Stay Away Michael Gove by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a blog about the future of our education system and my greatest fear.

General Election 2015:

The votes are now in and the electorate have decided who will guide British politics over the next five years. Regardless of your political opinion, I would just like to flag up one of my greatest fears from the 2015 election outcome. For the first time, and I do mean the first time, I feel genuinely disappointed with the outcome.

Before I allude to what my greatest fear is, I would just like to take the reader back 10 months, to July 2014 when David Cameron made a cabinet reshuffle and removed Michael Gove from his position as Secretary of State for Education. After picking myself down from the classroom ceiling, I soon blogged A 5-Point Plan for Incoming @NickyMorgan01.

In this blog I asked Nicky Morgan to;

  1. Give the profession a period of time to consolidate; trust teachers and school leaders to carry out recent reforms to education.
  2. Challenge the purpose of Ofsted for schools, teachers, parents and students and ensure that the watchdog is fit-for-service.
  3. Share good news stories with the profession; with the media. Work to improve working conditions and fairer pay for teachers.
  4. Listen to us; listen to the profession. Genuinely engage with grassroots practice and teachers at the chalk-face.
  5. Focus reform on what works and use evidence to make what works for us in our own country. Do not be driven by league tables.

One could argue, that Nicky Morgan has given us a small period of calm during the past 10 months. But I can tell you, that many front-line teachers and school leaders are still seeing or feeling no reprieve in terms of workload to meet demanding curriculum and examination reforms in preparation for looming summer exams and new courses commencing in September 2015.

I am still pushed to find any teacher in state-school education that truly warmed to all of Gove’s reforms. Anyone?

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics:

I would be telling you a lie if I didn’t tell my blog readers that I have been susceptible to swing-voting. In the past, dating back over 20 years since I cast my first vote, I have considered Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats for reasons that I have explained in more detail here. And despite voting based on local and/or national reasons, I remain true to my roots and political preference. It has often been a choice between head and heart at times …

The last time I voted in 2010, I based my decisions on a wide variety of factors. For example, welfare, housing, immigration and of course education. However, for the 2015 election, my general election decision was based purely on one policy alone. Education.

Michael Gove:

Despite what Michael Gove did during his tenure, the pace at which he made these changes was far too rapid and at the time; damaging to teacher well-being, reputation and increasing workload that many of the middle leaders and senior leaders I work with (and connected to beyond my own school) are still facing the challenges of today. I only need to list a number of Gove policies from 2010-2014 below to remind you, how damaging Gove’s reforms and tenure really were;

  • Schools rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted to become academies.
  • Force under-performing schools to become academies. Yes, force them!
  • Allow Tom, Dick and Harry to open up ‘Free Schools’. (But not everyone.)
  • Cut the previous government’s school-building programme; damaging the hopes and lives of thousands of students.
  • Restructuring the primary and secondary school national curriculum for England. Possibly neo-Victorian?
  • Reinstating the study of authors such as Byron, Keats, Jane Austen, Dickens and Thomas Hardy in English lessons as part of a plan to improve children’s grasp of English literature and language; yet Academies are not required to follow the national curriculum.
  • Children who fail to write coherently and grammatically, and who are weak in spelling, would be penalised under new examinations.
  • Compulsory study of foreign languages up to the age of 16.
  • A shake-up of league tables in which schools are ranked higher for the number of pupils taking GCSEs in five core EBacc subjects.
  • Some GCSE examinations scrapped, and a return to O-level exams and allow less able students to take less academic qualifications!
  • More assessment of teacher training applicants.
  • Troops to Teachers offered as sponsorship to retrain as teachers to improve discipline.
  • Guidance on how to search pupils for more items, including mobile phones and pornography, and when they can use ‘reasonable force.’
  • Gove’s “Enemies of Promise” retort to 100 academics.
  • A copy of the King James Bible, inscribed “presented by the Secretary of State for Education” to all schools.
  • The furore surrounding the downgrading of GCSE English results (Sep 2012), he refused to instruct Ofqual to intervene. Thousands of students and their future pathways into 6th form colleges and universities were ruined!
  • In June 2012, Gove approved three schools run by creationists leading to concerns about whether Department for Education (DfE) required schools not to teach creationism.
  • Changes to pay, pensions, and workloads! Enough said …
  •  In June 2014, the highly public Trojan Horse argument between the Home Office and Department for Education ministers about the responsibility for alleged extremism in Birmingham schools. This even required the Prime Minister David Cameron’s intervention to resolve and force Gove to apologise.
  • An anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation was regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department and to launch highly personal attacks on opponents of Gove and his policies. The account was likely to come from within the Education Department, implying the involvement of special advisers paid for by taxpayers!
  • I could go on … but yet, I do agree with a small – and I so say a very small – number of the items listed above.

Rapid Change:

As I have already written, the pace of change has been far too rapid and at times damaging, and we are now at least – with Nicky Morgan – facing a slight period of consolidation. And on the frontline, it still feels very, very different indeed. And I am no fool to assume, that if Nicky Morgan remains in post, or if Tristram Hunt were elected and took up his position as Secretary of State for Education for the Labour party, that there would’ve been no more instability and further changes … Any new politician would want to make their own mark on the educational landscape. I know I have also done the same in all of my new positions working within schools.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 08.36.46

Image: BBC News

Many educators have said before and I will reiterate, that whoever is in position to oversee education throughout the next five years, whether this is Nicky Morgan or somebody else, that they must ensure we have a period of consolidation with the ultimate goal to improve standards of education for all our students; regardless of background or ability. This must be at the cost of their own ideology, think-tanks or PISA league tables.

Greatest Fear!

My greatest fear now the election is over, is that David Cameron will reshuffle his cabinet and bring back Michael Gove to his former position. Cameron may think that the electorate has spoken and that ‘water under the bridge’ has passed since Gove was removed from position; but the hatred that Gove instilled within the profession has had long-term impact on teachers and school leaders and I fear if Gove is reinstated, that our teachers will vote with their feet. We may find recruitment even harder than we do already!

What education needs now is a period of stability.

Let me be clear. I am not a die-hard Tory. I am not a die-hard Labour fan. When it comes to education what I want, is for any political party to put in place mechanisms that safeguard education policy, to ensure that rapid change can never happen again.

  1. I do not want to see unqualified teachers employed by schools.
  2. I do not want to see schools competing against each other.
  3. I do not believe local authorities are fully in control of what is going on in their schools, nor always have the expertise… but
  4. I do not want to see Free Schools opened by Tom, Dick or Harry; but clearly not everyone.
  5. I do not want to see a state-school education system further damaged by exams, assessment or curriculum reform until 2020.

Standards will always need to rise and we will always need to reform the way we do things. But this cannot be at the detriment of the teachers and leaders that work within schools and most of all, the students who learn within them. What we need most of all Mr. Cameron, are good teachers who are encouraged to work – and stay – in a profession, who are valued and trusted.

Stay away Michael Gove!

Stay away …

Michael Gove @SDupp Cartoon

15 thoughts on “Stay Away Michael Gove by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Well said Ross – you are bang on on all points. As a parent of a 14 and 16 year old being impacted by the exam reforms being implemented this year I am now considering taking them out of the UK education system. Instead of moving education forward in this country, Gove has taken it back decades!

  2. As someone who introduced the new curriculum in their previous school – I have to say I did agree with the question of standards and rigour from my perspective. I can’t talk for secondaries. Looking at schemes of work to introduce, it was obvious how much primary education was reliant on sow based on ‘fun’ ideas with objectives shoehorned in wherever. This does a disservice to children – particularly those from deprived areas who need school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum.

    1. I agree with you there. In my experience in secondary schools, curriculums can always be refined. This year, we have just introduced one year GCSEs to our year 10s; they are out-performing year 11s in many subjects who have been working in subjects for two years!

      1. I think the lack of subject specialism is a problem in primaries. In theory you can end up with a whole load of english experts and no one who was any cop at geography!! Hopefully school based training can try to balance some of that. It is interesting about your one year GCSE’s – what is the reason for their performance?

      2. I liked ‘blocking’ units at primary school – the only equivalence I could think of!! – and it worked much better in terms of the children’s learning and retention. Doing history once a week did not work at all for most children – spent more time recapping than learning the new. I can see why it would work in secondary too. Good for you with being innovative.

  3. While your fear of the return of the Gove resonates for me, the real problem is not the individual, but the influence that the individual has on the system. How is it possible that our curriculum is subject to the whims and mad acts (KJB – what on Earth?) of a single minister in a single term of office in a minority government? As a dedicated professional of over 20 years I am now desperate to get out rather than act as the instrument of a narrow political agenda.

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