The rumour that a portrait of Michael Gove is to be prominently displayed in every Academy and Free School needs to be taken with an industrial strength pinch of salt. Such a preposterous idea could not possibly be true, could it?
The Secretary of State for Education has had to endure an extraordinary amount of name calling, not least from this humble blog. His dogged determination to impose his single, some would say narrow, minded vision for the future of education has resulted in outpourings of bile and invective usually reserved for paraplegics expecting the state to pay for a wheelchair, benefit cheats and swimmers who disrupt boat races. Perhaps it is time to show a little sympathy for Michael Gove.
Much has been made of his physical appearance. He might, admittedly, not be the thinking woman`s idea of George Clooney or Johnny Depp, but to challenge the credibility of the custodian of our children`s education because he looks a bit odd is as insidious as branding terminal cancer patients as scroungers and parents who question education policy as Trotskyites. A better way to understand current education policy is to understand the minister himself. It might be worth examining what made Michael the man he is today.
Born in the summer of love a few weeks after the release of Sgt. Pepper, some nastier observers have commented that Gove has a face that only a mother could love. Sadly for Michael, this was not the case. Given up for adoption at birth, the plot of his life is worthy of Dickens. At four months old he was taken in by a fish gutter and his kindly wife and by 1972 was attending a state primary school in the rougher end of Aberdeen. Margaret Thatcher was then Education Secretary and achieving notoriety by taking milk away from children as an inept government led by Edward Heath was ruining the economy and lying to the electorate. One can only imagine the isolation felt by studious little Michael and the taunts and bullying he suffered at the hands of vicious, inner city urchins in the cold, granite school halls of a cold, granite city.
His parents scrimped and saved and managed to afford to send him to the best private secondary school in Aberdeen, Robert Gordon`s College. The “Auld Hoose”, as RGC is known, is proud of its illustrious sporting alumni including Scottish Rugby internationals and Olympian athletes. Rugger, hockey and all things physical were, and are, important at Michael`s old alma mater. Having escaped from working class oiks, the poor boy must have found himself the butt of crude jokes and cruel humiliation in the showers from toffs, cads and bounders after a cross country run. It is little wonder that he now despises schools.
Seeking refuge in Virgil, Homer and Aristotle, young Michael plotted his revenge against the bullies and in 1985 entered Lady Margaret Hall, an Oxford college formerly the exclusive preserve of women. Earlier that year, Oxford dons had refused to grant an honorary doctorate to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher because of their concerns over education policy and funding. Michael Gove went on to become President of the Oxford Union.
Gove graduated in the summer of 1988 and without any qualification in teaching, pedagogy or educational psychology, embarked on a career in journalism, eventually becoming assistant editor of the Times and rather close to a certain Rupert Murdoch. With delicious serendipity, that summer saw Kenneth`s Baker`s Education Reform Act pass into law. Considered to be the most sweeping “reform” of education since the 1944 Butler Act, the Conservative legislation introduced the National Curriculum which was sold as a guarantor of an equitable education for every child in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland, including the granite city of Aberdeen, continues to set its own curriculum.
In order to ensure an equitable education for every child in the nation, apart from the wee bairns north of the border, Key Stages and attendant testing for progress were imposed to verify equality and school league tables would allow parents to judge the performance of schools. The erroneous assumption, both then and now, is that children respond to learning at the same rate, with the same level of cognition and with the same level of language acquisition. They do not and, of all people, the current Secretary of State refuses to acknowledge this basic tenant of child development. Poor Michael.
Back in the 80`s, the government took a look round the crumbling school estate and it did not like what it saw. With all but derelict Victorian primaries and asbestos riddled 60`s comprehensives, the only thing the department saw was the repair bill. In a move of tactical genius, the Baker Act introduced Local Management of School or LMS, still referred to as “Hell of a Mess” in staff rooms across the nation. This wheeze devolved funding capital directly to head teachers. The message from government was clear: “It`s your money, you fix the roof. It`s not our problem anymore.”
The 1988 Act also gave us City Technology Colleges where the great unwashed were to be trained to use a hammer and then find work that suited their station. These seats of learning were later embraced by New Labour and rebranded as Academies and, at first, did quite well in improving standards and examination results. They did so well, in fact, that the current government is still using years old statistics to justify present day failing Academies. However, the headlong rush to privatise education continues unabated and is rapidly descending into chaos. Poor Michael.
Returning to the 1988 Education Reform Act, the jewel in the crown of the legislation was the creation of Grant Maintained Schools. The idea was to liberate schools from tyrannical local authority control and allow individuals to select pupils, control their own budgets funded directly from central government and basically do whatever they bloody well liked. It was a disaster of Titanic proportion. The scheme failed due to inept leadership, financial mismanagement and, in some cases, corrupt criminality. Now the GMS idea is back with knobs on in the form of Free Schools. Poor Michael.
Over the recent Easter weekend, overpaid, lazy, militant Marxist teachers spent a tiny fraction of their generous holiday entitlement to attend two union conferences. The media quite rightly reported that these anarchists are planning industrial action that will damage and possibly kill children. What went largely unreported is that the teaching unions intend to ignore an imposed reading test on six year olds which will condemn schools, parents and children as failures unless they understand the meaning of quantitative easing, the moral necessity of taxing the poor to reward the rich and the fact that Michael Gove is nothing short of a living god.
Similarly, teaching unions intend to simply ignore Ofsted which, under Gove and his rather sinister pal Sir Michael Wilshaw, has become a crude instrument to enforce crackpot government policy and has lost any credibility that it may once have possessed. Understandably, the Secretary of State sees no reason to take any notice of a gang of indolent, inept Trots. Michael doesn`t like teachers.
Nearly £340million has been spent on the Academies and Free Schools programme with more than 130 department officials pandering to Michael`s vanity project. Out of the 79 Free Schools due to open in September, 35 do not yet have a location or a building. All of the free 79 have yet to set out curriculum, admission criteria or any meaningful system of governance or accountability.
In those terrible childhood years of rejection, isolation, humiliation and incessant bullying, little Michael must have dreamed of this vengeful moment. Forget the research that indicates that victims of bullying become a bully given half a chance. Little Michael has caught a spider and is engrossed in pulling its legs off one by one.
Having written an introduction to a reprint of the King James Bible, Michael seems to have misinterpreted the story of Dorian Gray. In some Aberdonian attic, there is a portrait of Michael looking tall, noble, athletic, popular and even handsome. This is the picture that might be copied and hung in the halls of schools that have submitted to his will.
However, the flesh and blood Michael that walks the earth is presenting symptoms of quaint Victorian megalomania. He has suffered enough, and rather than unleashing our contempt, derision and invective towards this innocent victim currently destroying education, we should instead offer sympathy and support. As a civilised society, the very least we can give him is the very best of post traumatic stress counselling.
We can only hope that the portrait remains locked in the attic.