Gove’s Major-Generals

In 1655 Oliver Cromwell divided the country into 10 regions and appointed a Major General to run each of them. He had finally got tired of the traditional rulers of the countryside, finding them unwilling to impose the ideology of the puritan revolution. Michael Gove, equally disenchanted with local government, is doing much the same thing … in his case 8 people with the grand title of Chancellor will rule the regions on his behalf.

This new regime will have the task of supervising the 3400 free schools and academies now that Gove has finally recognised that this can’t be done from Whitehall. So we will have 8 regions and 8 Chancellors appointed by Gove supported by a group of heads elected by other heads in each region.

It’s hard to know where to start in commenting on this proposal. To begin with sheer practicality. Each will have over 400 schools, a number that will presumably be expected to grow over time. So it’s hard to see how they will be any more effective than the DfE is now. They won’t in any real sense be local. They won’t have any local intelligence derived from regular contact with schools, parents and other stakeholders like employers and colleges. So they will be reduced to carrying out a desk job on the data and shouting at schools from a distance – do better or else. Hardly a sophisticated approach to school improvement.

Secondly, it seems their only job is to sort out failing schools. Nothing is being done about all the other aspects of the school system that need local planning and co-ordination. No role, for example in planning how to meet the crisis in school places. No role in making sure there is an infra-structure to support school improvement in every area – something the Select Committee just identified as being sadly lacking. No role in making sure that successful schools are meeting their obligations to support other schools – something that is not happening now.

Then most fundamentally of course, this represents another stage in Gove’s seizure of power over the whole school system. Any notion of a balance of responsibilities has completely vanished. So has any real decentralisation of power to local communities. They will answer to Gove’s Major General s and local people must take what they’re given. The ultimate irony seems to be that the name “Chancellor” apparently comes from US usage – where the Chancellor is the appointee of local government and is the head of the local school system! Quite the opposite of what is being proposed here.

The DfE comment on the Guardian article says that “we’ve been working on this for about a year”. One response to this would be to say that most of us could have scribbled it on the back of a fag packet in ten minutes. The other is to ask why the DfE thinks it right to work away on this in total secrecy and to make no attempt whatever to consult anyone at all – except perhaps for a few trusties who can be relied upon to give the right answer. You would have thought they might have learned from other fiascos that things don’t always go well when you try and do them without asking anyone what they think. It makes Tristram Hunt’s characterisation of Gove particularly apposite ….

“He’s a very ideological figure. The problem with ideologists is that ther’s no doubt. And most educators know that doubt is important. We’ve had a zealot’s approach to school reform, revolutionary structural reform. And we’re seeing it reaching the end of its natural or unnatural life”


3 Comments on “Gove’s Major-Generals”

  1. Well said, John. Utterly incredible. No doubt Cromwell would have said to him, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken”.