Goodbye, Mr Gove

July 15, 2014

I won’t say this is the post I never wanted to write, because I would have written a post with this title more than happily if Michael Gove’s departure had been the result of an incoming Labour government. While I did have some worries that a Labour government would see a return to the complete dominance of progressive orthodoxy in education, I was pessimistic about both the chances of my party winning and the chances of a re-elected Tory government, with a different education secretary, being any different in that respect. The one thing I have noticed most about the education system is that it is barely under political control. The only politicians whoever seemed to be in charge while in office were Gove and Blunkett, and both of them had years of opposition to study the brief and four years in office. Moreover, the changes Blunkett began soon dissolved (sometimes while he was still in office) and were replaced by policies of the opposite stripe with no public debate. Almost any change of education secretary seemed almost guaranteed to lead to a drift back to the education establishment calling the shots.

And that is what I now expect. Not because I know anything about the new education secretary Nicky Morgan. Like most people I have no idea who she is. I do know, however, that she has never had education as her brief . I do know she is not a proven, powerful figure in the party or government. I do know that education secretary is a position nobody gets the hang of just by learning it while doing the job. As far as I can tell her appointment is likely to indicate that education will not be a political priority for the government between now and the election. It is being neutralised as an issue and she is likely to face an expectation from above to create no waves. The message sent by this is that the revolution is over. The system is back to normal.

As I implied above, I don’t expect Gove’s reforms to have made a permanent difference to the system. Those in positions of influence, who were most in sympathy with his agenda, will – no doubt – gradually be replaced by establishment figures over time. Reform of exams and teacher training will probably not be completed properly. The system has been shaken up a bit, but not replaced, and will soon settle back to normality.

The one place where Gove may have made permanent change is in the Conservative Party. There used to be little interest in state education there, beyond ideas about increasing selection, rooting out leftist influence and reducing the power of local authorities. Gove has made it possible for a Conservative politician to espouse the comprehensive principle and argue over the education of the worst off. It has gone from being an area, like health, where talking about it could only benefit the Labour Party, to one where a Conservative politician could become famous (if not loved) and repeatedly see off his opposite numbers.

As for his weaknesses, I’ve never seen Gove’s general willingness to cause a row to be a weakness, more of a necessity. Education is full of those who have exercised power without being challenged. However, I fear he did go far too far in the Trojan Horse row. By over-reacting to a mix of real, but unexceptional, problems and outright smears he helped make one of his own success stories into a gift for those who would see a monolithic system with no diversity at all, while at the same time causing a public row with one of his own colleagues. This may have been the step too far that finished him off, but it would be a real shame if education now dropped off the agenda. My one hope is that freed of the need to constantly react to Gove, this might actually be an opportunity for Tristram Hunt to show some of the potential that he had a few years ago, that has unfortunately been unrealised. He now faces an inexperienced opposite number and a government that has lost its nerve. Labour has a chance, for the first time in years, to be the party of high standards for all instead of comfortable acceptance of orthodoxy. Let’s hope they take it.


  1. […] call this piece “Goodbye, Mr Gove”, but Old Andrew (@OldAndrewUk) has already written this one with that title. I read his post, really enjoyed it and agreed with the majority of it. But […]

  2. I think you are a tad too pessimistic – at least somewhat prematurely. While I dislike the man as an individual, and am certainly no supporter of his party, I respect the fact that he spoke up for academic standards. More by chance than design perhaps, he changed the climate of the debate: on his watch it has become possible, for the first time in maybe thirty years for people to speak up in favour of traditional education.
    In the meantime, edublogging has taken off and there has been a tranche of research supporting more traditional approaches. Rather sooner than expected, it may now be up to those of us who espouse such values to keep talking the talk and taking the arguments back to those who might wish to return the system to ‘normal’.

  3. I respect your views (and, even more, your right to express them) but I don’t share your enthusiasm for Gove’s embrace of ‘standards’. His targets, I fear, were political: what he saw as leftist LAs and universities, which he eviscerated; and the free market of academy chains and self-funding teaching alliances, which he favours at the expense of the rest. As for ‘progressive’ vs ‘traditional’ teaching: I’m for both, not one or the other.

    • Nonsense. Gove’s only ‘targets’ were poor teaching and the huge number of children deliberately left in ignorance. The fact that all those advocating ignorance are/were on the left was just a coincidence, albeit an instructive one.
      Once the teaching unions have had a good laugh, the only people who will really be pleased by his departure will be those running independent schools, whose hegemony is now no longer under threat.

      • Of course it was political.
        Using Singapore and China as examples, constantly, for instance.
        I suggest you visit Singapore. You’ll realize maths and science is basically all the children can do. The vast majority can barely even write or spell.
        They lead the world tables in maths, science etc etc as they basically don’t study anything else.
        Most of his justifications and examples were crank.

      • I get a bit annoyed when people refer to “teaching unions” to somehow denigrate their views. With the vast majority of teachers belonging to a union, and the previous professional body being dissolved by Gove, the “teaching unions” and the “teaching profession” are pretty much interchangeable.
        Yes, teachers were upset by the pay and conditions being threatened, but there were so many more professional issues on which they disagreed with Gove. You’re just not allowed top strike about anything other than pay and conditions.

        • ‘I get a bit annoyed when people refer to “teaching unions” to somehow denigrate their views.’

          Why else would one refer to them? Their views are entirely anti-education and anti-learning. Any teacher who disagrees with Gove is not worthy of being called a teacher.

  4. Reblogged this on Apprenticeship, Skills & Employability..

  5. I am not sure about Mr Hunt. He has been demolished at every Education Questions and does not come over very well in interviews.
    I think it is a sad day for the country’s education system with the departure of Mr Gove.

  6. Tories struggle to connect with normal people.
    It’s plainly obvious to me that not only were most of Gove’s policies very unpopular with teachers, but also with parents.
    Parents like the “BLOB”. Whether that pleases tories or not.
    Gove was “fixing” and being “radical” about something most people sort of liked how it was
    You know, the tory press supported him, and backed him. But that was always going to run out eventually

  7. Gove went on an ideological crusade to get the support of the newspapers and party, for a future leadership campaign.

    His only interest was battling unions, upsetting teachers, and saying “tradition” and “rigour” as much as he possibly could.

    There is no lasting basis to anything he has done.

    1: Labour supported academies. They invented them. They’d have done the same thing in office.

    2: Free Schools – there is 170… Just a vanity project.

    3: Rebranding and renaming exams so student scores appear lower to newspapers. Yes, rigour! Students are getting exactly the same education, and results. But now an “A” is called a “B”!

    4: Banning American books, and saying “tradition” a lot.

    You know, tell me anything above that’s even going to last a few years?

  8. I knew Gove was mostly in a political battle, when I kept hearing him bang on about Singapore

    Having lived in Singapore for 6 years, I know five things:

    1: Maths and Science is baslcally the only subjects they’re any good at. I knew investment bankers, who can barely even spell. They’re shockingly bad at the humanities, history, art, English.

    2: This is because they basically don’t bother studying humanities, history, art, English. Schools focus all their student time on Maths and Science.

    3: Students there have at least 12-13 hour days. If you walk into a local McDonalds in Singapore, at 9pm, it will literally be FULL of 13-14 year old kids doing their homework and studying. They congregate in such places, as their own homes are too small. Believe me, they will do a 8-5pm day at school. Then a 5pm-9pm stint of homework.

    4: Because of this, all kids are basically miserable. And they become miserable, depressed adults. Singapore has a population crisis currently, as a large amount of men and women are too depressed/stressed to conceive children.

    5: Singapore has it’s own education crisis. Gove and the Daily Mail may trump it’s achievement in Maths and Science, but they’re shocking at many subjects. Gove never brings these up.

    • Two easy ways to spot someone who hates education:

      1) They go on about pupils being happy or unhappy, as if this is relevant to learning.

      2) They haven’t a clue how to use apostrophes.

      A failure to grasp basic reproductive biology is also pretty indicative.

  9. […] Thirdly, Gove has, almost single-handedly, cured the Conservatives of their obsession with grammar schools (and to a lesser extent private schools), those enemies of educational equality. Let’s remember why he was appointed to the role of shadow education secretary in the first place in 2007 – David Cameron was forced to shuffle David Willetts out because Willetts (himself the product of a grammar school) had made a speech strongly defending the Conservative policy of not re-introducing grammar schools. The Tory grassroots exploded, roared on by the Telegraph and Mail. Yet when was the last time you heard a senior Conservative assert that more and new grammar schools are in any way an answer to social mobility? Whatever you think about his free schools – which have their Lib Dem champions such as David Boyle – Gove has rescued their Tories from their hopeless 1950s’ nostalgia. As the Labour-supporting teacher-blogger Andrew Old puts it: […]

  10. […] Teaching in British schools « Goodbye, Mr Gove […]

  11. […] Goodbye Mr Gove […]

  12. […] the year that Michael Gove ceased to be education secretary. My comments at the time can be found here. He was a regular reader of this blog, and mentioned it in a number of speeches. Although […]

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