Much as I dislike the tendency in modern politics to ‘personalise’ I have to face up to the fact that opposing current changes in education means opposing the works and ideas of one man. My fellow opponents have got excited in recent weeks by the pressure being put on Michael Gove. He has backed down over EBACC, he has faced criticism from fellow MPs and in the media over his failure to control his special advisers, there have been revelations of a ‘bullying culture’ within the DfE and there have been strongly critical pieces in influential newspapers. Might he be on the way out, some have wondered?
There is little doubt that, because this government’s education reforms are so closely associated with one person, were he to go from office, the reforms would slow down, be watered down or even reversed under a successor. What are the chances? I’d say, don’t hold your breath!
In the first place, Gove won’t resign under pressure which he can easily dismiss as coming from ‘the usual suspects’ with a vested interest (such as academics and teacher associations) or the ‘guardianista’ liberal media. Cameron won’t sack him: he is the darling of the ‘Daily-Mail-tendency’ right who see him as harking back to the ‘good old days’ of grammar schools and O levels and looking forward to a market-driven privatised school system. Cameron needs as many sops to his right wing as he can find. The only other other possibility is a slim one: that Gove has a Huhnesque skeleton in his cupboard which would see him hounded from office. Not one to bank on, methinks!
A major concern for those of us who oppose Gove is the strange case of the dog that didn’t bark: where is the official Opposition? Gove’s main ‘flagship’ policy, academisation, is so flawed that a decent Opposition should be having a field day. An announcement that a future Labour government — which at the moment looks quite likely in 2015 — would take academies and possibly free schools back under local authorities, would bring the current headlong rush to a screeching halt. Governors would simply not want to risk it. Of course, taking back schools that are effectively private under the wing of LAs that may have withered away by then and whose experts have taken early retirement or gone to work for academy chains, will be difficult but I feel sure some clever lawyer can work out all the complexities and, after all, that’s what they’ve said with health. Along the way, Milliband may have to repudiate New Labour’s academy policy but this can hardly be an insurmountable hurdle. Those of you who are members of the Labour Party need to be working from within to get local constituency parties to adopt anti-academy policies and hold individual members with council or school governor posts to account. And to press for a national policy at your Conference.
As for the rest of us, we need to keep up the pressure. There are small victories being won in individual schools around the country and local pressure groups, leaflets and letters to the local press do have an effect. But we also need to be gearing up for a post-Gove world; ready to monitor and hold to account governing bodies — and the leaders of ‘trusts’, chains and edubusinesses — over exam performance, finance and governance. These are OUR schools and we need to insist that, whatever system they are being operated under, they are being run in the best interests of the children and the local community.