Are the wheels coming off Michael Gove?

One of the tests you can use to see how a politician’s reputation is going is to see how they figure in comedy shows. When comedians think just mentioning someone will get a laugh, you know that person is in some trouble. My recent observation suggests that may be happening to Michael Gove. There’s evidence I think that he’s turning into something of a caricature and that just the mention of his name is enough to get an audience laughing.

There certainly is some serious evidence that the teflon coating is coming off. Quite a few things are going wrong. You can list:

–          The row over the behaviour of his SPADs – by all accounts his performance at the select committee was to say the least uncomfortable. It’s getting increasingly clear that the DfE is not a happy ship. And sacking Tim Loughton seems to have created an enemy who is not prepared to go quietly.

–          There seems to be an increasing possibility that the ring fence of school budgets is going to end. The “National Union of Ministers” (Cable, May, Hammond etc.) has noted the level of waste in the academies and free school programme and seem to be pressing for the DfE to make a contribution to the next round of cuts. The Sunday Times has suggested that this will put the brakes on the free school programme.

–          The speak first, think afterwards approach to exams continues to come unstuck. ASCL, NAHT, AoC and HMC have come together to condemn his plans for AS and A level. Ofqual are suggesting that they will not allow GCSE and A level changes to happen on Gove’s timetable. It also is now saying that single tier exams may not be possible at all.

–          DfE has finally been forced to do a u turn on sport. The sports lobby and the Department of Health has won the battle to get funding ring-fenced, something Gove fought tooth and nail against.

–          The shortage of school places is boiling up to be a big issue. Already Gove has been forced to allow a significant role for local authorities in identifying where new schools are needed  and in deciding who will run them. The unplanned market approach is clearly not working.

–          One third of free schools (6 out of 9) inspected so far have been found to need significant improvement. A number of sponsored academies have been identified as being at risk and the DfE has been panicked into imposing a draconian monitoring regime. The first forced changes to sponsor arrangements have happened.

These are all things that are in the public domain and where the public and media narrative is starting to run against the government’s position. There are of course plenty more issues under the surface where professional opinion is overwhelmingly hostile – most notably the National Curriculum review.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that little attention was paid to any expert input and the final version was cooked up by ministers and a few civil servants.  For all the talk about copying high performing jurisdictions, they haven’t yet noticed that countries like Singapore are moving in the opposite direction towards a broader curriculum embracing skills, values and qualities as well as knowledge.

What is now important is to recognise that things may be on the turn. There is much more public and media criticism of Gove. There are rumours of a reshuffle in the summer –for his career’s sake he might do well to lobby for a move before the wheels well and truly come off.


4 Comments on “Are the wheels coming off Michael Gove?”

  1. Well said, John. Need to get your stuff into the right wing press so that their readers begin to realise how dire Government policies on education are. I added to your tweet to make 140 characters!

    Are the wheels coming off #MichaelGove? SPADs row, academies overspend, A-level, GCSE, school places! via @johnebolt

  2. trevor fisher says:


    very fair points, and the crisis particularly in exams is starting to become a real issue. It would however be helpful to know the sources for the statements made, as those of us who spend too much time tracking Gove simply can’t keep up with the flood of noxious rubbish.

    Specifically, can we know (a) where to locate the Select Committee stuff? I asked a colleague who was present for sources but no reply so far (b) National Unoin of Ministers? Who is pressing for this – etc??? (c) SUnday Times. It is behind the pay wall. But with a date I can track down via the local library. (d) I can track the four organisations through their web sites, hopefully, but have they issued a joint statement? COuld we have a link to it? (e) Sport ring fencing. Is this about selling off playing fields or what? There is no way specific items of a school budget can be ring fenced with current government powers. They have not even ring fenced the pupil premium (f) yes the lack of places is a biggie, and we should be able to access the NAO report… it has not as far as I can see made the press, but have I missed something? (g) So has OFSTED inspected free schools? I thought there was a 2 year grace period, so was not expecting any to be inspected till next year if they only opened in 2011. Again, have I missed something? You are right about the draconian regime for sponsored academies and I will try to dig out the TES report on this. Awful.

    National curriculum is as you rightly say a mess. But to date no widespread public protest. Which is something I hope to emerge soon.

    The overall point is correct, the wheels are starting to come off. But how much of this is Gove and his legendary incompetence, or a more fundamental issue of the School Revolution. That remains to be seen. But knowing how bad things are is going to be fundamental, so I hope that we can compile a dossier, with sources, of what is happening. I contemplate an open letter for the 3rd anniversary (May 11th) of the coming of the Gove. But to make this happen, we have to have our facts absolutely rock solid

    trevor fisher.

  3. David Pavett says:

    Are the wheels coming off? The belief that they are looks to me like wishful thinking. I share those wishes but unfortunately they do not determine the way thing happen in reality.

    The comedy show criterion doesn’t work. Just remember what a figure of general lampooning Mrs T was. Every comedian was on her case. Phrases like “Margaret Thatcher – milk snatcher” entered the language. Beyond that she adopted a ridiculous imperial manner of speaking and demonstrated a range of narrow-minded social attitudes and opinions that were patently absurd to anyone prepared to think about them for a few minutes.

    And yet, and yet, did Mrs T not leave her mark so deeply on UK political culture that the Labour Party found itself, in many important respects, moving within the guidelines and criteria that she had established?

    So, I would think twice about assuming the demise of Gove’s educational philosophy as a result of his in the objectionable attitudes and decisions. To a certain section of the population he is beyond the pale (for example to the majority of the listeners to Radio 4 comedy). But I have to say that when I pass negative remarks about him to conservative-minded neighbours they are quite puzzled as to why I am not entirely positive about him.

    It is said that Gove is not all that popular in the upper echelons of the Conservative Party. But even if he is eventually removed is it not likely that his replacement will regard him as the person who did all the heavy lifting so that they can not get on with administering the new situation that he has created?

    This is how I would judge him: which is more likely, as matter stand, that Labour is more likely to shape its policies in terms of the transformations of the educational landscape brought about by Gove, or that it will, in its turn, reshape that landscape according to an entirely different set of (Labour) ideals?

    For the moment all the indicators are that Labour will follow in Gove’s educational footsteps just as Blair, in many key respects, followed in Mrs T’s political footsteps.

    Gove is annoying, dogmatic, narrow-minded and backward-looking. I can agree with all that but if he is working in a context where the political opposition has no alternative vision for education, no alternative philosophy, and no will to fight for fundamental change then whatever his incompetence, whatever the bullying of his sidekicks and whatever the minor setbacks he encounters, it is his mark that will run deepest through our education system for decades to come. If the Labour Party does not rise to the task then it is Gove who will have the last laugh.

  4. To the list above could be added the back of a fag packet drafts of the new NC, especially history and science (no climate change) but see Patrick Ainley and Martin Allen ‘The Great Reversal’ for analysis of Gove-Willetts’ joint project and why they are getting away with it. (£4.99 from radicaled or order via Amazon etc 30,000 words)