The Secretary of State for Education, The Right Honourable Michael Gove, Privy Councillor and Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath, knows a thing or two about reputation and what you have to do to bring a profession into disrepute.
The handsome, noble statesman that addressed the House of Commons regarding the evil industrial action being taken by teachers and civil servants was hardly recognisable as the fresh-faced youth manning a National Union of Journalists picket-line long ago and far away. Beneath his boyish good-looks lurked a fanatical trade unionist taking on the might of the Press and Journal, an Aberdeen based newspaper serving the crofters and fishermen of northern Scotland. With a notoriously parochial reputation, in 1912 the P&J famously announced the sinking of the Titanic with the headline: “Aberdeenshire Man Drowned At Sea.”
Now older and wiser, Michael no longer pays his NUJ subscription and told the house that he lost his job because he went out on strike. It is more likely that he proved to be too boring even for the Press and Journal. Happy then to withdraw his labour to protect his own well-being, Gove the Older now lectures and hectors on the irresponsibility of strike action and asks “militant” teachers to think of the children. Crucially, he claims that a strike will damage the reputation of the teaching profession.
Citing the hardships that have to be endured by parents, particularly single, working mothers, in arranging child care, he states that Headteachers and Governing Bodies have “a moral duty” to make sure that schools remain open during the 24 hour strike. Strangely, he urges parents to volunteer to keep the schools open by crossing picket lines to replace striking teachers. Untrained, unchecked and unregulated, Gove has not made clear how these parents can be two places at the same time. Taking a day off work to break a strike to save on child care? No, don’t think so, Michael.
This nonsense about defending “single mums” and protecting the education of children is a cynical attempt to lay a smokescreen across the systematic destruction of education. A few short weeks ago, local elections, Inset days, Easter and a royal wedding resulted in current Year 6 pupils having just three classroom days to prepare for SATS. The preferred method of condemning children and schools as failures did not require parental contribution to a Headteacher’s moral duty.
In desperation, Gove has written to Headteachers and Governing Bodies reminding them of their moral duty to support the Conservative led coalition in its mission to privatise schools. Failure to comply will not be tolerated. The Academies programme, less than a year ago seen as a reward for outstanding schools, has proved to be so unpopular that the only way for it to continue is to impose Academy status on schools that Gove considers to be “failing”.
SATS results other than outstanding, lost schools days due to industrial action and, to use Gove`s own words, “thick kids” and “stupid” teachers not reaching the arbitrary and meaningless target set by government, will result in a school being judged as failing. Crucially, contained in the contracts and job descriptions of all school staff is the clause that states that employees should not bring the school into disrepute. Gove`s carefully chosen words about damage to the reputation of the teaching profession, therefore, suggests a justification of disciplinary action being taken against individual striking teachers. Another box ticked in branding a school a failure. Intimidation is an ugly and inappropriate word in this scenario. Vindictive malice and oppression seem more apt.
If this wasn’t enough to force Academy status on schools, Gove has backed up his final solution by re-branding the Ofsted framework. Ofsted, already devoid of any credibility, in less than a year has become a blatant enforcer of Conservative policy. Far from protecting the interests of the child, Ofsted now acts in the interests of Gove, Osborne and Cameron. Previously, 27 separate criteria had to be investigated to secure a valid judgement on the state of a school, each with three separate sets of verifiable evidence. The new framework reduces the criteria to just four, with the emphasis now on “attainment” rather than progress. Evidence is now purely based on the ridiculous SATS results. So, a child who arrived a year ago with no English or even experience of school, is judged by the same criteria as Michael Gove`s privately educated children. The fact that the incoming child has learnt English and progressed three levels at Key Stage Two is, as far as Ofsted is concerned, irrelevant.
Gove might be an excellent journalist and an exemplary parliamentarian, but he is no mathematician. Who can forget the endless lists, revised over and over again, of the unlawful Building Schools for the Future cancellations, the figures surrounding the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowance and the utter confusion of what exactly is the Pupil Premium.
Not exactly Einstein, Gove give us the expected figures of school closures due to industrial action. Very few schools are actually closed, most are “partially closed”. Partially closed means that the caretaker has unlocked the gate because he or she, as a member of a different union, will be the subject of disciplinary action if they did not execute their duties. There are no teachers, no pupils, no volunteering parents. Just the Head, the caretaker and Teaching Assistants rearranging the displays on the wall. Thus, Gove will crow that the majority of schools were open and that the strike lacked support and was a failure. Sure is easier than hitting miners over the head and starving them back to work.
Gove has now sailed through being merely incompetent and is now in the choppy waters of actual negligence. If he continues on his course, he is about to present a real and imminent danger to the well-being of children. A man without any shred of honour, he is unlikely to resign over the carnage he is instigating. Cameron, a man lacking any vestige of ethical responsibility is unlikely to sack him. The opposition front bench offer no credible challenge with Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham agreeing that the strikes are “a mistake”.
We are told that Labour MPs will cross picket lines formed by civil servants at the House of Commons. There can be no clearer message that we are now on our own and that teachers and civil servants in fighting to preserve their pension entitlements are in the vanguard of the battle that is to come. As Albert Einstein said:
“I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their economic status and, also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.”
With an increase in pension contributions, a rise in the retirement age and public sector pensions linked to the lower Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index being non-negotiable, the plundering of pension assets to bail out bankers recklessness is nothing short of theft. MPs continue to receive a final salary scheme pension with a retirement age remaining at 65 with the option of retiring at 55. We are, obviously, on our own.
Michael Gove might talk of damaged reputations, but coming from a career as a journalist and now a politician, he has managed to tarnish even the reputations of both those scurrilous professions. As Oscar Wilde said:
“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”
Gove may have a future at The News of the World.