Under the cover of darkness, the anonymous small Honda sped past the protesters and television cameras through the school gates. In the back, screened by a suit hanging in the window reminiscent of a travelling salesman, Michael Gove was delivered to Coppice Primary School in Four Oaks.
It would seem that Coppice has a flexible approach to the school timetable as it held a whole school assembly at 6.00pm on a Friday. The assembly was scheduled for 2.00pm but their distinguished visitor, the Secretary of State for Education, got wind that some terrorists from the National Union of Teachers wanted to shout at him for the mess he is making of education. He was there to officially re-open the school after a £10million re-build funded by Birmingham City Council and approved by his predecessor. 6.00pm on a Friday is unusual even for a ministerial photo opportunity.
So the children, their parents and the members of staff not waving placards and baying for blood waited in the school hall for the great man to arrive. They waited for four hours and it seems the only grumbles came from little tummies wanting their tea and parents who left early to get home in time to watch the Simpsons. This week, Gove will present his white paper on the future of education and it is expected that he will demand to see an improvement in punctuation and spelling. Head teachers might first wish to see an improvement in punctuality.
The white paper will set out a return to “traditional” O and A levels and do away with modular “bite size” examinations and course work assessment. Instead, students will be able to enjoy the pleasure of being tested on two years of study on a single day in a single exam. History will be given a higher profile in the curriculum which is just as well because pupils will be operating in a system that was considered not fit for purpose 60 years ago. If they get stuck, they could always ask Grandma or Granddad for advice. Gove has, for the moment, stopped short of introducing compulsory Latin, the memorising of log tables and writing 100 times “I must not remove my cap when crossing the quadrangle”.
Gove wishes to improve discipline and reduce bureaucracy. The wasteful practice of recording incidents of bullying, racism, sexism and violent behaviour will go as will the requirement for adults working with children to undergo a CRB check. The clearing away of red tape will extend to the disturbing “free” schools where an actual teaching qualification will be unnecessary. Clearly a victory for common sense.
As Gove delivers his vision to the House of Commons, students in colleges, universities and schools across the country will stage a walk-out in protest at what the coalition government is doing to education and therefore the future of the nation. They must ensure that the spelling and punctuation on their banners is of a standard that satisfies the Secretary of State.
As for the children of Coppice Primary, they probably viewed the long wait for Michael Gove as an unusually lengthy after school club. Let us hope they made the most of it as Gove has cut £162million, that is 100 per cent, of the schools sports budget that funds after school sports clubs. Clearly a victory in the battle against childhood obesity and encouraging news for our prospects of gold medals in the newly introduced 2012 Olympic sports of pizza eating and Game boy.
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but with an education system that Harold Macmillan would recognise, perhaps 50`s retro is now all the rage. All we need is an heir to the throne getting married, North Korea fighting South Korea and Alma Cogan at the top of the hit parade.
Michael Gove was born in 1967.