at the Tory Confererence – a lacklustre speech and a new look
Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, took a traditional swipe at teaching unions at the Tory Party conference saying that ideology was holding back children because, among other things, unions objected to teachers spending time photocopying. The idea that teachers’ time might be more profitably spent on professional rather than mundane administrative tasks doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.
He attacked union general secretaries who he said had warned him not to identify successful schools because it made teachers from other schools “feel uncomfortable”. But it’s not discomfort that is felt when Gove praises particular schools – it’s the suspicion that only a few favoured schools are singled out for approval: certain academy chains, for example, even when their results are inflated by the use of the equivalent exams that Gove derides, or those schools which are led by executive principals who’ve publicly supported Gove’s policies.
Gove referred to a recent OECD report that said the UK was among the most socially segregated education systems in the developed world. This is what the Education at a Glance 2012 said:
“The socio-economic composition of UK schools poses significant challenges for disadvantaged students and students with an immigrant background… Reducing the concentration of disadvantage in schools may require changes in other areas of social policy besides education, such as housing policies that promote a more balanced social mix in schools at an early age.”
The OECD report said the pupil premium “may provide a way of reducing inequities in education quality and opportunities” but warned that “in any given school, the higher the proportion of students whose mothers have low levels of education, the poorer the reading performance of students in that school.” Did Gove mention this or the “other areas of social policy besides education” in his speech? If he did, no-one’s reported it.
According to the Guardian, Gove said schools should be free to innovate and do what they think best. He said he’d extended these freedoms, which previously had only been enjoyed by private schools, to academies and free schools. But UK state schools already had one of the highest degrees of autonomy in 2009 before the Coalition came to power*.
Gove said that one advantage of academies and free schools is that they have strong headteachers. It appears that he thinks strong headteachers are only found in academies and free schools. He’s just insulted half of secondary heads and the vast majority of those in primaries.
Academies and free schools help all children, Gove declared. But it’s still unclear about who really benefits from free schools and Henry’s research** on this site shows that non-academies improved the results of disadvantaged children more than academies did. And Channel 4 Factcheck concluded that ministerial statements about academies should be met with a healthy dose of scepticism. Perhaps this warning should be extended to claims about academies made in speeches at party conferences.
No-one’s yet said if Gove mentioned the GCSE debacle, the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) or, indeed, anything he hasn’t already said before. There was one change however – Gove sported a new look dubbed “geek chic” by Huffpost Students.
*See “Is it true that schools with more autonomy tend to achieve better results?” in faqs above.
**See “Do academies get better results, or improve more quickly, than other state schools?” in faqs above.