England & Wales Education and children's services

Michael Gove’s speech at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College


Michael Gove go a bit hot under the collar yesterday morning according to Politics Home.  The pace of his academies programme has resulted in some critics branding him an “ideologue” presiding over a massive shake-up of education with little regard for the long-term consequences.

In a speech at Habersashers’ Aske’s Hatchem College, he refuted this charge in the strongest possible terms.  He argued that it’s local authorities who “stand in the way” of reform, not him, who are the ideologues.  He said that their opposition reflected “the bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left wing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity”.

Since the academies programme is a “practical programme” aimed at tackling entrenched failure, ergo, all opponents are yoghurt-knitters driven solely by ideology.

Quite a charge sheet.  Is he right?  It’s undoubtedly true that some on the Left are the most vociferous opponents of the Academies programme.  It’s a sleight of hand, however, to ascribe this division quite so neatly on political lines.

Just as there are Labour supporters of the Academies programme – he’s careful to name a pantheon of Labour good-and-greats including David Miliband – there are Conservatives who are concerned that some aspects of the reform risks destabilising the education system.  The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

In 2011, the LGiU surveyed 80 Lead Members and Directors of Children’s Services.  These are the senior politicians and officers responsible for education.  Our respondents came from across the political spectrum and authorities around the country.  It found that nearly all respondents recognised the need to support academies but had specific objections to the reforms as enacted.

In particular, they wanted powers to ensure the local accountability of the education system to ensure pupils are placed in the most suitable school to their needs – whether this is an academy or not – and ensure that action is taken against schools that are struggling before things get too bad.  It’s abundantly clear that there aren’t enough civil servants in Sanctuary Buildings to manage thousands of academies from London.

Interestingly, this is something that Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw echoed in a Times interview over the break (although he argued this should be done by a new cadre of local education officers who were not part of or accountable to local government).

Gove, despite the bluster, has no convincing response to how the education system will be regulated and held accountable once the majority of schools are academies.  He urgently needs one and, until does, should probably row back a bit on the fire and brimstone.

This post was first published on the Children’s Services Network.