Education reforms were Right Good, said Gove. Some would disagree.

Janet Downs's picture
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Michael Gove’s very, very long speech promoting Good Right was wide-ranging: the NHS, welfare, employment… But I’ll concentrate on what he said about education.

The bar has been raised for everyone, he said, worthless vocational exams had been scrapped, the gap had been ‘closed’. But raising the bar doesn’t mean more children will jump over it – and Gove’s hastily-introduced exam reforms are causing chaos. Far from helping all children, Schools Week reported how the Progress 8 measure will undervalue the success of low ability pupils. And the Government didn’t just scrap some vocational exams or reduce their league table value but disallowed some IGCSEs which threaten to make league tables meaningless*.

The achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged hasn’t been closed. It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect this to be closed completely – even countries doing well in reducing the difference don’t fully eradicate it. And analysis by Schools Week found the achievement gap between looked-after children and others had widened in the last four years.

Thanks to the Government, Gove said, ‘new schools – academies and free schools – based in our poorest neighbourhoods’ send ‘more children to top universities than some of our most famous private schools’. Few ‘new’ schools, especially free schools, have entered pupils for A levels yet, let alone sent any to university. He may, of course, be referring to the London Academy of Excellence, a sixth-form free school which has been accused of culling students with low exam grades in Year 12.

Gove praised the academies programme, making inflated claims about how the ‘best head teachers’ are in ‘our most challenging schools’. He’s obviously taken no notice of the Education Select Committee’s advice to stop exaggerating the success of academies.

The free schools programme, said Gove, means ‘some of the best primary schools…have been set up in just the last few years’. Some of the worst, too, it should be remembered. The Discovery New School has closed; Al-Madinah all-through school was ‘dysfunctional’. He took care not to mention secondary free schools: Durham Free School is shutting its doors this month; the head and two members of staff at Kings Science Academy have been charged with fraud, IES Breckland, the free school which outsourced its operation to for-profit Swedish firm IES, and Grindon Hall Christian School were judged Inadequate. In any, case, Ofsted and others have said it’s too soon to judge the success of free schools – they are no better or no worse as a group than other types of school.

Some free schools are in the ‘toughest areas’, he said. If by ‘toughest’, he means disadvantaged, it doesn’t follow that setting up free schools in such areas means they take many disadvantaged children. For example, Canary Wharf College, a free school in Tower Hamlets, and West London Primary Free School in Hammersmith and Fulham, both have a proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals far lower than their local authority average**.

Gove praised the new national curriculum but seemed to forget his favoured academies and free schools can opt out. The Pupil Premium was raising achievement for ‘all children’, he said. But it was a LibDem, not Conservative, initiative which was supposed to help close the achievement gap by improving the attainment of disadvantaged children - it was not designed to lift performance across the board.

But all this, and more, comprises the ‘Good this Right of Centre Government has achieved’, Gove said, capitalising each word so we get the message. He promises to do his utmost to remind people of this.

This means more interminable Govorations to look forward to. And all will, no doubt, spin success which isn't success at all.

FOOTNOTES

*Some might argue that’s a good thing. League table pressure causes teaching to the test, ‘gaming’, neglect of non-examinable skills, lack of innovation as schools play safe, and schools adopting admission criteria or strategies (eg expensive uniforms, requesting ‘donations’) which deter pupils likely to reduce results.

**Canary Wharf College, 4.4% FSM, Tower Hamlets (primary, state-funded) 40.4% FSM; West London Primary Free School, 6.7% FSM, Hammersmith and Fulham (primary, state-funded) 28.6% FSM.
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