Is Michael Gove moonlighting as a Times leader writer?

Janet Downs's picture
“Resistance to change in schools in Wales is now showing up in poor results”

Times leading article, 6 March 2014*

It is well-known Welsh pupils scored poorly in PISA 2012. And fewer Welsh pupils achieve 5+ GCSEs C or above. The Times knows the reason - it’s because Wales is resistant to the “recipe for schools that has become the norm in England”. The ingredients are:

1Heads of Welsh schools have less autonomy. But Local Management for Schools, introduced in the 80s, applied to Welsh schools as well as English ones. The OECD found “Compared with the OECD average, headteachers in Wales play a greater role in most aspects of school management”.

2In Wales, those managing “poor schools” can’t be sacked and replaced. Firing the governing bodies of “failing” English schools and replacing them with Interim Executive Boards (IEBs) is supposed to “enable the restoration of a normal governing body” but in reality IEBs push through academy conversion. This has resulted in accusations of intimidation (see here).

3Wales hasn’t invited “wealthy sponsors” to run schools. Labour academies had sponsors who promised to give financial help. But the National Audit Office 2010 found a “significant number” hadn’t paid up and some were pressurizing academies to buy services from them. Sponsors are no longer required to promise money but concerns are growing that sponsors and academy trustees have benefitted financially from being involved with academies.

4Wales has no sponsored academies. But Henry Stewart’s analysis has shown sponsored academies perform no better than similar non-academies and are more likely to use equivalent exams.

5There is no “tough testing” in Wales. It's true there are no high stakes at Key Stage 2. And teacher assessment (TA) in maintained schools** at the end of Key Stage 2 shows English pupils outscore Welsh pupils in English although the difference has decreased by two percentage points since 2012. But TA also shows Welsh 11 year-olds equal their English peers in Maths and outperform them in Science. Of course, Welsh TAs might be unreliable but that could also apply to English ones. At Key Stage 4, Welsh pupils take the same exams as in England although I’ve been unable to discover whether the use of equivalent exams in Wales is as great.

6The “diversity of school type” found in England is “notably absent in Wales”. But the OECD found extending school “choice” had little bearing on the performance of education systems. Because there’s no academy conversion in Wales, there’s been no £1b overspend on the programme. And neither are there concerns, highlighted above, that trustees are benefiting financially from involvement in the charities that run academies.

7If Welsh pupils lived in England they would be “under an education system that understood the best way to improve is to change”. But high-performing school systems have not indulged in the kind of hasty and ill-conceived reforms pushed through by the Coalition. Finland’s system, for example, evolved slowly over a number of years and was based on consensus. It was not the result of high-profile reforms by one party or politician.

The Times leader reads like a Department for Education press release but with longer sentences. This made me suspect the author might be none other than Education Secretary and ex-Times journalist, Michael Gove.

*downloadable here – subscription needed.

**See Chart 2 here. Chart 1 data includes independent schools.
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