We had the dubious pleasure of The Gove in Nottingham on Friday, so we were able to benefit from his wisdom via our local press and media. You’ll recall that OFSTED blitzed the City just before Christmas and pronounced six of the secondary schools to be inadequate, placing them in Special Measures. Notwithstanding that the majority of those were academies, it still apparently gave Gove a green light to have a go, saying that Nottingham schools had been not good enough for too long (one of them was Good just over a year before but no matter). Fair enough if the evidence is there (many locally would claim it isn’t) but this is Gove and he has to sound tough, ‘demanding’ according to the Nottingham Post, that under-performing schools improve, suggesting they be taken “by the scruff of the neck” (ok, I know it’s only a metaphor but it does indicate a belief that people can be made to be better by physical force).
He also warned, in a phrase that will send chills through the ranks of headteachers, that a change of leadership might be needed in some schools. They mustn’t use levels of deprivation to excuse poor levels of performance either because, as he put it in a dazzling display of false logic, “There are children who come from a tough background who go on to succeed.”
But for me, the most telling part of his little tirade came when he combined insult and mind reading to attack the City’s teachers. They need, according to Gove, to raise their level of ambition rather than have “this toxic attitude that children in deprived areas will not do well.” If schools are not doing well enough (and that’s a big ‘if’ according to many in the City’s schools) then it is reasonable that someone examines and criticises the methods being used. However, in my experience, those teachers who choose to work in deprived areas are the most dedicated, determined to do their best to help those children overcome the barriers to learning that society has placed in their way. They may be ineffective, misguided even in their methods but who is Gove to purport to know what is in their hearts? To suggest that not only do they lack ambition, but that this attitude is poisoning the life-chances of those children, is a deeply insulting charge.
And if we are looking for toxicity, I think we know where we can find it!