Academic Opinion: Gove's Legacy

Posted by er134 at Jul 16, 2014 03:35 PM |
Professor Bernard Barker reflects on the recent cabinet reshuffle

The views expressed below are the views of the academic and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Leicester


Yesterday morning at 10.40 am I opened a text from a friend: ‘Gove has gone, what shall we talk about now?’

Like teachers everywhere, I rushed for an update on the cabinet reshuffle. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, moral crusader and passionate advocate of school reform, has given up the struggle. The teacher-basher has become chief whip and his new job is to keep the Tory party in order. Teachers are celebrating and hope that Nicky Morgan, his successor, will adopt a different and perhaps conciliatory approach in the run up to the 2015 General Election.

Gove’s legacy is hard to assess. Much of the time he behaved like the sorcerer’s apprentice in the Disney film Fantasia, determined to unleash radical ideas but out of his depth when brave experiments fell apart in his hands. He pulled levers in the education policy signal box like an excited child, but often failed to notice when speeding trains converged.

He announced, for example, the end of GCSE and the introduction of an English Baccalaureate examination, without considering the risks of such dramatic, high speed change. Only the House of Commons Education Committee could persuade him to retreat.

Determined to support the government’s austerity programme, he scrapped Education Maintenance Allowances, without seeming to understand that this would undermine his own efforts to improve social mobility. He axed spending on school buildings, only to be surprised by the rapid growth in the number of children needing places in primary schools. He pushed hard for more academies but failed to notice when Trojan-horse businessmen and fundamentalists began to take advantage.

He refused to listen or consult with teachers because he was fanatically convinced his long-held, personal views were right. He suspected that everyone else working in education was an enemy to be overcome, rather than a potential friend and partner to be won over. He seemed more interested in winning a political game than in securing steady improvement for all our children.

I suspect that most teachers know that their celebrations will be short-lived. Politicians across the party spectrum are convinced that if teachers do their jobs properly, every child can succeed. With the right schools and teachers, everyone is sure to achieve grade A results and gain admittance to top universities. The new Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, is more than likely to share this perspective.

Unfortunately, however hard teachers and children work, everyone cannot win prizes. The whole point of public examinations is that they are competitive and sort children out. No one would value or trust an examination in which all the candidates achieve top grades. Until this simple truth is understood, a teacher’s life is likely to be plagued by politicians determined to produce the impossible.

Bernard Barker Emeritus Professor, School of Education

The views expressed above are the views of the academic and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Leicester

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