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Michael Gove: Soundbite Stupidity

Michael Gove’s announcement of Conservative education policy has now got me seriously considering whether the Conservative party deserves the votes of me and my partner.  Andrew Lansley’s “Let’s use Google for everyone’s health records” was at best ill-considered but Mr Gove’s proposals are a disgraceful example of soundbite politics which completely ignore reality.

Firstly it plays directly into Labour’s hands and their claims of “Tory toffs”.

Just because someone has a 2:1 degree (which I do) or higher doesn’t mean they will make a good teacher (I don’t think I would).  Where is the evidence to prove this belief?  I know some extremely intelligent people who (no disrespect intended) struggle to engage people in one to one conversations and who have no ability to engage groups of adults let alone children. Where is the evidence to prove claims that those with 2:2s or other qualifications lower than a 2:1 are poorer teachers?  Alientating lots of people plays right into Labour’s hands.

The problems I am seeing teachers struggle with have nothing to do with having a first class degree.  They have everything to do with incompetent leadership, unprofessional conduct, a complete lack of support for teaching staff and protecting vested interests.  You get those kinds of behaviour from people of all education levels.  You don’t need a degree to behave unprofessionally.

Let us consider the reality of life in education today.  Teachers are deluged by paperwork, fearful for their careers if OFSTED come sniffing, if a pupil with a grudge makes a malicious allegation or if a narrow minded head teacher decides they have the right to dismiss staff for having perfectly legal outside interests.  Teachers fear for their safety, knowing that the school rarely supports them in cases where their safety is threatened.  Poorly behaved pupils can’t be disciplined or, God forbid, excluded because that would affect the child’s education.  Conveniently forgetting that the rest of the class are having their education affected by the poorly behaved child.

Discipline is no longer allowed to be enforced.  Teachers are no longer treated with respect.  Head teachers are more concerned with results than with engendering a culture of respect, correct behaviour and doing the right thing which are surely attributes needed to progress and contribute.  If I called a superior a c**t then I can expect to be disciplined and almost certainly fired.  Yet such conduct by pupils in a school goes unpunished?  Did you ever call your headmaster a c**t?  I certainly didn’t.  How does allowing that to go without sanction match the real world?  It doesn’t.

There is no one magic bullet to fix the problems in the education system.  Structure, provision, curriculum, discipline, management and pupils’ circumstances all play a part and all need to be addressed individually.

Education models in Japan, Sweden and Finland have been touted as ideal.  Let’s look at the reality of these models.  They work because they are well suited to the societies of those countries.  I’ve met a fair few Swedes, Finns and Japanese.  Not only are they well mannered, the ethics of hard work and doing the right thing are ingrained in those societies.  Unlike this country.  The current generation in school seem obsessed by a sense of entitlement; if something isn’t allowed or achieved then it’s someone else’s fault and they will whine, moan and bitch until they get what they want.  In other words they don’t accept the ethic that says if you want something you have to work for it.

Look at the “apologies” offered by the bankers recently.  Just like Gordon Brown’s apologies they aren’t true apologies, recognising the effect their conduct has had on other people and wishing to atone for it.  Compare that to Japanese executives’ apologies.  Now those are real apologies, realisation and acceptance of failure and being in the wrong.  So this is a society thing.  No magic bullet is going to fix that.

Then there’s the idea of bankers or other such professionals going into teaching.  Now things on finance floors may well be quick but are such professionals used to being physically threatened, told to “p*** off”, being called a “c***”?  How many bankers have had knives held to their throats or had threats made against their families?

There are a few things you really need to look at before making half-witted (anything that ignores reality is, in my opinion, half-witted) statements like this.  I’m happy to offer a few suggestions. If you really want to make a difference to education….

1) Stop burdening teachers with excessive paperwork and half-assed initiatives from those who lack real world experience.

2) Return discipline to schools, return the power to suspend and expel to heads, back teaching staff in enforcing discipline and hold parents to account for their child’s poor behaviour.  School rules are to be adhered to.  Failing to enforce that leaves children with no respect for the law or other people.

3) Dismiss incompetent managers and leaders from schools and LEAs.  It is these people who are supposed to provide leadership and an atmosphere of excellence. If heads and deputy heads (these people rarely teach) cannot manage properly or professionally then they should not be in those jobs.  I have heard plenty about one particular person at an LEA who in my opinion should not be in that job.  I am sure there are more out there.

4) Provide enough textbooks and don’t bind the schools in to some silly purchasing system which takes ages to get anything in.

5) Don’t allow children who should not be in mainstream education to be in mainstream education in the first place.

6) Overhaul OFSTED.  It needs bringing down to earth and the reality of education today, not some tick list based assessment by people who have no relevant experience and an attitude problem.

Once you’ve done all of the above, take a look at what you’ve achieved.  Yes, it will be hard work and it will upset the incompetent, the arrogant, the gutless, those who can’t be bothered.  But if you want teaching to regain the valued and respected status it had then this is what you need to do.

The best isn’t about a piece of paper on a wall.  The best is about passion, commitment, desire and hard work.  To get the best you have got to provide an environment for people to perform to their best, excellent leadership, supportive management, a transparent and clear assessment system, an environment that doesn’t drive people into the ground but makes the best of their talents.  Isn’t making the best use of talents and having aspirations what Conservatives stand for?

I’ve seen a lot of teachers quit recently. Not because they weren’t up to it but because they feel there is no value, no respect and no support for their profession.  It is perhaps to be expected from pupils but not from the management who are supposed to support and work with you.  As Sir Geoffrey Howe said in his memorable speech “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”

These, Mr Gove, are facts.  These are things I have seen.

Mr Gove, I’d love to know what your experience is in the education sector.  I don’t mean your degree, I mean how much time have you spent teaching in a real world school?

I’ll make you the same offer I made to Ed Balls and Gordon Brown: please get in touch with me and I’ll see what I can do to arrange some real world front line experience for you, Mr Cameron and your advisors.  I’m sure it will be very enlightening for you all.

All I am asking is that you base your policies in reality.  Right now that doesn’t seem to be the case.  We  have a “government” with a very distorted view of reality.  Is Her Majesty’s Opposition also afflicted with a distorted view of reality?


Mr Gove has added some meat to the bones of his education policy.  OFSTED is in desperate need of purging and refocusing, Head teachers need their authority returned, failing LEA staff need to be bought to book and parents need to be held accountable for their childrens’ misbehaviour.  Parents are responsible for educating their children at home and should not neglect that duty.

I will continue to remind Mr Gove and his colleagues that real life experiences and views must be taken on board.  This page is a list of things that will make a positive difference to education in this country.

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