Posts Tagged ‘Michael Gove’

Gove is down but he’s already won

17/07/2014, 04:12:46 PM

by David Butler

“Woo! Balrog’s dead” – Phil Smith, upon the downfall of Malcolm Tucker, The Thick Of It

Cheers rang out in classrooms across England. The leaders of the NUT and NASUWT punched the air. The great phantom is finally vanquished. The revolution is over. Except, their celebrations are hollow and wasted. For there will be no return to the status quo ante. Gove’s school structure reforms are not going anywhere

In policy-making terms, institutions matter. Institutions set the rules of the game; they mediate and seek to balance powers through norms and rules. In the case of education, this means moderating the competing demands of parents, teachers, business, the wider community and the state (on behalf of the taxpayer/general citizenry). Through building institutions, politicians can embed the aims and principles they are seeking to achieve and extend.

The institutional analysis can help explore Gove’s expansion of academies and creation of free schools. His reforms represent the culmination of a thirty-year project (of both centre-left and centre-right) to create, mould and embed a new institution, namely the independent state-funded school. Baker’s City Technology Colleges evolved into Adonis’s City Academies, which in turn provided the foundations for Govian Free Schools (and the Twigg-Hunt proposed Parent-Led Academies).

School autonomy, the main feature of the new institution, involves greater freedom over the curriculum (and its delivery), ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, and control over school day and school term lengths. This autonomy is aimed at raising standards and extending parental choice (the principles capture by the institution).

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Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses

16/07/2014, 01:18:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Forget the breathless minutiae of who’s up and who’s down or biographies of the newly promoted, most analyses of the Tory reshuffle have missed the most important point: this was a reshuffle defined by Labour. Labour’s lines of attack and Labour’s vulnerabilities.

Ed Miliband was the silent witness, standing in the corner, at the back of David Cameron’s mind as the prime minister worked out his new ministerial jigsaw.

In each of the three major changes David Cameron announced – the promotion of women, the demotion of Gove and the installation of Phillip Hammond at FCO –  the same motivation is evident:  to reshape the battlefield with Labour. To make the Tories a smaller target, minimise the potential for distracting internal conflict and focus the national debate on the two areas where David Cameron is confident he has the beating of Ed Miliband: leadership and the economy.

It is debateable whether Labour’s repeated attacks on Cameron for sexism have won over many wavering voters, but they certainly had media resonance and diverted the political conversation away from the Conservatives preferred topics.

Ta Dah! David Cameron now has a defensible position on women’s representation. Labour will continue with its attacks, as was evident at PMQs today, but the traction is gone. Broadcast journalists are notably less opinionated than their newspaper comrades, but these tweets by ITV’s Chris Ship are indicative of the mood among the lobby.


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Has Cameron passed the peace pipe to teachers, or raised the white flag?

15/07/2014, 02:15:11 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last night the big news was William Hague’s exit as foreign secretary, but the real significance of this reshuffle is Michael Gove being moved out of education.

Gove is a bell-weather for the Government’s intellectual self-confidence in a way Hague isn’t. It is in schools policy where the Tories have been truly radical (for good or ill, depending on preference).

Free schools and the acceleration of the academies programme were totemic for Cameron in opposition, providing a solid direction of travel in an area of policy where the Tories struggle to convince people they are on their side.

But Gove’s central problem is that he governs like he’s still a newspaper columnist; dividing opinion with something approaching reckless abandon. Little wonder, then, that in term of teachers’ voting intentions, Labour leads the Conservatives by 43 per cent to 12.

This figure is actually not bad for the government given that a YouGov poll found that just 6 per cent of teachers think that academies and free schools are taking education in ‘the right direction’.

David Cameron may be belatedly recognising that the teaching profession is an area where he can quickly mend fences after Michael Gove has – perhaps too gleefully – spent four years kicking them down. With his education reforms embedded in the system, the scope is there to now pass the peace pipe to the profession and narrow the gap with Labour.

One thing will be certain, his new chief whip will be watching to make sure his boss doesn’t instead wave the white flag on his cherished reforms.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Tory splits offer Labour an opportunity

16/06/2014, 12:57:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The Tories now have a great deal of confidence after Newark, wrote the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman on 6 June. The rebelliousness of their backbenches, especially the 2010 intake, has been one of the features of this parliament. Newark marked the first time in a quarter of a century that they retained a seat in a by-election in government, which followed the local and European elections that indicated they are well placed for 2015 if they can recover those who defected from them to UKIP. The smell of success and bigger success to come, sharpened backbench Tory focus.

As soon as discipline returned to the Tory backbenches, however, it spectacularly deserted their frontbench. The mutually assured damage of public airing of policy differences between Michael Gove and Theresa May makes events inexplicable, not least as they cast a shaft of light on a political terrain that must undermine the Tory general election cause: the world beyond David Cameron. No party wants to face election with a diminished leader and Cameron is now likely to face the question that dogged Tony Blair throughout the 2005 general election: “If elected, will you serve a full term?”

A decade ago, the “buy Blair, get Brown” deal was deemed acceptable – without great enthusiasm but sufficiently palatable to return Labour to a third term in government. While George Osborne harbours hopes of becoming party leader and prime minister in the next parliament, it’s doubtful that he wishes to fight the general election on a similarly joint ticket. The antics of one of his supposed backers, Michael Gove, makes this more likely, however.

Gove has a habit of getting into unnecessary arguments. He first entered my consciousness as a panellist at a debate on the Iraq war in 2003 in Shoreditch Town Hall, organised by the Foreign Policy Centre. My only memory is of him berating an audience member for what he saw as a faulty interpretation of the Glorious Revolution. I also recall Allegra Stratton – now Newsnight’s political editor, then one of the organisers of debate – skipping about the place. I don’t know whether this reveals anything substantive about her character but the cantankerous first impression that Gove left me with does appear telling.

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Letter from Wales: “Wales will cease to exist!”

03/01/2014, 09:00:40 AM

by Julian Ruck

This is the view of one of the Welsh government’s own education adviser’s, Professor David Reynolds, following last month’s PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment, published by the OECD on 3.12.13). In the past he has also commented that “Wales is in the last chance saloon” and will be “economically dead”, if it doesn’t start taking seriously the abysmal state of education standards in Wales.

The PISA report referred to confirms unequivocally every word I have been saying both here and elsewhere, about the crisis of opportunity that is facing Welsh children in a modern, global world. Wales really is the supreme dunce of dunces in the UK when it comes to the Three R’s, let alone anything remotely resembling academic excellence. One might not agree with Michael Gove and his free for all policies but his comment in respect of Wales and its primitive state of academic learning, “You only have to look across the Severn bridge to see a country going backwards,” undoubtedly has enough decibels to drown out a punk rock band blasting away at Glastonbury!

Every year Welsh education gets worse and what does Carwyn and his Team Druid have to say about this disgraceful state of affairs ? The usual plaintive and nauseating wails of “It’s all everyone else’s fault and give us time!” The only thing our Carwyn ever gets passionate about sources tell me, are the dreams of an infatuated love affair with an obliging rugby ball.

Give them time?!! They’ve had 14 years to put things right and to stop giving Welsh school children a fourth class education.

Complacency! Complacency! Complacency!

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My generation isn’t apathetic. Telling us we are is an insult to democracy

15/11/2013, 10:09:01 AM

by Sam Fowles

We keep getting told that we’re not interested in “politics”, the reality is we’re just doing it better.

Apparently I don’t give a shit. Or at least my generation doesn’t. The story is we hate “politics”. Or, to use the most popular parlance, we’ve “lost faith” in it. We think “all politicians are the same” so we don’t vote.

Our elders are turning to UKIP in droves. Apparently because Nigel Farage will say things that ordinary politicians, hamstrung by their own bland, focus grouped platitudes, simply can’t.

Well yes, he does. It’s called extremism.

My generation’s collective decision to go home and watch The Inbetweeners again rather than vote for UKIP is possibly the strongest argument there is for putting us in charge of the country as soon as possible.

More importantly though, to say we don’t care about politics is just wrong. My generation may just be the most political in history. With Twitter, Facebook and blogs we’re analysing and commenting on the world around us on a far greater scale than our parents.

We have marched in our thousands against the war in Iraq, tuition fees and for fairer alternatives to the coalition’s economic masochism. Student activism and politics is a growing, not a declining phenomenon. No More Page 3, possibly the most important socio-political movement of the decade, is the brainchild of 20-somethings spread through social media and receiving it’s most decisive support through student unions.

Even outside those activities more overtly labelled “political”, my generation are churning out videos, songs, stories, plays, flashmobs and slutwalks which challenge every cultural dictum, from gender norms to post modernist theory.

So why does the prevailing opinion seem to be that we’re apathetic? Perhaps because people keep telling us we are. This is a story that’s being pedaled primarily by print media, TV and, somewhat paradoxically, politicians themselves.

Why do those most obviously involved in politics seem so desperate to convince us “millenials” that they’re irrelevant to us? That we are not interested in listening to them, debating their ideas or voting for them?

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The omnishambles is back

26/10/2013, 03:20:32 PM

by Michael Dugher

Across a wide-ranging front, just a cursory glance through this weekend’s newspapers suggest that so many of the government’s policies look to be in real trouble. The omnishambles is back.  This time it’s coupled with a planned modernisation which is being rolled back at a pace. It has been clear for a long time that Cameron is hopelessly out of touch. But his government looks increasingly like it is out of answers to the big challenges facing Britain.  On so many of the policies which were meant to define David Cameron’s government, the wheels have come off.

Let’s start with education. We already know that there is a crisis of a lack of school places in many parts of the country and that class sizes above 30 are making a big comeback.  But David Cameron’s centrepiece reform was the introduction of free schools, yet in the last two weeks we have had two deeply concerning examples of the danger they pose if increased freedoms are not complemented by checks and balances as Labour proposes.

The Islamic al Medinah free school in Derby was described by a scathing Ofsted report as not being “adequately monitored or supported” and for having inexperienced teachers who had not been provided with proper training.  It was branded “in chaos” and “dysfunctional”, with pupils being segregated and given the same work regardless of ability.  On Friday we had reports that Michael Gove’s department sat for months on a report alleging financial irregularities worth more than £80,000 at flagship Kings Academy in Bradford.

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Cameron’s GCSE history fail as he gets facts on Churchill wrong at spring forum

16/03/2013, 01:05:20 PM

Oh dear. What would Michael Gove say? In David Cameron’s speech today to Conservative spring forum, he reaches back into the annals of history to describe how past Tory leaders have supported aspiration.

The speech has been briefed to the media as being about an “aspiration nation” and given its  to the Tory grassroots, who better to cite than Churchill? The prime minister states,

“Great Conservatives down the generations have put those ladders in place. When Churchill invented the labour exchanges that helped people into work. When Macmillan built new homes. When Thatcher fired up enterprise so people could start their own businesses.”

Except when Winston Churchill legislated to create labour exchanges in 1909, he was of course a Liberal MP and President of the Board of Trade in one of the great progressive governments of the last century.

A government that was opposed tooth and nail by er…the Conservatives. A government whose plans for pensions and social insurance in that year’s budget were repeatedly defeated by the House of Lords prompting a constitutional crisis, at the behest of er…the Conservatives.

On the specific issue of labour exchanges, Tory grandee and MP, F.E.Smith, summed up the views of many of his colleagues in 1909,

“Not only will the establishment of labour exchanges not add to employment, but if they are to serve the only purpose which they can economically serve the necessary consequence of their establishment must be actually to diminish employment.”

David Cameron doesn’t  just get his facts wrong, in his speech he is attempting to re-write history, implying by rhetorical sleight of hand the Tories were in favour of an agenda that they actually viscerally opposed.

Following on from his rebuke by the UK Statistics authority for confusing the terms debt and deficit, and his upbraiding by the Office for Budget Responsibility for his misleading words on the impact of austerity on the deficit, this is just the latest in a series of events where David Cameron has been caught out being economical with the truth.

The teaching of history in schools is an issue particularly close to Michael Gove’s heart. Eighteen months ago he described it’s importance in developing the abilities of GCSE students  saying,

“One of the skills I would like to see students develop is the ability to argue and separate falsities from the truth.”

Perhaps a little chat with the prime minister after the next cabinet would be in order.

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Gove’s narcissistic dogma 1 – Evidence 0

28/01/2013, 08:57:26 AM

by Kevin Brennan

Last week’s announcement by Michael Gove that AS Levels would no longer count towards an A Level grade was a classic example of making policy based on dogma not evidence.

Back in 2010 Michael Gove announced his intention to get rid of AS Levels. They were originally introduced to give students a chance to study a broader range of subjects in year 12 (the old lower 6th). Students could decide to specialise in year 13 by dropping one or two subjects, but still have a good AS qualification to show for it. If they carried on, their AS mark could contribute to the final A Level grade in that subject.

One objection to AS Levels was that because of modular testing students in year 12 faced exams very early on, before having matured sufficiently. This was dealt with by getting rid of such early assessments which also discouraged entering early assessments just to ‘bank’ a mark. This was a reasonable reform to AS.

But Michael Gove was left with a problem that despite his stated intention to scrap AS Levels altogether, it was clear that he had very little support for his plans.

The right thing to do would have been to retain AS Levels as modified, but instead he has chosen to render them largely irrelevant by removing their ability to act as a building block to A-Level.

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Finland offers Labour an education model to challenge Gove’s retreat into the past

20/09/2012, 02:59:38 PM

by Robin Thorpe

Regardless of whether Michael Gove had any influence on the recent GCSE results, education should be a major area of debate between the incumbent government and a Labour party aspiring to reduce inequality. Yet the parliamentary Labour party has been remarkably quiet on this issue and seems content to pick fault only with the way that Gove handled the exams debacle.

What I would like to see the PLP do is challenge the coalition on issues that are of real importance to the full spectrum of stakeholders within our public education system; for example a clear definition of what education is for and transparently defined objectives for any reforms that are undertaken.

Let us first consider the issue of examinations and so-called grade inflation; in 2010 the Cambridge Assessment Group reported that

“we found there were different challenges associated with different types of exam but that these are related to the changing purposes of examinations, not a simplistic matter of ‘too easy’ or ‘too hard’.”

The Cambridge Assessment Report was undertaken by a large group of educators, inspectors and assessors over a period of months and considered, amongst other things, the issue of ‘grade drift’.

The report states that “grade drift probably existed, although so many confounding factors made it difficult to isolate and identify. How this might have come about was extensively discussed.

One cause was the constant change to qualifications. Tim Oates suggested that

if you effect continual or inappropriate and unnecessary change of qualifications, it makes holding standards over time extremely difficult”.

Yet despite this report Gove has proceeded to attempt to further modify examinations without first forming a cohesive plan of what and how is to be reformed. One of the first acts of Gove as secretary of state was to cancel the issue of the new (skills-based) national curriculum that was written under the previous government. He then also removed the modular element of GCSEs; a decision that may have been made for good reason but it goes counter to the findings regarding grade drift.  Gove’s most recent proposed change is of course the E-Bacc; a sure-fire way of ceasing grade drift – change the qualification.

The review of the national curriculum now being undertaken is to be welcomed, although I fear I won’t agree with the results. The signs are that a renewed emphasis is to be placed on examinations instead of coursework and that these examinations are to be harder. In Finland, the top-performing European nation in the PISA results, the emphasis on testing has been much reduced; no external testing takes place and schools are free to set their own syllabus from a very simple national core curriculum.

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