Be wary of Gove when he cries freedom

Janet Downs's picture

Brexit will set Europe on the path to freedom, says Gove’

Times, 20 April 2016

It’s not the first time former education secretary Michael Gove has invoked ‘freedom’ to underpin a policy he supports.   Shortly after becoming education secretary he pushed through the Academies Act promising autonomy to schools which converted.  But how has that freedom worked in reality?

First, non-academies can do most things academies can do.  But non-academies are spared the extra legal and administrative responsibilities which come with academy status.

Second, academies have some dubious freedoms: the freedom to employ unqualified personnel as teachers, to inflate the salaries of executive principals and to bung contracts to companies linked to academy trustees.  

Third, the supposed freedom to opt-out of the national curriculum is an empty one: academies, like all schools, are kept in line by high-stakes tests.

Fourth, academies in academy chains can find their autonomy curtailed.  The amount of ‘freedom’ allowed subordinate academies by their academy trust is in the gift of the trustees.   Many academy heads have complained they are under far less autonomy than when under the stewardship of local authorities *.

Stand-alone academies are endangered – to protect themselves from takeover they must turn themselves into multi-academy trusts or risk being taken over themselves.  Swallow or be swallowed – the law of the academy jungle.  That’s what Gove’s ‘freedom’ has led to.

Gove is now hoisting the freedom banner for a second time.  But can his word be trusted?  We’ve already seen how academy freedoms are an illusion.  Gove’s statements have been constantly debunked on this site since 2010.  And, according to David Laws, the Department for Education under Michael Gove produced malicious, inaccurate press releases, sent deliberately inconsistent figures to the Treasury and Deputy Prime Minister’s office and was ruled by a man who wanted his own way. 

Laws forgives Gove’s controlling tendencies because he overlaid them with charm, wit and eloquence.  But the referendum should not be decided on rhetoric alone whether it evokes Gove’s Celestial City or Cameron’s Slough of Despond if we leave.

Both campaigns have indulged in crystal ball gazing.  Both prophesy that if their side doesn’t win then doom will descend.  And both sides have politicians who have misled:  Michael (dodgy data) Gove and Boris (EU rules banana bunches can contain no more than three) Johnson on one side; David (no top-down reorganisation of the NHS) Cameron and Tony (WMD) Blair on the other.

Two of these are touted as future leaders of this country.  Boris Johnson, who shows he’s grasped the gravity of the referendum by adopting the battle cry ‘Knickers’,  and Michael Gove whose tenure as education secretary was characterised by misrepresentation and spin.  It’s a choice between a showman and a beguiling orator.  Both would be unsuitable.

Peter Brookes’ Times cartoon (4 June 2016) shows Gove as Churchill on the new £5 note.  The caption is ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, piss and wind’.  A cynic might say that describes Gove’s ‘freedom’.

*Our book, ‘The Truth About Our Schools’, debunks the myth that local authorities control schools.


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