Andy Burnham was right to question Michael Gove’s priorities in meeting Rupert Murdoch and other News International executives. It would surely have benefited the Education Secretary to seek advice about curriculum, school governance, behaviour, special needs, streaming and all the other day to day concerns of schools by visiting schools and talking to teachers and headteachers? What perspective could an international media conglomerate bring to these key issues over so many meetings?
It is evident that News Corp has seen there is a very good profit to be made out of education. It has been aggressively pursuing a chunk – if not a dominant share – of this market. But in the wake of the hacking scandal that has spread to America and could result in further prosecutions, its purchase of Wireless Generation, an education technology company that seeks to develop hand held wireless technology to support classroom teachers, is being fiercely contested by New Yorkers, who do not want News Corp to get their hands on sensitive and confidential data involving students and their test results.
Joel Klein left his job as New York Schools Chancellor to head up the Education Division at News Corp and is now also in charge of the committee looking into the scandal surrounding News Corp. Murdoch has invested several millions of dollars into – and is a director of - Harlem Village Academies, a New York City charter chain much favoured by Joel Klein and it is this involvement that has led some people in America to wonder if News Corp had ambitions to set up their own Edu Chain.
As we have shown on this site here
, Michael Gove is deeply indebted to his friend Joel Klein for providing the Charter School model he has adopted here for his Academy and Free School policy.
In light of the number of meetings Gove has had with NI over this year, many might wonder whether these meetings were to facilitate News Corp’s commercial interests in education in the UK or even for him to set up a chain of Free Schools, especially if Murdoch were to be convinced that they would, before too long, become profitable.
An interesting exchange on Twitter might throw some light on this. Daniel Finkelstein, a political columnist on The Times, responded to a question about whether all the meetings between Gove and NI were to do with “setting up a Free School with Rebekah Brooks as Headmistress” by saying:
“News Corp is indeed taking an interest in the creation of new schools. That is precisely what mtgs were about!”
Gove has said on a few occasions that he is not ideologically opposed to profit-making companies running schools, so people might now forgiven for wondering if there is any substance behind persistent rumours that Murdoch may be planning on investing in more Charter Schools in the US and in Free Schools or Edu Chains in Britain, particularly if the government here can show that running schools in the education free market can be profitable in the long-term and especially if this could be tied in nicely with News Corp’s provision of technology, services, books and so on.
Klein and Murdoch struck up a friendship perhaps because they agreed on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor teachers should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed. This friendship morphed into a political alliance. Murdoch’s New York Post emerged as an unflinching and potent champion of Mr. Klein’s educational proposals in New York City and he even began to put his own money behind Mr. Klein’s efforts. At one point, he quietly donated $1 million to an advocacy group, Education Reform Now, run by Mr. Klein.
As The New York Post cheered Klein in New York, so have The Times and The Sunday Times championed Michael Gove’s policies over here, so it may be increasingly difficult for Gove to casually brush off the endless meetings with Murdoch and Co. The dark cloud of suspicion – that he may be shaping schools policy at least partly to promote the commercial and ideological interests of Rupert Murdoch – will now be hanging over him. He needs to explain his role in this tight-knit triumvirate of Murdoch-Klein-Gove and reassure the British public that his relationship with News Corp has not in any way influenced his policies nor provided a commercial or ideological platform for Rupert Murdoch.