Michael Gove's inglorious revolution


A shortfall in school places and chaos in the teacher training system are just two signs of the disastrous impact of government policy, says Dr Mary Bousted.

Three o’clock in the morning is hell for those of us who have trouble sleeping. It’s the witching hour when I sit bolt upright in bed and then lie awake worrying about things left undone and things to do.

I wonder if Michael Gove wakes in the early hours and ponders the problems that he faces. It is said that your sins will find you out and Mr Gove is increasingly being found out. His glorious revolution is turning out to be neither glorious nor revolutionary.

Serious questions are being asked about the pace and extent of his changes, and loose ends are unravelling as ideologically driven, hastily implemented, policies begin to fall apart.

The first and most fundamental responsibility of any secretary of state for education is to ensure there are sufficient school places for every pupil in the country. When push comes to shove, parents mind not a jot what type of school is available to them – they want a good local school for their child. Full stop.

This is Mr Gove’s greatest challenge – 240,000 new primary school places are needed by the autumn of 2014. Just 81,500 have been provided over the past two years. The Department for Education’s response to this problem – listing just how much money the government is spending on more school places – does not convince anyone. Whatever is being spent, it is not enough, and the prospect of unplaced primary school pupils looks more real as the weeks go by.

Of course, this problem could be solved immediately if local authorities could build new schools, but they are forbidden by law to do so. Free schools are the only legal way ahead – yet it is proving impossible to locate free schools where they are needed and for the right age range. 

Instead, huge amounts of taxpayers’ money are being spent opening free schools for secondary age pupils in areas where there is over-provision. This cannot make sense on any level.

It is not just school planning which is in chaos, so is initial teacher training. Acting in haste, the Teaching Agency unleashed its policy of School Direct upon schools, which have been asked to take responsibility for interviewing and training student teachers. Schools are being allocated teacher training places directly from the Teaching Agency, and have been told to commission services from their local higher education institute if needed.

Warning bells about the scale and speed of School Direct were sounded from the offset. Could schools manage such a huge change? Were they able, with all their other responsibilities, to take the lead in training large numbers of student teachers? And why dismantle partnerships between higher education institutions and schools which had delivered the best ever generation of teachers?

And now the chickens are coming home to roost.  Schools allocated School Direct places are returning them to the Teaching Agency, complaining that they have been unable to get information about the programme and their responsibilities within it, and are unable to fill their places because of the poor quality of too many applicants. It is far too late for the higher education institutions, which saw their allocation slashed. So the prospect of a calamitous drop in trainee teachers entering the profession, even in a recession, is becoming more real by the day.

So we face a crisis, not only in school places, but also in teacher supply. And further crises loom in the disastrous revision of the national curriculum, the ill-thought-through changes to GCSE and A level, and so much more. Mr Gove should be very worried, but I fear he is not, and that thought really keeps me awake in the early hours.

  • Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk


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