The many faces of Michael Gove

One of the few positives about having Michael Gove to speak is that you never quite know which Michael Gove you’re going to get. This week at the National College we got Gove the anarchist. Away with central direction, let a hundred flowers bloom, teachers know best.  

The speech has been compared to an old fashioned school prize giving – if you didn’t get a mention, you really are no one in the educational world. Much of it commits the old logical error of trying to prove a case by example.

Actually for every story of academy success, you can name an equal number of failures. After all this was in the same week that the head of EAct (who was of course a teacher) has been removed for financial mismanagement. And of course the maintained sector can match all the achievements of academies and free schools. But people who’ve chosen to remain in the maintained sector have been comprehensively air brushed out with a determination that matches Stalin’s writing Trotsky out of hisory .

He also gave positive references to a number of initiatives that we know he actually has no time for – in the case of the Heads’ Roundtable at least he was honest enough to recognise that. But overall the picture was of a Secretary of State delighting in variety and in initiatives coming from every direction. You would think that his aim really is to work himself out of a job by leaving it all to teachers.

So with a straight face he tells us that “I think this national curriculum may well be the last national curriculum” and that “teachers are taking increasing control of what and how children learn.”

Can this really be the same man as the one who:

  • Employs special advisers who specialise in abusing journalists who disagree with their master;
  • Has created a draft national curriculum that has been almost universally condemned by professional opinion including by the experts he originally appointed to produce it;
  • Is using the national curriculum to impose his particular beliefs ranging from the exclusive use of phonics to the right way to do long division
  •  Is imposing a testing framework from year 1 to year 12 which will drive schools into an ever narrower focus on teaching to the test and will deny pupils the opportunity to really demonstrate what they can do;
  • Constantly misuses data to make assertions about academies and free schools that have no basis in evidence;
  • Has wasted £1 billion of public money by mismanaging the academies programme;
  •  Employs a hit squad to bully schools into academy conversion (on contracts that enable them to avoid huge amounts of tax);
  • Promotes academy chains where there is much less autonomy for schools than in the local authority sector.

It may be that Gove’s willingness to present different faces to different audiences is part of the reason for his success. The ideologically driven bully appears only occasionally but there is no doubt that that is the reality. If teachers really did take control of the education system and if evidence really was the driver of policy, it would look very different.

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