“Gove ally savages No 10 on schools…General Gove is ready for a fight to the death”,
Times front page, 16 June 2014
While other front pages focussed on the horrors perpetrated in Iraq, the Times dedicated nearly half its front page to an interview with Dominic Cummings, ex-special advisor to Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Gove was held back by a “dysfunctional” Department for Education (DfE), said Cummings, otherwise he could have moved “faster, further, better”. Perhaps Cummings has forgotten that Gove pushed the Academies Bill through Parliament with the speed usually reserved for terrorist legislation. It is, therefore, unclear how much faster he could have moved.
But academy chains, said Cummings, would have “the most profound effect on education”. They will lift schools from being a “cottage industry” to “companies that deliver excellence at scale”. But not all chains have delivered this "excellence": 14 academy chains have been "halted" and one, E-Act, is being deprived of some of its academies after a culture of extravagance was found.
Speed was essential, Cummings said, because “millions of people have left school in the past ten years without being able to read”. Nonsense, of course (see here) but it’s a useful piece of propaganda to shore up Gove’s “crusade” on illiteracy.
Gove and Cummings are partners, a mutual friend said. They’re “like Batman and Robin”. No doubt this description was designed to evoke an image of caped crusaders battling everything from near-universal illiteracy to Trojan Horse (Cummings “slipped in” to the DfE last week to help sort out the “debacle, the Times revealed – was the “debacle” Gove’s handling of the affair?).
But instead of courageous heroes I saw one of the funniest comic moments in TV history: Del Boy and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin running out of the mist. And I imagined the Gove/Cummings duo adopting Del Boy's motto: "He who dares, wins!".
The deranged, expletive laden, interview didn’t just dominate the front page of the Murdoch-owned paper. It was accompanied by two double-page spreads and a pro-Gove editorial. The leader said the Tories had “promoted a massive decentralisation of school education”. But taking centralised control of thousands of schools is not “decentralisation”. The teacher training programme “Teach First” has had “a small transformative effect”, the editorial claimed. Quite how “small” this effect is would be clearer if the Durham university evaluation of the scheme were to be published. The leader writer asks why schools shouldn’t be run by “brands” selling education like “food”. It claims it’s only “sentimentalism” which prevents schools being run for profit.
This is typical GERM propaganda – and GERM is a virus which is killing our schools not improving them.
But as Del Boy might say, “fromage frais”, the penny has dropped. Gove’s reforms aren’t “crème de la menthe”. They’re not “cushtie” or “cosmic”. It’s time to give them the “heave ho”.
CORRECTION The above has been amended. There were TWO double-page spreads. I'd missed one. It contained the usual stuff: implying PISA results were worse than they were and not saying other international education league tables (TIMSS and PIRLS) show England in a more positive light; the domination of "trendy" teaching methods ; the malign influence of the Blob and an extended attack on The Active History website.
Ex-schools minister Nick Gibb explains how you wouldn't find "progressive methods at Winchester or Uppingham. But these methods are used at Eton, Mr Gibb, they're called Slow Education. We learn Gove hung a picture of Lenin on his office wall and calls Blair "the Master" (says it all, really). But even Blair, while advising Gove to "keep driving through", warned that he risked looking like "a zealot rather than a reformer".
So, in today's Times, the front page, four inside pages and a leader were devoted to praise of Gove. I think we can see who Murdoch is backing for next Tory leader. But there is such a thing as overdoing it.
UPDATE 18 June 2014
In the House of Commons yesterday Gove deflected several questions asking whether Cummings continued to visit the DfE and whether he still had his card. Kevin Brennan was one MP who attempted to get a straight answer from Gove:
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): "Can the Secretary of State confirm that the architect of the free schools policy, Dominic Cummings, was in the Department last week, despite the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) saying in a written parliamentary answer to me that there was no record of his visit? Could that be because he wrote last week, in typically bad taste, that he always signs into Government Departments, including No. 10, under the name of Osama bin Laden? What on earth is the Secretary of State doing still relying on this man’s advice?"
And here's Gove's flippant reply:
Michael Gove: "The architect of the free schools programme was actually Andrew Adonis, not Dominic Cummings, as he himself has said. Free schools were a Labour invention — a point that was repeated by the former Prime Minister Tony Blair when speaking to The Times today. As for the hon. Gentleman’s points about former special advisers, all sorts of people from time to time seek to visit the Department for Education to exchange ideas with old friends and colleagues."
View the “Only Fools and Horses” clip with Del Boy and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin here.