It has taken longer than it should have for Michael Gove’s Teflon coating to wear thin, but it is now becoming clear that his gung-ho approach to education reform is leaving charred and sticky remains on the bottom of his policy pan. No-one, least of all Mr Gove, should be surprised.
Personally I would quake when faced with the wrath of Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC). In June it reported that in England we are witnessing an emerging, and growing, crisis in school places. Its report revealed the uncomfortable truth that the number of infants in classes of more than 30 children has doubled in the last five years, with 20 per cent of primary schools full or over capacity in May 2012.
The PAC accused the Department for Education (DfE) of failing to deal with the crisis in school places, and argued that the lack of a joined-up approach between local authorities and free schools has created a “mismatch between demand and supply” in local communities.
Most damming of all was Ms Hodges’ comment that “256,000 new school places are needed by September 2014, but the DfE does not know whether the £5 billion it is contributing will be enough to pay for them”. She added that “it does not take much imagination” to realise what effect over-sized classrooms will have on a child’s educational development.
Ms Hodge is one in a growing number of influential critics of our secretary of state for education. Former education secretaries are now lining up to land a punch. Labour’s Estelle Morris recently accused Mr Gove of abdicating his responsibility for bringing coherence and stability to the school system. In her sights was the chaotic introduction of the School Direct teacher training programme which has left the government unable to tell how many trainee teachers have been recruited for each subject and age group, and in which areas of the country. Normally a gentle soul, Baroness Morris did not pull her punches when she wrote: “Given that this is also the secretary of state who doesn’t think children need to be taught by qualified teachers, it is difficult not to conclude that he doesn’t see the training of teachers as important enough for him to be involved. This is likely to be the most damaging of his legacies.”
But opposition to Mr Gove is not limited to his political opponents. Those who could have been expected to be influential allies are now turning their back on him.
Lord Baker, who was secretary of state for education under Margaret Thatcher, said recently: “Michael Gove is a very dominant education secretary whose policies are entirely derived from his own educational experience. Michael Gove had a tough upbringing, and he believes if he did it, anybody in the country could do what he did – whether they’re orphans, whether they’re poor, whether they’re impoverished, they can all rise to the top. Well, that is not actually true, and that is dominating the attitude of a key minister in government.”
And then there is the recent success of a new publication entitled: Everything I Know About Teaching – a work attributed to Mr Gove.
There is only one problem with this publication, apart from a fetching cover photo of Michael, all the pages are blank. This unlikely best seller made 21st in Amazon’s humour rankings and is winning plaudits from the teaching profession for its ingenuity, wit and profound wisdom.
You should really start worrying, Mr Gove, when you become a joke. The teaching profession, for so long cowed and resentful, has now started to laugh. If I were you I would retire with what shreds of dignity you have left. Things are not going to get better.
Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk