Are the wheels coming off Michael Gove?Posted: March 17, 2013
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.