A copy of a response to a thoughtful New Statesman article. The article claims that Gove’s reputation is built on a myth because (1) his claim to be reintroducing rigour will turn out to be bogus; (2) he is centralising power in Whitehall and not, as he claims, in the hands of parents; (3) that the benefits of academies will not spread beyond a few model schools; and (4) that the claim to put an end of Labour’s white elephants (ICT and BSF) fails to recognise the continuing need, at least to update the school estate.
The jury is still out on point (1). With respect to (2) it is faulty logic to argue that because Whitehall is becoming more powerful at the expense of local authorities, therefore parents may not also become more powerful. But although I am a supporter of what Gove is doing, I tend to agree with the New Statesman on points (3) and (4). Below is a copy of my comment submitted on their website.
I think Gove is doing a good job in leading an apparently fearless attack on the heap of mad-verging-on-corrupt practice which has built up in our schools under the bureaucratic control of local authorities.
That said, I think this is a serious and thoughtful article. The (maybe justified) excitement on the right about Gove’s up-staging of Cameron is not necessarily very helpful when it comes to sorting out the long-term problems in education.
The fundamental problem is that there have never been enough teachers with sufficient commitment and qualifications to staff a system of universal education. Setting up a few beacon model schools is always the easy bit – it is the long tail that will always be the problem.
But I do not think the article’s assumption that this is all about pay washes either. Teachers’ pay improved significantly under Labour – but there is not much evidence that performance rose proportionately (as there wasn’t either in the health service). I think you would need really dramatic pay increases if you wanted to attract a significantly larger pool of really talented people – and those types of increase were never affordable (and certainly are not now).
I think the reason for teachers to be angry is not so about pay but about the difficulty of the job, particularly against a backdrop of a challenging youth culture (involving a lack of deference, high expectations, poor discipline, low skills/commitment). In the face of this challenge, we still have a model of teaching as a craft-based enterprise, in which young teachers are shut in a room with 30 children and told to get on with it.
What is required is the systematization of education, so that teachers are not required at the age of 23 to become a combination of guru, stand-up comedian and sergeant major – but are offered a job involving the application of well-tested procedures that can be shown to work and which ordinary people can do.
Computer software (both instructional and for classroom management) has a key role to play in this respect. Gove is right to regard the Becta-led ICT programmes of the last government as a colossal waste of money – but that is not a reason to turn your back on education technology altogether. In his speech at BETT in January, Gove called for “a serious, intelligent conversation about how technology can transform education”. But the conversation has not happened. The existing power structures have nothing interesting to say and Gove himself has done nothing to lead the conversation himself.