Week 43: Villain – Michael Gove

by Jackie_South on October 27, 2013

villain_2_iconFor the third time this year, Education Secretary Michael Gove wins our panel’s award for the most significant villain of the last week

The Conservative Party has managed to provide our hero, villain and prat for this week. Moreover, our prat has villainous intent whilst our villain has a marked prattish streak.

So step forward Gove, Michael Andrew, to take the villain award for his disgraceful behaviour in pursuing his free schools policy. This week, it emerged that Gove had approved the reduction of government checks on free schools, against the advice of civil servants. Those checks included financial controls and the appointment process for headteachers, and of course also include quality checks on the curriculum and staff by allowing free schools to ignore the national curriculum and teaching qualifications.

To most people who have worked in education, particularly as part of the drive for improved standards as I have, this is anathema. But of course, that isn’t something Gove understands: this is all about a dogma borne of a flawed and prejudiced logic.

The thinking goes something like this: state comprehensive education is axiomatically bad and failing children. Any evidence that says this isn’t the case must therefore be faulty and worthless. If comprehensives are showing significant improvement against professionally developed standards of performance, then those standards must be at fault. Therefore, ignoring these faulty standards must be a good thing.

So, a national curriculum, teaching qualifications and some basic financial auditing standards must be worthless. No wonder we have schools like the dysfunctional Al-Madinah school in Derby, the financial irregularities of Bradford’s Kings Science Academy free school or the short-lived appointment of a twenty-something policy wonk with no teaching experience to be headteacher at Pimlico free school.

Gove apparently ditched these straight-forward standards as a cost-saving measure. A far more effective one would have been to bin the idea of free schools altogether, freeing up much needed resources for the parts of our education system where standards appear to actually matter.

But Mr Gove also provided a few chuckles this week too. Last month, in his usual pompous way, he decided to lecture on special educational needs:

“I’ve visited schools where more—many more—children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But where every child manages to perform well above the national average in numeracy and literacy.”

‘Every child performing well above the national average’ is a high benchmark: only one primary school in 2011 and one in 2012 had every pupil achieve above the national average in key stage 2 tests. And, you’ve guessed it, neither had more than average numbers of pupils with registered special educational needs. You can find more on this on the Local Schools Network’s blog here.

So, Michael Gove is so out of touch he is now claiming to visit schools that do not actually exist.

I hope that at the next Education Secretary question time in the House, someone asks him about which schools he plans to visit over the next fortnight, and then ask if the list includes St Trinians and Hogwarts.

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