Michael Gove press release - my reactions

Stephen Smith's picture
I've just read the DfE press release from Michael Gove : Michael Gove welcomes independent schools' contribution to academies I'm not especially ideologically opposed to academies as such - As a teacher I've worked with the policies of several governments over the years, and most have had some redeeming features, and some failures. Academies can I feel, offer an environment in which innovative practice is championed and promoted. (Which isn't to say it can't be in any other school !)

So why does Michael's latest missive make me sigh so loudly ?

Well first he starts by welcoming "the contribution that independent schools can play in supporting or sponsoring academies" . Which I suppose they CAN, - schools like for instance Marlborough College, charge a whopping £9,000 or so per term, and could presumably invest a bit in a local academy - not sure whether the parents of the likes of old girls and boys Samantha Cameron, Kate & Pippa Middleton, and Daniel Hannan, to name but a few former pupils, would appreciate their fees being spent that way - but they CAN do it.

But Mr Gove maintains that it's "independence that has made Britain's private schools the best in the world".

Funny that, because many of the teachers I've met that work in independent schools don't get paid the going rate. Not that all of them are all that bothered - because many of them don't have formal teaching qualifications. Mr Gove you'll recall, wants all state school teachers to have at least a 2.1 teaching qualification. There's no such requirement in the Independent sector.

( Personally I think the the key factor that has made British education the world's best, is universal free access from 5-19. )

So on to academies - Well those of us who still criticise academies, are castigated for being morally infirm "They claim that academy status is a threat to staff pay and conditions. This is nonsense".

I actually think he's probably right (although probably doesn't want to be) - but if he thinks this is the truth, why does he go on a few lines later to entice teachers with the promise of "Average pay for full-time classroom teachers in academies is higher than that for maintained schools. £35,700 compared to £34,700"

Quite why this is we're not told - but as the threat to pay and conditions is nonsense, then they can't possibly be offering anything other than the standard teachers pay and conditions.

Can they ?

Not that I'd be swayed all that much by £1,000 per annum (or £11.50 a week after tax) - but the advantage that "Teachers in academies also tend to be younger." is a MUST.

Who knows ? - A few terms teaching in an academy and I'll perhaps soon be under 40 again.

He goes on to list other "advantages" of being a teacher in an academy. All of which bar one, are things that I've taken advantage of and given others the benefit of - in state schools.

The exception is of course the provision of private medical cover

Yes that's right. Michael Gove wants to make the state education sector the best in the world, by offering to pay for teachers to go to private hospitals, instead of ... the best state hospitals in the world.

Is it just me, or is that appalling ? It's not just me - is it ?

Of course we also get the obligatory numbers - 658 schools are now academies - whether these are in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales or whether they are secondary or primary we're not told. We are told however that 1/3 of all secondaries (in which country of the UK ?) are now either academies or on the way to becoming one. Since we've no way of knowing whether "on the way to becoming one" means they've emailed for a leaflet or whether they're about to sign on the dotted line, this is not a particularly helpful fact.

Perhaps worth bearing in mind that the figure was 1 in 10 as recently as January (and this in England) - and since 658 (all academies) is less than 1 in 5 of all secondary schools (and some are doubtless primary schools), the figure of a third is, I would suggest, simply plucked out of the air to try and impress.

There are some aspects of academies which are doubtless advantageous - I don't see them being trumpeted by the Government. The advantages which ARE claimed are almost all available in the maintained sector - and many schools which I have had contact with which registered an interest in becoming an academy, are now declining the opportunity to do so - not for any particular philosophical reason, but because Academy status no longer offers clear tangible benefits for the school.

There is also a considerable ideological drive behind the Academies (and Free Schools) programme - which will drastically reduce the influence of local authorities, and potentially increase the number of independent providers within the state funded sector.

While some of us may disagree with those ideologies, they are defensible strategies, which can be legitimately debated. So why don't the Government own up to them ? - and debate them on their merits ? - instead of trying to sneak academies and free schools in as a trojan horse under the guise of modernisation, and using the false excuse of "mess that Labour left the schools in" ?

I'm not expecting any answers soon
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Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/05/2011 - 10:21

Very good analysis of Gove's half truths and frequent muddled thinking. I don't think that academies are included in any of the UK devolved governments' education policies so these figures must relate to England, although are a drop in the ocean of 20,000 schools.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 14/05/2011 - 12:31

Many of the special features offered by academy sponsors in the DFE press release are also taking place in the maintained sector, which also employs fast track/Future Leaders for example and routinely encourages staff to share good practice ( I sometimes wonder what Michael Gove thinks is going on in the schools he never visits).
Needless to say those innovative and successful non academy schools are not accorded a special DFE press release. It would be interesting to hear from some real teachers in academies. My impression, from interviewing several over the past few years, is that there is quite a high turnover in some chains. True or false?

W Smith's picture
Sat, 14/05/2011 - 21:31

Great analysis. Can't wait to hear a real debate from Mr Gove !!

The bit I don't understand is the argument he keeps rolling out for championing academies and free schools over state schools.

Mr Gove is quoted as saying he that he is creating these schools because he wants to free teachers and schools from the "stifling bureaucracy".

Well isn't HE the stifling bureaucracy?? So why can't he just free up state education and spend all of his money supporting that - surely that would make more economical and common sense!

Or is there a hidden agenda???

Stephen Smith's picture
Sun, 15/05/2011 - 20:47

Thanks for your kind comments.

One thing I find baffling about Michael Gove is his inability to sell his policies to the public well, or should that be : his determination to sell his policies to the public badly.

If MG and myself were asked to speak for 2 minutes each to defend the Tories' policies on Education and say what the advantages of them were, I'm pretty sure I'd do a better job - despite being opposed to most of them.

Of course the worrying thing about that is - what will happen when they get rid of him, and appoint someone who is more competent ?

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