Was Michael Gove a great education secretary?

Francis Gilbert's picture

What makes a great politician? Definitions of greatness are going to vary widely, and some might argue that no politician can be great. I would like to posit some values which could be construed as  being components of greatness if one was to look to someone like Mandela as a great politician.

Effectiveness Gove's big legacy is structural change: his academies and free school programme was his big policy. But was it needed? The statistics suggest not. It was not a cost effective programme; billions was spent getting local authority (LA) schools to convert to academy status. Yet, research carried by LSN and others suggest that academisation does not necessarily raise standards. Similarly, the free school programme has not delivered. Many of them have been set up in areas where they are not needed, many have not been educationally effective, and significant minority have been classified as failing.  Problems engendered by a rising roll in many areas have not been addressed by the opening of free schools. The sidelining of LAs in the addressing of this problem has led to the ridiculous situation of Whitehall trying to address the shortage of school places in far flung northern cities. Bureaucratic madness. There is a staff recruitment crisis, which has not been addressed by Gove's reforms to teacher training. His decision to funnel trainees through schools rather than universities has resulted in administrative chaos and recruitment problems. Another big plank of his reforming agenda was performance-related pay, and yet the very organisation he set up to look into evidence-based teaching, the Educational Endowment Foundation, has shown it does not work; it’s not a cost-effective programme for raising standards. Other strategies like encouraging collaborative learning are far more effective. Changes to the school curriculum has resulted in real confusion about what should be taught and an overall diminution in standards as well as real demoralization of the profession who have struggled to cope or understand the pace of change.

Forward-thinking Gove is a politician trapped in ideas of the past; his slavish devotion to neo-liberal ideas makes his work tiresomely predictable. He is, like the Tory government generally, a neo-liberal puppet, a person who has a misplaced faith in marketisation and capitalist economics.  And yet we know that unbridled markets don’t work; marketization has been shown to have destructive effects in education in many ways. When learning becomes a commodity to be profited from you get all sorts of perverse and unwanted effects: corruption, short-termism, social segregation. Furthermore, Gove was – and still is – part of a government with a vicious social agenda against poor people; the cuts to working tax credits are the latest in a long line of cuts which have disproportionately affected people. This will inevitably affect children’s achievement at school. The one hard statistic we have about education is the correlation between parental income and pupil performance. Gove is not forward-thinking in terms of the curriculum or assessment. He has a misplaced faith in exams, not realizing that the backwash created from the exam system is very harmful to students’ education. It means that there is constant teaching to the test; I’ve witnessed the ridiculous situation of teachers in Year 7 giving out GCSE exam papers to prepare students for a test which is five years away! The exams he has set up are Victorian; he does not believe in making learn relevant or accessible to young people. Nor does he trust teachers to find more appropriate methods of assessment.

Being a unifying figure Gove did not bring the teaching profession together. He was a very divisive figure, demonising many teachers as the Blob, the enemies of promise, when they were trying their best. The pressure he put on schools has caused a climate of fear to infect our classrooms, where both teachers and students are motivated by anxiety that they will be punished and will fail. He redoubled efforts to set up a false competition between schools, pitting them against each other when we know the best practice is when schools collaborate. He made never fought for teachers; during his tenure teachers saw their conditions of service and their pay and pensions significantly reduced in real terms. As a result, many teachers struggle to make ends meet. He was -- and still is -- hated by the vast majority of students, teachers and parents; this was why he was sacked, because he was seen as such a toxic figure. Can someone as incompetent, divisive and extreme as him ever be called great? I think not.

Some further thoughts I gave this talk at the Michaela Community School, the free school set up by Katherine Birbalsingh, and was arguing against Jonny Porter, a Humanities teacher at the school. He gave a spirited speech which argued that Gove was great because he set high expectations for students and teachers, and he was innovative. I lost the debate in terms of the voting, with the audience being overwhelmingly supportive of what Jonny said and Gove's policies. They appeared to like him most because he introduced a knowledge curriculum and re-instated old fashioned pen and paper exams, sweeping away many vocational qualifications. I said that Gove needed to give teachers the freedom to teach what they felt was appropriate for their children and it was absurd for a politician in Whitehall to dictate what should be taught and how it should be taught -- which Gove effectively did. No one talked about the larger picture; the attack on the poor that Gove and every Tory in the cabinet has supported. The debate was decontextualised from its social setting. However, Jonny and many people in the audience agreed that Gove was highly divisive and was not liked by many students, teachers or parents. Jonny invoked the name of Bevan when talking about Gove; Gove attacked the teaching profession in the same way that Bevan took on the BMA to establish the NHS. Mnnnn. Not sure about that one. Bevan and the Atlee government had a massive mandate from the electorate; everyone, the public at large, had voted for the NHS.

Gove was part of a Coalition government and had no real mandate to privatise and attack the teaching profession. Gove was hated by far more people than Bevan who had the public on his side. Gove was sacked because ultimately parents did not like what he was doing -- it wasn't only the teachers he alienated. Furthermore, Gove's agenda was one of dismantling local democratic institutions (the LAs), whereas Bevan was intent upon introducing universal health care. Gove wanted to dismantle structures that enabled the teaching profession to collaborate, whereas Bevan pushed a fragmented medical profession together under the umbrella of the NHS. Jonny's point is interesting though because it's emblematic of the way the neo-liberals have appropriated and twisted the language of the left.

I think the video of it will go up soon on the MCS website; someone tweeted that at one point I looked sad -- which I did. It saddened me that there was such hostility to what I was saying: at one point, a member of the audience up and said that it was disgraceful that I had mentioned the headteacher who committed suicide after a bad Ofsted inspection (an addition I made to the above speech, which was written a few days ago). I had talked about this incident as being indicative of the fear that Gove and his minions created (it continues) in schools, where there is such ridiculous pressure to get good results that some professionals feel so desperate that it causes serious mental illness. This, obviously, isn't Gove's fault; it's the system that he presided over that creates this climate of fear, which is not a healthy or productive thing. A great politician would have addressed this.

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Jenny's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 09:40

Gove insisted that expectations be higher and that children actually be taught to read rather than get it (or not) by osmosis from 'reading' books they could not read.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 10:07

Jenny - the teaching of phonics was embedded before Gove came to power. And I doubt there was ever a time when all children were expected to read by 'osmosis'. Look-and-Say, for example, had a rationale behind it, 'key words' which children could learn (note 'learn') first. And it was supported by a structured scheme.

However, it would be straying from Francis's main argument - that Gove was not Great - by being sidetracked into a discussion about how children best learn to read.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 10:20

Jenny - does raising expectations lead to higher results or just more children 'failing'? Does it encourage grade inflation, teaching to the test, 'gaming', cheating etc? In any case, are results the only way of judging education quality? Gove would no doubt say Yes - he once said if something couldn't be assessed it was mere 'play'.

Four years ago the OECD, which was held in high esteem by Gove especially Andreas Schleicher who was describe by Gove as the 'most important man' in English education, said there was too much emphasis on exam results in England. This wasn't just ignored but emphasis has actually increased. At the same time, the huge amount of change introduced by Gove to structures, curriculum, exams, was introduced hastily with no time for discussion, trialling, evaluation etc. And when discussion supposedly took place, as with the experts on the National Curriculum review panel, the experts' view was dismissed when it didn't agree with Gove's pre-set ideas.

Guest's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 10:56

With respect Francis the thread started by Janet gave a balanced view of the tragic loss of our late colleague Carol Ann Woodward:


What is clear is that there were several factors - current at the time and cumulative over time - that culminated in her so tragic course of action.

You do yourself a dis-service when you bring your personal/professional disdain for Ofsted to the for and effectively blame the organisation and inspection team for the death. Yes, the inspection judgements and report must be challenged and the work of Lead Inspector and QA colleague in Tribal must be scrutinised to ensure that the total evidence base supports the reports findings, but it is plain wrong to single out the inspection and Ofsted as the cause of the tragedy. Yes, it played a part but what about the LA and lack of support during the build programme? What about the LA SIO/SIP and perhaps CoG who didn't pick up on the signs of pressure and stress and the impact on this on the HT?

This tragedy requires nothing less than a holistic and penetrating examination as to the factors that led to it and what the missed opportunities were. Apologies for sounding profoundly trite here but while it should never have happened it did and the least the system owes her and her family, colleagues and the profession is that lessons have to learned to help avoid any recurrence for another colleague elsewhere.

agov's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 15:58

Gove would have been a great politician if he had been a great education secretary which would have meant him having policies Francis approves of - is that the argument?

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 24/11/2015 - 12:19

The only "voting" I saw on this was by counting hashtags on Twitter, so not really fair to say Francis lost the debate. That said, he didn't seem to get very far with persuading the audience, not going down as well as Guy Claxton, who would have been equally able to claim that an audience at Michaela was likely to be unsympathetic his case.

However, I think the reason for that was not because nobody talked about the "big picture" but because that was what Francis assumed people already shared. Jonny pushed Gove's good intentions (without actually going into too much detail as to whether he'd achieved them) while Francis pushed Gove's malign agenda of neo-liberalism and privatisation, without actually explaining why, over a year after Gove, left office, we don't actually see much evidence of this.

I think that an anti-Gove line that accepted Gove was well-intentioned, but questioned whether he achieved anything worthwhile, might have been more persuasive that trying to paint a picture of Gove as ideologically beyond the pale. You don't have to be a Tory to be grateful that Gove challenged some of the dogmas common in education and opened up a debate which had been largely suppressed in the previous decade.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/11/2015 - 13:08

“…if CfBT, Serco or anyone else wants to set up a new school, that we will allow you,”

Michael Gove, 17 March 2010.

Gove was speaking at the launch of a Policy Exchange document 'Blocking the Best' which recommended English schools being run for profit. It said the politics wouldn't be easy but the law already allowed it. All that was needed was for schools to be made 'independent' and they could outsource their running to a for-profit company.

Academies are, of course, technically 'independent'. Many multi-academy trusts (MATs) have trading arms which sell services to their academies. Others, as the Guardian revealed, send millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to companies linked to academy trustees. Margaret Hodge, ex-chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said such related party transactions were wrong.

There is the evidence for the 'neo-liberalism and privatisation' hidden under the umbrella of not-for-profit 'charities'.

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 24/11/2015 - 21:55

So basically nothing that would convince anyone who wasn't already a conspiracy theorist?

David Barry's picture
Tue, 24/11/2015 - 23:10

It would be odd to suggest that Michael Gove was part of a conspiracy. He has always been very clear about what he wanted to do. He started from the standpoint that the education system was not sufficiently effective, and sought to bring about substantial and widespread improvement in educational standards.

He had a coherent and worked out position as to how to do this by introducing market principles. Parents would choose which provider to use. Those which were effective would attract parents and prosper. Those which were ineffective would not attract enough "customers" and like any business that failed to deliver what customers wanted, would fail. (And good riddance). As part of the required diversity of provision private, for profit companies would be encouraged to get involved, and if need be have state assets donated to them as an inducement.

He was quite transparent about this. None of this secret.

Unfortunately applying unfettered market principles to education is a mistake. Not because (in my view) markets are wrong in principle, but because for a number of reasons it is not possible to get a market to work in education.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 08:05

As long as you ignore what he actually *did*, then it does come across as a conspiracy narrative.

It's been a year and a half since he left office, after being there for 4 years. That we are still discussing what he *planned* to do, not what he did, just shows how far detached from reality this debate has become.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 09:37

What he did do:

1 Pushed the Academies Bill through Parliament with the speed usually reserved for terrorist legislation. Had some schools already lined up to become academies in Sept 2010 (quite how they managed parental consultation is unclear).

2 Said multi-academy trusts could grow as quickly as possible. This was reckless and has resulted in some rapidly expanding chains such as AET, TKAT being censured.

3 Oversaw a regime where academy trustees could bung contracts to companies connected with trustees; where fraud and nepotism could take place; where academies could set up complex structures which, as the Chief Auditor said, increase the perception of wrongdoing.

Don't have to be a 'conspiracy theorist' to see a pattern here. And if anyone can't, they only have to listed to Gove's own words at the 'Blocking the Best' launch “…if CfBT, Serco or anyone else wants to set up a new school, that we will allow you...”

Pretty obvious, I would have thought.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 09:58

Actually, you do have to be a conspiracy theorist to start looking for patterns rather than actually stick to what actually happened. Or to decide that what he said before he was elected is more important than what he did. Why criticise him for the sort of things he might have been planning to do according to his critics, rather than what he did?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 09:45

My comment above (25/11/15 9.37am) listed just a few things Gove did. There were more - too many to fit into one comment. This is the first of a series about why Gove was not a great education secretary.

He was not a great education secretary because he was divisive. There were 'outstanding' teachers who agreed with him and bad ones (the majority) who didn't. Those who opposed him were dismissed as 'enemies of promise', the Blob, ideologues 'happy with failure' peddling a 'igoted backward bankrupt Ideology', Trots. Those who agreed with him were sometimes rewarded for the support with gongs.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 09:53

Gove was not a great education secretary because he did not carry school leaders with him. John Cridland, CBI head, was one who warned about Gove's 'music' not hitting the dance floor.

He was not a great education secretary because he made little attempt to engage teacher unions and, as the OECD found, collaboration with teacher unions is essential to move education systems forward:

'To conduct reforms in education, building consensus on reform objectives and actively engaging stakeholders – especially teacher unions – can lead to success.'

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:05

Janet, that's two points in a row which consist of "Gove was bad because people disagreed with him". Do you not see how weak an argument that is? Is it better to form a consensus around the wrong policies, or fight for the right ones? Particularly when the example of Bevan challenging doctors and their unions has already been raised in the discussion.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:00

Gove was not a great education secretary because he had his favourites. His favourite schools were academies and free schools (or charters in USA) - non-academies were described as 'council run' and as being under the heavy, bureaucratic hand of local authorities.

He had his favourite heads and schools - the 'Magnificent Seven', 'Crusaders for Social Justice'. But subsequent events raise doubt about Gove's judgement of character.

He praised the best generation of young teachers ever thereby implying that teachers who were not 'young' (the majority) were not as good as these inexperienced, bright young things. In any case, he was only talking about Teach First not teachers trained in unis. (Anyone know, by the way, when the Durham uni evaluation of Teach First will be published?)

David Barry's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:04

Actually Andrew, he did achieve a significant part of the program that he set for himself, and has left mechanisms behind to continue it ("All schools to be academies by 2020").

The experiment with using the market to drive school improvement is well under way.

What will prevent Gove from acquiring in time the title "Great " will be the disastrous failure of this experiment.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:06

"He praised the best generation of young teachers ever thereby implying that teachers who were not ‘young’ (the majority) were not as good as these inexperienced, bright young things."

I love it when Gove praising teachers is used as evidence he was insulting teachers. Of course it doesn't imply any such thing.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:17

Gove was not a great education secretary because he moved too much, too quickly (I expect that description will be awarded the Bad Grammar Award). He didn't follow the example of Finland which had changed its education system slowly and cautiously after building consensus. The change was not the result of high-profile activity by just one person.

Gove was not a fan of consensus - he said he told objectors 'ever so politely' to get out of the way.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:31

Do you make the same criticism of Bevan?

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:21

"Actually Andrew, he did achieve a significant part of the program that he set for himself, and has left mechanisms behind to continue it (“All schools to be academies by 2020″). The experiment with using the market to drive school improvement is well under way."

Do you not see describing 5 and a half years of policy as "an experiment" for some other policy that wasn't actually carried out yet, as a problem? At what time scale do we move from judging policy by the merits of whatever policy we think it might lead to, to judging the policy on its own merits? 10 years later? 20 years later? 50 years later? Maybe 100. Or can a conspiracy theory *never* be falsified?

Hayek claimed that the welfare state created in the UK in the 40s was the start of totalitarianism. Can we say now that he was wrong, or is it still too early to tell?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:32

Gove was not a great education secretary because he said his policies were 'evidence-based' but he ignored evidence which didn't support his preconceptions.

He ignored the warning by the OECD not to use the PISA data for the UK for 2000 because it was later found to be flawed. But he went ahead anyway.

He invited experts on to the National Curriculum review panel and then dismissed the evidence they found. Two of them resigned. One, Professor Andrew Pollard, told the Politics in Education summit that Gove was not receptive to evidence.

Professor Coe, Durham university, said the DfE misunderstood and misused 'evidence' He made a distinction between evidence-based and evidence-garnished.

He distorted evidence. For example, the OECD did say that more autonomous school systems tended to perform better. Gove used this to support academization and free schools saying they promised more autonomy and freedom. But he neglected to say that the UK was one of only four countries which the OECD found had the greatest autonomy re resources, control of budget. The Academies Commission found non-academies can do most things academies can do. And we're now hearing evidence that academies in chains are under more control than they ever were when they were LA schools.

And he cited dodgy surveys when he claimed teenagers were ignorant of history and that's why the national curriculum for history needed rewriting.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:38

Gove was not a great education secretary because he bungled the chance to bring England's exam system in line with what is happening (or has happened) in most of the developed world - that is, graduation at 18. The CBI is but one influential voice calling for this but it has been ignored.

Instead Gove introduced hasty reforms with no trialling or evaluation. The reforms covered 16+ exams which should be phased out not strengthened. The OECD warned in 2011 there was too much emphasis on exam results in England - it's now got worse.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:51

This is getting to be more about you than him. Could you just settle for saying "Gove was not great because he did not agree with me, or with people who agree with me"?

Have you considered trying to win the argument for abolition of exams at 16, rather than simply declaring that not agreeing with you is a bad thing? I think it's a very hard case to make, given that so many life-changing decisions are currently made at the transition from KS4 to KS5.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:45

Misrepresentation - Gove was not bad because people disagreed with him. He was a bad education secretary because he denigrated those who disagreed with him by using catch-all, emotive descriptions such as 'enemies of promise' etc. No measured response - just insults.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:58

So he was a bad education secretary because he sometimes used the wrong tone?

These criticisms are getting weaker and weaker. And this sort of thing really does bring us back to Bevan. Was Bevan a great health secretary, given his tone?

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 10:55

We're still in the territory of saying "he disagreed" rather than "he failed". Very unpersuasive if you think that disagreeing with people is often a very good thing in a leader.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 11:25

Actually Bevan had to make compromises eg allowing top consultants to do private practice. And he acknowledged the 'unease' of doctors to becoming what they thought would be salaried public servants. He said (7 April 1948):

" I look forward now to a future of active and friendly cooperation with the profession in putting into operation next July a great social measure, which can be made a turning point in the social history of this country and an example to the world.'

Two years' previously, the BMA had issued a document saying:

"For a quarter of a century the medical profession has stressed the need for a complete health service. The profession is willing and anxious to co-operate with the Government in evolving this service, for it believes that the knowledge and experience of the profession are indispensable contributions to its success.'

What the BMA objected to was the idea of becoming salaried civil servants - they thought this would undermine their ability to act independently. As I said above, Bevan acknowledged their unease and made compromises because he know he had to keep the doctors on side if the NHS were to be a success.

As far as I'm aware, Gove made no such acknowledgement of teachers' and unions' unease about his proposals. Instead, as I've said before, he denigrated them with insults. I'm unsure if Bevan used this tactic - perhaps you could link to evidence that Bevan insulted doctors dismissing them as 'enemies of health' or some such epithet.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 11:29

Argument for graduation at 18 made here, here, here and in my Schools Week article here.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 12:32

No, I don't mean quotations from people agreeing with you and outrage at those who disagree with you. I mean actual arguments. Solid ones that deal with the objections to the plan and indicate clear benefits. Ones that might persuade a minister, rather than be used to excoriate them.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:12

Have you actually read the four arguments I put forward about graduation at 18? They are not quotations from people who agreed with me but my own views as is made clear in each of the articles. This suggests you haven't looked at them but just knocked off a quick response.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 12:25

You can find countless examples of Gove saying positive things about teachers. In fact I think you'd struggle to find a speech when he didn't. So let's compare a myth about Gove criticising teachers (particularly when the quotations shown to prove this usually refer explicitly to those who have criticised him, not to teachers in general) with a myth about Bevan getting on with doctors.

This was posted during the Michaela debate showing how things were seen at the time between Bevan and the doctors: https://twitter.com/RichardA/status/668091784665374721

Also quoted in the debate was Bevan's claim that the doctors union, the B.M.A., was a "small body of politically poisoned people have decided to fight the Health Act itself and to stir up as much emotion as they can in the profession".

Other quotations which could have been included:

"We are not now dealing with a body which is seeking to bring about the modification of principles in what they consider to be the legitimate interest of the members of the medical profession. We are dealing with a body organising wholesale resistance to the implementation of an Act of Parliament."

Or how about?

"The fact is that, if the medical profession could be given what they are demanding, then in six months’ time they would be cursing the people who asked for it. In fact, in this matter lay people like ourselves have acted with a far greater sense of responsibility in protecting the doctor than their own professional representatives. Those are the main facts on which the doctors are at present making their complaint."

Seriously, you cannot claim for a second that Bevan was any politer or less willing to challenge professionals than Gove was.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 12:34

Sorry, that should be "let’s *not* compare a myth about Gove..."

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:00

Andrew - always a good idea to look at whole speech. It's here. You'll see that Bevan makes a distinction between a majority of doctors and a vocal minority. He quotes a letter written in the Scotsman likening Bevan to a 'would be Fuehrer'.

It has to be said that Gove has acted according to Goebbel's principle, 'If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.' But calling a minister a 'would-be Fuehrer' so soon after WW2 puts my comparison into the shade.

I particularly liked this section of the speech:

'I might call attention to the sort of propaganda which seems to be recurrent in British politics where issues of principle are vulgarly personalised. It is becoming almost impossible for the citizens of Great Britain to see the differences of political principle through the smoke of personal misrepresentation. '

Bevan's words are equally resonant today.

That said, I'm at a loss as to why Bevan was cited in the debate. Was it to claim Bevan took on a union in the way Gove took on the unions? But Bevan says in the speech he met the BMA negotiating committee 28 times and 'these negotiations have been a long series of concessions from us, and none from the medical profession—not a single one.' Don't remember Gove meeting union negotiators 28 times to discuss just one issue and making 'a long series of concessions'.

However, we're in danger of digressing. I'm more concerned with what Gove has done and said.

Guest's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 12:29

Was Gove a great SoS for Education is vacuous and senseless question that is fitting of the personalised celebrity culture rather than an informed debate on education.

In terms of his political party's agenda he was almost certainly successful but this must be qualified by the former being driven by ideology as opposed to making constructive contribution to education across England.

Moving education the evidence is there for all to see:

1. A divided curriculum between what is now the misnomer called the national curriculum v a broad and balanced curriculum offer in all hues of academies

2. Laying the foundations of a maligned, demonised and demoralised teaching workforce and subsequent recruitment crises that is upon the profession

3. A substantial increase in financial mismanagement within primary and secondary schools through an under staffed under resourced EFA

4. A drive on removing LAs from education other than projecting demographic data. This, as already highlighted, continues under Morgan and Cameron insisting on every failing school to be academised, and supporting this by redefining inadequate to include requires improvement.
5. Completely ignoring all the evidence from high performing nations and single-mindedly driving change in the opposite direction. In this way he was the anthesis of evidenced based.

Was Gove an effective SoS for Education in improving the attainment and experience of learners? On balance probably not. Were Labour any more effective, again probably not. What the past 30+ years have evidenced is that education has been battered, bruised and traumatised by wanton party political ideologues and greasy pole careerist politicians. Our children, young people and nation deserve much better. And certainly far more than a cult of political personality.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:19

Guest - I think the article was framed in the form of this question because that was what was being debated (perhaps Francis or someone present could clarify).

Leaving Gove aside for one moment (I think I've said enough about him for one day), you're right that education during the last 30 years in England has been subject to political whims. Whether it's the gradual centralisation brought about by both Tories and Labour, Labour's deception about academies from their very beginning, the increased emphasis on exams and league tables, the macho posturing of politicians including Steven Twigg (see Ted Wragg's brilliant critique of Sven Turge) and, of course, Gove, all trying to outdo each other with 'rigour' and 'robustness'.

You're right - our children, young people and our nation deserve much better.

Guest's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 15:14

Janet - I am sure you are right and for the purpose of clarity my criticism was not aimed at Francis. Rather whoever chose it as the topic for the debate.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:13

"Andrew – always a good idea to look at whole speech."

I did. It's even more Govian as a whole. I also just shared the whole text on Twitter.

"You’ll see that Bevan makes a distinction between a majority of doctors and a vocal minority.He quotes a letter written in the Scotsman likening Bevan to a ‘would be Fuehrer’."

Yes. Like I say, exactly the sort of argument Gove used to make.

"That said, I’m at a loss as to why Bevan was cited in the debate."

Because of the claim that political reform is achieved through consensus or having a tone which nobody objects to.

"Don’t remember Gove meeting union negotiators 28 times to discuss just one issue and making ‘a long series of concessions’."

I do remember Gove complaining that the unions would not negotiate in good faith.

"However, we’re in danger of digressing. I’m more concerned with what Gove has done and said."

The digression happened because of attempts to move the discussion on to who disagreed with Gove, and how he spoke about them, rather than anything he did. I was just making the point that being a "unifying figure" or refusing to criticise those who oppose you, is not really what makes one great (or not).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:23

So Gove speaking about his opponents in a disparaging way isn't actually him 'doing' anything. Was it done by telepathy, then? Or was he not actually moving his lips?

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:21

"Have you actually read the four arguments I put forward about graduation at 18? They are not quotations from people who agreed with me but my own views as is made clear in each of the articles. This suggests you haven’t looked at them but just knocked off a quick response."

First one, no arguments, just a complaint that heads disagree.

Second one, no arguments, just a claim Jon Coles agrees.

Third one, starts with a claim that other countries agree with you.

I kind of lost interest at this point.

But we've been here before, haven't we? People agreeing with you is, in your book, evidence that you are right. People disagreeing with you, is reason to condemn them for using the wrong sort of evidence. At no point do we ever get to clarify what you consider valid evidence or a valid argument other than whether you like the conclusion or not. At no point do you move onto something that might convince a person who was rational, but sceptical about your viewpoint.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:25

Doesn't actually help debate to assume that those who disagree with you are a) acting on a whim b) "political" in a way you aren't, or c) "macho" in a way you aren't.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 16:21

Definition of political from Mirriam Webster: 'of, relating to, or concerned with the making as distinguished from the administration of governmental policy'.

As successive governments have introduced various policies to do with education in the last 30 years which have increased central control of education then it makes sense to call the initiatives 'political'.

OK, 'whims' was a careless term to use. In reality, the policies were detailed and deliberate, the opposite of a whim.

And increasing pressure by out-doing the 'toughness' of your predecessors or opponents isn't 'macho posturing'? Especially if the ones doing it might be aiming for the leadership (and before you say it, I know that's an opinion).

No-one's ever accused me of being 'macho' before. It's an image I will savour.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:26

Andrew - sorry you lost interest. I thought I made the argument for graduation at 18 very clear. Sorry you couldn't see it.

And I wondered when the ad-hominem argument would appear. You're right - we've been here before. Wonder why it took so long.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 13:27

If the best argument you have against somebody after 4 years in office is "I didn't like what they said" it's pretty thin stuff.

Particularly if the main reason you disapprove is because they said it while disagreeing with you.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 17:25

Yes, I did not like it when Gove misled the country by using the PISA 2000 data which the OECD had warned should not be used for comparison.

I did not like it when he used this false and oft-repeated comparison to underpin his reforms and justify their alleged urgency.

I did not like it when he used bits of reports by the OECD (which he professed to admire, particularly Andreas Schleicher) while ignoring the bits which undermined what he was saying.

I did not like it when he promoted false back stories for a couple of his favourities (but, to be fair, he could have been misled by them in turn).

I did not like it when he decided Downhills was failing after monitoring said it was improving. This led to a rapid about-turn by the same lead inspector who did a full inspection and decided it was, after, all failing. This wrecked the career of the head - I did not like that.

I did not like it when he said autonomy could only be found in academies especially when the Academies Commission said non-academies could do most things academies can do.

I did not like it when he promoted the fiction that LAs 'control' schools (that myth is tackled in our newly-published book, 'The Truth About Our Schools' - see Melissa Benn's article http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/11/lsn-publishes-the-truth-ab...)

I did not like it when he praised the results of academies which had made copious use of equivalent exams to boost their exam results (but I did like it when he reduced the equivalent values).

I did not like when Radio 4 found the DfE had targeted particular B'Ham primary schools for conversion but would not give the heads the reasons why.

Pretty thin stuff, eh? And is there any possible reason why these actions should be liked?

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 17:33

Yes. That is thin stuff. Pedantic, and for the most part, irrelevant.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 18:14

Love it! Discovering a politician has misled the country is 'pedantic' and 'irrelevant'? It might be to those wishing inconvenient facts hadn't been made public.

So, we've had 'thin', 'weak', 'conspiracy theorist', 'unpersuasive', uninteresting, adopting a macho posture, unconvincing to those who are rational. Now we've been presented with 'pedantic' and 'irrelevant'.

What considered response will follow, I wonder?

Guest's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 18:09

In terms of effectiveness in improving school outcomes, it seems clear to me that the public domain is full of hard independent evidence that 2010 saw:

1. The roll out of luring existing Ofsted outstanding schools to convert to academy status and out of LA control. The lure being direct funding which avoided the top slicing by LAs to help fund their education service provision.
2. The launch of the Free School project, the original intention of which was to give communities not served by an Ofsted Good school the opportunity to set up a school (academy variation) that was intended to (a) challenge and compete with the existing LA provision (b) provide Ofsted Good provision.

The roll out at (1) was rapidly watered down to any LA school graded Ofsted Good. Then came to move to forcible transfer significant taxpayer assets (schools) to private sponsors all schools - including converters - that were graded Ofsted Inadequate. Bit of a shock of to converters that found that as the Ofsted inspection regime changed and they didn't maintain at least Ofsted Good, they were subsequently forced into sponsored chains.

This was followed by a double whammy in relatively short trot:

3. A reduction in the financial lure.
4. For LAs and localities already served by Ofsted Good schools came the widening of Free School applications to any groups wanting to set up such a school. This was irrespective of existing 'good' provision.

Now while these may well be lauded as effectively political tools to achieve ones ends they are, to say the least, highly questionable and markedly inefficient uses of taxpayer funds during a time of austerity and cuts.

Academies and Free Schools have not proven to be a panacea for improvement and time has clearly shown - has Henry Stuart has proven several times on LSN - that pupils in any academy graded R/I or lower are less likely to receive a good education and see their institution achieve and sustain Ofsted Good than LA schools.

Yes, there are examples of good and better academies/FS but so too are there in the LA sector. Has there been increased funding for LA schools, no, but new academies and free schools have benefited from significant financial benefits. Indeed, LA schools with deficit budgets that convert to academy status have their deficit written off by the DFE and underwritten by the LA involved. The latter impacts negatively across all LA functions.

Are these actions of an effective SoS for Education? The answer to this is resounding, no. Could the financial streams channelled into the academy/FS project have been put to alternative and more effective use, yes.

How should an effective cabinet post holder address international evidence that runs counter to their position, ignore it or address it? What Mr Gove did is a matter of public record and his version of addressing the contrary evidence was to ignore and gloss over it.

And politicians wonder why the general public are so thoroughly disaffected and apathetic regarding voting.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 18:19

Thanks, Guest. Your response is a lucid and succinct timeline. You missed one action when discussing (1) roll out, however. Conversion was also offered to schools judged Satisfactory providing they linked with a school judged Good or better. This trawled a few more into the net.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 18:20

"Love it! Discovering a politician has misled the country is ‘pedantic’ and ‘irrelevant’? It might be to those wishing inconvenient facts hadn’t been made public."

It's no more or less misleading than stuff you post all the time.

"So, we’ve had ‘thin’, ‘weak’, ‘conspiracy theorist’, ‘unpersuasive’, uninteresting, adopting a macho posture, unconvincing to those who are rational. Now we’ve been presented with ‘pedantic’ and ‘irrelevant’. What considered response will follow, I wonder?"

How about 'surreal'?

I find it surreal to have a discussion about the greatness of a politician in a particular office that they held for 4 years, where hardly anyone wants to discuss whether what they *did* was good or bad, only what they said, what they believed and what they might have been trying to do.


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