Gove at FASNAPosted: July 22, 2012
Earlier in the month, Michael Gove made one of the most extraordinary speeches made by any Secretary of State in recent years. The media focussed mainly on his assault on school governors and on the teacher unions. These were indeed extraordinary but were only small parts of his onslaught against nearly every aspect of the education service. The speech displayed a quite extraordinary arrogance – he really seems to believe that no one before him made any kind of positive contribution.
The speech though is based on a consistent ignoring of established evidence and on generalising from a minute number of cherry-picked and untypical examples. Its intellectual dishonesty is quite staggering. To do justice to the whole thing would take a small book, but here are some of the most egregious examples:
– As usual, he asserts that there is evidence that autonomy leads to improved performance. Actually, as the work of a range of people including Henry Stewart and even the House of Commons Library has shown, there is none. In the speech Gove praises outstanding schools and their leaders without for a moment recognising that they achieved outstanding outcomes under the existing regime – or indeed that English schools already have much greater autonomy that schools in many other countries.
– He asserts that schools are seeking academy status because of the freedoms offered – whereas surveys have told us clearly that money is the overwhelming reason. He also asserts that the OECD supports autonomy unreservedly. Whereas in fact the OECD says that autonomy is one factor alongside accountability and a focus on equality. And of course not many primary teachers think they are being offered much in the way of autonomy in Gove’s curriculum.
– He singles out a few leaders of planned free schools as outstanding leaders without mentioning that –
- Three of the four have spoken at Tory party conferences
- One is on the record in saying that she chose Academy status purely for the money
- One has no record as a senior manager but got himself appointed as head of the free school he promoted
- One more than doubled his salary out of the profits of other activities on his school site.
– He complains that unions “oppose the extra work in getting all children to read fluently by 6”. Presumably he means the phonics tests which people oppose not because of workload but because it makes no useful contribution pupils’ learning. And of course he ignores the evidence from all the countries who don’t even start formal schooling till 6 or even 7.
– His accusation that NATE regards the teaching of grammar as oppressive was comprehensively demolished by NATE chair Simon Gibbons – the detailed response is at http://www.nate.org.uk/index.php?page=1&news=232.
– Gove objects also to unions that concern themselves with members’ pay, pensions and working conditions. You wonder what he thinks unions are actually for – does he think that the BMA is too high minded to concern itself with pay, pensions and conditions!
– The speech includes a comprehensive assault on the Every Child Matters agenda – this too is totally misrepresented. Gove tells us teachers should not be “social workers, careers advisers, child psychiatrists, foster parents, casual labour for exam boards and human rights and equality monitors”. Actually no one ever said they should. What they said is that schools should co-operate with all the other agencies as part of a locally co-ordinated network of services. Is he really saying that schools should operate in isolation from other children’s services – if he is, the next Victoria Climbie is that much nearer.
– Finally – and we have by no means done justice to all the nonsense in this speech – reflect on one of the subheadings – “Free schools – freeing teachers to lead and freeing children from ignorance”. Is that really what he thinks every other school in the country is like? Who does he imagine is stopping teachers from teaching? Does he really think every other school is leaving children in ignorance? This from the man who is funding schools run by creationists, by followers of the Maharishi Yogi (just imagine someone in 1967 suggesting the Beatles should come back from India and take over schools!!) and the Steiner movement (who of course are demanding an opt out from the formal demands of Gove’s formal early years requirements).
Anyone who wants to understand how great the dangers facing our education service are should read this speech at http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00211347/fasnaspeech. They show a man who is utterly convinced of his own rightness, has no respect for evidence and is completely unwilling to listen to any alternative point of view.