It's that man again - Michael Gove on Chaotic Homes and another push for more academies

Stephen Smith's picture
Sometime I'm flabbergasted when I read the latest pronouncements from Michael Gove in the news

Try this one : Gove warns over children growing up in 'chaotic homes'.

It starts off relatively promising, Michael Gove responding to a question from a Labour MP, highlighting the issues of some children coming to school in reception, already way behind their peers, due to the deprivation that thiey've already endured in their communities and families.

I know from experience that there are indeed families that are chaotic, that do have massive input from mutliple agencies trying to help them, and that it's very difficult to challenge the self-fulfilling prophecy that children from those backgrounds will go on to fail in school and in society. Yet challenge it we must - and Michael Gove agrees.

How will he meet that challenge though ? - well for Mr Gove it appears that their are a few things we can do. First we must stigmatise the primary schools that cater for those children :

"there are many secondary schools doing a good job which are inherently impeded by the quality of the education offered in primary schools"

Really ? Strange, I'd never noticed that myself. As a matter of fact, if pushed, I'd have to say that I generally find the quality of primary education to be better than that generally in secondary schools. Just my subjective opinion of course - but maybe that's OK, because there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Mr Gove is providing to back up his claims. It seems to be his own subjective opnion.

Next let's stigmatise the children themselves for having the audacity to come from a less privileged background than his own :

" there are significant numbers of children who, because of their home environment arrive at school simply incapable of learning."

Did you catch that ? - "incapable of learning" ?

. Well if Mr Gove had any knowledge of the history of the education of children with special educational needs in the UK he would know that the idea that any child is incapable of learning, is very muich discredited, and in fact not recognised in law - The 1970, 1981 and 1996 Education Acts making this clear. Quite how he would expect any teacher to demonstrate that a child incapable of learning was making progress in the classroom is also something of a mystery.

But hey ho - he's the Secretary of State, so what do I know ?

But finally let's get down to brass tacks - because as he points out "there are a group of children for whom the state has to intervene because they will grow up in circumstances so chaotic that it's not just a case that they are neglected, it is the case that they are actively harmed by the failure to be in a nurturing environment where their brain can develop and where they can learn the sorts of habits which allow them to not just succeed academically at school but are effectively socialised."

Quite right - and he's right to point it out - so what's the biggest weapon in our armoury on the way to achieving that ?

"We need to move even faster, extending the frontiers of opportunity, providing more excellent school places for more children than ever before.

I am determined that we concentrate our efforts particularly on the children in greatest need - those in the weakest schools - overwhelmingly in the most disadvantaged areas."

Mr Gove said there were hundreds of under-performing primary schools and said he would be writing to MPs asking them to support his plans to turn poor primaries into academies."

Yes that's right, he's going to solve all the problems of chaotic families by turning all the primary schools into academies.

Or maybe he could get Harry Potter in to cast a spell and sort things out for him.

Or maybe he should realise that just as there are no such things as magic spells, Academies are also NOT magic solutions.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 15:04

The evidence shows that academies are not the silver bullet to raise achievement, particularly of disadvantaged children (see Henry Stewart's analysis in faqs). Where academies succeed, they are using strategies which are used by other successful non-academy schools. And the City Challenge was more successful than the sponsored academy programme. Investing in the early years improves equity in education, yet Gove cut the funding for Sure Start.

But, the academy pantomime must go on:

Andy V's picture
Wed, 31/10/2012 - 16:04

Janet@ you may recall some of my contributions in the past about Academies (and for that matter Free Schools) being this government's trojan horse like vehicle to achieve what former Conservative governments failed to do. And that is to dismantle the LA input/influence on schools, which will give enhanced power to the centre to pull the strings and drive change. In parallel with this it is my belief that an under current is to reduce revenue costs by driving on employing more and more unqualified teachers, moving away from the STRB and Burgundy Book, and, yes, introducing private investors to run schools (individually or via chains). Not fogetting the savings to be had from unqualified teachers having no entitlement and therefore draw on the teachers pension scheme. My views haven't changed.

I also continue to be of the position that schools openly collaborating and partnering each other was leading to improved results and would continue to do so. Indeed, this is one of the alleged unique selling points of chain academies/free schools - that they share and collaborate over best practice. All smoke and mirrors as a front for the main party political goals and an affront to every thinking person with an interest in education, who already knew of and had seen the evidence of improvements brought about by schools sharing and working together as opposed to competing.

Stephen Smith's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 20:26

There's more on this here on the Telegraph website :
State must aid pupils from chaotic homes, says Michael Gove - Telegraph -

Particularly like the bit about him describing Ed Miliband's old comprehensive as being in leafy Hampstead. I'm reasonably sure it was Haverstock School at Chalk Farm, which is er, well not all that leafy.

sarah dodds's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 06:05

Is anyone warning him about this chaotic government who are incapable of delivering?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 06:50

Unfortunately, many people are in thrall to Gove - all that talk about his becoming the next PM (I don't even want to speculate on what might happen if Gove had fingers on the nuclear button - "Nuke the Trots! Nuke the enemies of promise! Nuke half the middle-east! Nuke them all!"),

This cartoon nails Gove - "I used to be a journalist...for the Times...I've got strong opinions..."

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:21

"Is anyone warning him about this chaotic government who are incapable of delivering?"

Stephen Smith didn't you know academies are the answer for world peace, famine in Africa and the weather?

I remember when Gove first turned up saying they were the answer to schools prayers for appropriate professional freedom and healthy variety....

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 08:41

Hang on a mo....... let's just wind back to the report you link, Stephen.

In particular, to the words spoken to Gove by the Labour MP Graham Allen:

Mr Allen said: "I work with my secondary heads and they say that the raw material they are sent at age 11 is not good enough, therefore I go on to my primary heads and they say children arrive at school unable to read or recognise the difference between a letter or a number, they arrive sometimes in nappies, unable to speak in a sentence."

So, Gove's views correspond to those of both secondary heads and primary heads who have spoken to Graham Allen.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:08

I think not Ricky.

Let's just clarify that there are two problems here.

The first problem is that we have some children who are from very underprivileged backgrounds.

The second is that we have a secretary of state for education who thinks it's a really great idea to severely punish the schools which these children go to if these children do not achieve the same standards as children who've been well fed, well stimulated and have attended tumbletots, ballet classes, music lessons and top pre-schools and nurseries before they start reception class (an example of whom is currently watching YouTubes of children's programs in Spanish opposite me).

I don't think Gove's views correspond with the heads mentioned here because I think they are discussing the second problem and Gove is discussing the first.

In normal times the schools would be focused on addressing the first problem but its rather difficult to do that when somebody is clubbing you around the head with a metal bar for failing to achieve unrealistic targets.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:36


we have a secretary of state for education who thinks it’s a really great idea to severely punish the schools which these children go to if these children do not achieve the same standards as children who’ve been well fed, well stimulated and have attended tumbletots, ballet classes, music lessons and top pre-schools and nurseries before they start reception

No, the children from tumbletots are expected to achieve level 5 or 6 (and often do). All that's asked of the schools is that they get close to all up to level 4, which some schools with the toughest challenges do, but others who can, just don't. Or won't.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:51

Indeed Ricky,

The reason why some children who've just turned up at a primary school in year 6 from overseas, and/or have huge family and language issues and/or have medical issues which have not been diagnosed young because their families were not on the ball and/or are not properly nourished or have not slept and are being educated in large classes full of similar needs do not achieve all round level fours if because their teachers WON'T let them.

I must keep reminding myself that there is no possibility whatsoever that their teachers are able, dedicated and work relentlessly for these children and have simply not managed to overcome every single challenge they have faced and that putting the word 'academy' in the school name will miraculously fix that and sort out all the issues.

The problem is that even if I remind myself of your truism every minute of every day it still slips away from me. Reality just seems to deprive it of the oxygen it needs to stay alight.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:00

there is no possibility whatsoever that their teachers are able, dedicated and work relentlessly for these children

Well, according to the Ofsted reports they tend to be some or all of the following: phonics denialists; people who collect progress data but don't get round to using it to adapt classroom practice; people with low expectations and ambitions for their charges; people who don't bother to plan interesting lessons.... well, you know the litany fairly well.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:02

I know the standard cut and paste.

I also know reality.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 09:31


Looks like most of this stuff is coming from teachers originally:

Growing number of children 'don't know their own name' when starting school

Jean Gross, the government's communication champion for children, said she discovered the problem while speaking to head teachers in Hull and London.
“They told me that they had seen a number of cases of children arriving for their first day at school who did not know their name or that they even had a name.
“It was very upsetting to realise that children had reached the age of four without that difficulty being picked up.
“We do have a problem. Anecdotally, it’s getting worse from what head teachers say.”

Why is this “stigmatizing children” when Gove says it; but not when headteachers say it?

agov's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 10:04

That's very interesting Ricky.

What's it got to do with looting community assets and handing the spoils over to academies and academy chains?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:23

Ricky - neither the Telegraph article, Jean Gross or the Labour MP in another of your comments above, quantify the percentage of children who actually arrive at school at age four without knowing their own names or who still need nappies. Is it 50%, 5%, 0.5% or 0.05%?

How many is a "number of cases"? Does anyone actually know?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 10:29

We've been over this ground before, agov.

No community assets are 'looted' when schools become academies. In most cases, the LA leases the land and buildings to the academy trust, retaining the freehold itself.

And the idea that the schools revenue budget is being siphoned off to secret accounts in the Cayman Islands is just another of your whacky fantasies.

What's more, both ARK and Harris (who seem to occupy prominent places in your demonology) actually ADD money (from hedge fund and carpet sales profits) to the baseline funding from government for the benefit of children from deprived backgrounds.

Certainly the belief that turning these underperforming schools into academies will help them improve involves a leap of faith.

But so does leaving them in LA control. If, after all, the LA has failed to improve them during the past 10 years, why should we assume it will do so tomorrow morning?

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 12:09

agov are you Dave Spart posting anon?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 09:06


If you went to business school, would you be a Poet or a Quant?
For what it's worth, you strike me as being a natural poet, but one trying (too hard) to be a quant.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:33

Ben - is that a tongue-twister? By the way, Ben, the latest FSM figures for Hammersmith and Fulham are at the bottom of this thread. You might have missed them.

agov's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 07:53

The intention is clear. Community schools will be convicted of trumped-up charges and forced to become academies, ways will then be found to force the academies into chains, which will then eventually be converted into profit centres.

Just to remind you, again, there is no reason or evidence to support the contention that academies on average do better than community schools. Except for the profit-takers.

LAs have not failed to improve community schools over the past 10 years - that's just a tory lie.

agov's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 07:54

Didn't know Dave spart was still arrive.

Haven't read 'Private Eye' since it stopped being funny i.e. when they sacked Auberon Waugh.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 11:05

Ricky when I chose to take my part II tripos in management (which was then also their post graduate diploma) at Cambridge 20 years ago you had to prove you were both to even be considered for the course.

So after completing my first year in maths in my second year I took history and philosophy of science alongside experimental psychology (to juxtapose the study of the construction of knowledge by comparing it with an emerging science) together with applied maths so that I would have a chance of getting in.

Everybody had to be both 20 years ago and I haven't seen any signs of that changing since. This thinking was embodied in the course where our first lecture on modelling made us realise how little used mathematical analysis was in understanding situations as we came to understand how important it was to leave the nature of the problem loosely defined while engaging all stakeholders in open discussion and so on (SSM and all that).

I find your comment superficial and inappropriate given that you clearly haven't got a clue what people learn at MBA level. As I've said many times before I really wish Michael Gove had. It would make such a difference in his general ability and in particular in his skills in engaging with intelligent and well informed people.

agov's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 07:56


I must improve my proofreading.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 13:36

Houston we have a problem - that post above which is in my name but has no photo was not made by me.

Oh dear.

Stephen Smith's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 10:45

Wow - a load of comments since I last dropped by - I'll go get my glasses and read them all - BRB

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 09:20

"Well, according to the Ofsted reports they tend to be some or all of the following: phonics denialists;"

You've got an Ofsted report that says this?

"people who collect progress data but don’t get round to using it to adapt classroom practice; people with low expectations and ambitions for their charges; people who don’t bother to plan interesting lessons…. well, you know the litany fairly well."

The job that never ends:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 14:16

Rebecca - the post which allegedly came from you was from someone using your name. It has been removed.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 14:32

Thank you Janet. Please could my post where I refer to it be removed too as it's now confusing?

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