Michael Gove’s awful month

July 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Posted in British Politics, Conservative Party, Education | 3 Comments

The surprising thing about Michael Gove’s short tenure as Education Secretary is how quickly an appointment which began with such hype and bluster has descended into one of hubris and error. The controversies Gove has been embroiled in since May have been entirely unforced errors; it is not beyond a Secretary of State to publish an accurate list of which schools will/will not see their building projects completed, nor is it beyond his ability to give a realistic estimate of how many would take advantage of his invitation to become academies.

The truth, as we now know , is that most schools in England & Wales didn’t await the Academies Bill with the same breathlessness Gove had when he rushed it through Parliament. Whilst it’s still probable that eligible schools will become academies at some point, the implication that over 1,000 would do so before September always seemed rather staggering.

But the relatively small number of actual applications for Academy status is something the DoE could and should have predicted. It can take some schools months just to change something as superficial as a school uniform. With a matter as significant as a long-term change in a school’s structure, funding & accountability mechanisms, those thinking about applying will have needed to be meticulous in their preparation. They would have had to consult not just with governors but with teachers, parents, pupils and, yes, those maligned local authorites they’re meant to be desperate to escape. They most certainly couldn’t have proceeded with the same haste as the Education Secretary might’ve wanted.

Moreover, the rewards for schools to become Academies by September weren’t nearly as great as Gove might’ve imagined. By the time he made his invitations, many schools had already set their budgets for the next academic year: they already knew their resources, class sizes, staffing levels, the subjects they would offer and the targets for their own improvement. In this context, the additional freedoms & resources offered by Academy status would’ve made little difference, so why rush into an arrangement which would have enormous consequences for pupils, parents & teachers?

Gove’s mistakes thus far haven’t been errors of policy, but of process. Of course parents want increased standards across the school system; they want it to be easy to get their kids into a good school close to where they live, and they’re willing to accept reform if it might make that wish a reality. But parents also value some measure of stability, certainty and reliability; they don’t want to be confronted with erroneous, ever-changing lists of scrapped school building programmes and they don’t want to hear wild overestimates about how many schools which will convert into academies.

It normally takes a good few years for the full effect of education reforms to be accurately measured & evaluated. If he carries on at this rate, Michael Gove will have lost the public’s trust before he’s even lost the political argument.

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3 Comments »

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  1. I don’t know; is it really that surprising? Gove has always struck me as an dilettante opportunist, the newspaper columnist who thinks he can turn his hand to anything, whether doing sub-Melanie Phillips style ranting about the Mooslims in Celsius 7/7 which William Darymple so effortlessly ripped apart or declaring his love for Tony Blair, that expert at making reforms works. Then there’s the other quality which being a successful minister requires; charm. Gove is supposedly this wonderfully charming and urbane intellectual in private, which is completely at odds with what he seems to me when he opens his mouth on any subject at all. You have to wonder whether all the hubris and bluster as soon as he marched into education might just have turned those there against him straight away, which could explain his difficulties.

    • Yeah, what i saw when i watched the Commons Education Select Committee (forgive me) was far from this alleged charming and urbane intellectual. Very stiff, formal and with some of the most tortured attempts at humour I’ve seen from any Minister. Maybe i overestimated Gove to begin with and this was natural of an ex-journalist more acquainted with headlines than process.

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