We have heard much
this week of "the blob", which Michael Gove - and his supporters - hold responsible for "the poor standards" in education in the past. Who is part of the blob? It seems to include the teaching unions, the local education authorities and university education departments. According to David Green, Director of Civitas, it also includes Chairs of Governors. But Toby Young tells me it doesn't include teachers.
Gove has written before
about "the blob", describing them as the "enemies of promise" (then he did include "the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools"). Matthew Ancona, in his book "In it together
" makes clear that defeating "the blob" is the single-minded obsession that drives education policy for the government.
It is why Gove promotes academies and free schools, to get them away from local authorities. It is why he often seems happier with people running schools who have little educational experience, than with those from the "educational establishment". And it is why he is trying to move teacher training away from universities. Indeed the reason that Michael Gove sems so often to be pursuing ideology over evidence is his focus on taking education away from the dreaded "blob".
London Challenge: A blob project?
It is now generally acknowledged that the most successful transformation of English education in living memory took place in London over the last decade (eg, this from the Telegraph
). Yet this was surely a project that had "the blob" at its heart. Local education authorities played a central role, university professors were actively involved in the design and the teaching unions were fully supportive - working, of course, with heads and teachers. Rather than having low expectations and commitment to failure, "the blob" found a way to secure a level of school improvement far beyond anything Michael Gove and his friends have achieved.
Three times this week I asked Toby Young to explain this contradiction, that his much-hated blob was centrally involved in this success story. He answered my other questions but repeatedly ignored this one. Gove recognises London's achievements and made a brief attempt
to claim sponsored academies were the source of the capital's turn around. But the Ofsted report
on the London Challenge made clear this was not the case. They found key factors to be clear leadership, peer mentoring, collaboration between schools, local authority support, teacher development, tracking pupil progress and timely intervention - but specifically not changes in school structure.
Be proud to be part of the blob?
We must not let Michael Gove, Toby Young, David Green and the other "blobbists" get away with their denigration. Let us take pride in the achievements wrought by the educational establishment in London and spread the lessons across the country.
There is a conference this Saturday
to learn the lessons of London's success. Tim Brighouse, London Schools Commissionaire throughout the period of improvement, will be a keynote speaker. But the organisers are not the Department for Education, who seem to have shown little interest in what can be learnt from London. Instead it is being organised by the teaching unions, core members of Gove's "blob".
Is it only me that sees the irony that the people wanting to learn from success and spread school improvement across the country are what Michael Gove would see as the enemies of progress. Perhaps Michael should step beyond his prejudices, open his mind beyond narrow preconceptions and attend on Saturday to see what he himself can learn. (I would be happy to welcome him to the session I am giving on what the data tells us.)