Union boss attacks former education secretary Michael Gove at ASCL conference

Janet Downs's picture
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Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, attacked  former education secretary Michael Gove at the union’s annual conference in Birmingham, Schools Week reports.

Barton was criticising the way school performance tables penalise schools attended by high numbers of disadvantaged pupils.

How much value is there in a system in which some schools – those in the most disadvantaged areas – are always most likely to fare the worst?’ he asked.

He threw words used by former education secretary Michael Gove back at him.   Gove had told the 2013 Conservative Conference that teaching unions held back too many children by the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’*.

Barton asked if pointing out that schools in deprived areas are likely to do worse in the current accountability system was ‘really the “soft bigotry of low expectations”?

He followed this with another question.  Does the current accountability regime stigmatise schools in disadvantaged areas and make it more difficult for them ‘to recruit the very teachers and leaders who would help to secure improvement, whilst demoralising families and communities in the process?’

And in the process perhaps we forgot what matters most, and certainly what parents and carers most want from schools and colleges – children who are safe, happy, a broad and balanced curriculum, getting good results as a stepping stone into the future, and gaining an opportunity from reliable adults on how to become citizens of the future.’

Instead, he warned “We let performance measures and inspection somehow become a spurious shorthand for education.’

Writing before the conference speech, Schools Week said Barton would follow up the union’s ‘Forgotten Third’ report which focussed on the plight of pupils who didn’t gain a standard pass (Grade 4) in GCSEs. 

What are we as a nation saying to a young person who after 12 years of being taught by teachers through early years, primary and secondary education, gets a grade 3 and then two years of mandatory resits. Why do we insist in rubbing their noses in disappointment?

Damian Hinds, the current education secretary, told Schools Week it was the nature of exams that some pupils would fail.  He had no intention of changing the exam system but believed there must be opportunities in the short term for pupils to try again.

When GCSEs first began, they were designed to ensure the majority of pupils left school with school-leaving qualifications.

 ‘It [GCSE} will grade candidates by their performance… on the basis of what they themselves know and can do and without regard to the performance of others,’ Sir Keith Joseph told the Commons when describing his proposed GCSEs.

This deserves repeating: ‘without regard to the performance of others’.  But this vision has been abandoned.  Instead, we have a system where a third of 16-year-olds must ‘fail’.

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