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Michael Gove is gone but he won't be forgotten

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: July 15, 2014


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TO say Michael Gove ruffled a few feathers in Burton and South Derbyshire during his four years as Education Secretary would be an understatement.

At times since 2010, school leaders have been on the verge of declaring war on the Department for Education (DfE) over their belief that Mr Gove refused to sway from his vision for the future.

If he thought it was right, then it was right, they said.

Some head teachers reached a point where they could no longer remain in their posts because they did not support what they had been told to deliver by the Government.

Yesterday, the man who has been labelled the most unpopular Education Secretary in history became a surprise casualty in David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle as the Prime Minister sought to reshape his party’s image less than a year before the General Election. And there were few complaints from schools in the region.

In February, Don Smith, head at Burton’s Paget High School, said interference from the Government was partly behind his decision to step down this summer.

He delivered a damning verdict of Mr Gove’s tenure.

“I can’t say I’m disappointed, in fact I am quite pleased he is going,” he said.

“Most of what he did was ideologically driven and didn’t benefit schools or young people - in fact it was the opposite, to their detriment.”

Mr Smith said he was particularly irked by a decision to, as he puts it, outlaw early exam entries for pupils. It was the final straw for the frustrated head teacher.

“I don’t think he was interested in talking to schools, he thought his view was always right,” he said.

“We had already entered many pupils and I don’t think that was right. It was something that allowed pupils to sit an exam in Year 10 and if they failed have another go and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

“People can have an off-day, make mistakes or have personal traumas and so on.

“But when you are making decisions you have to talk to schools, you need to work together. But he wasn’t interested in working with schools, he was just interested in changing them.”

Bernadette Hunter, head teacher at William Shrewsbury Primary School, in Stretton, has recently completed a 12-month stint as chairman of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

While in the role, she publicly clashed with Mr Gove at the union’s annual conference.

During the frosty exchange in May 2013, heads in the Birmingham conference room were insulted when Mr Gove said they were only being critical and not constructive.

That remark was a microcosm of the relationship between schools and the DfE during Mr Gove’s premiership - concerns being batted away all too easily.

Despite her disagreements with the outgoing Education Secretary, Mrs Hunter was more diplomatic about his time in the role.

She said: “Mr Gove certainly had a radical ideas for transforming education and brought in a huge programme of reform.

“I think sadly he often failed to take the teaching profession with him. He didn’t use all the opportunities he could have to engage with school leaders.”

Mr Gove also faced criticism over his refusal to act on Ofsted, the divisive and controversial inspectorate, just the mention of which is enough to bring some head teachers out in a cold sweat.

Mrs Hunter has previously said that if she had her way, the body would be replaced.

Jean Woolner, head at Belvedere Junior School, in Outwoods Street, Burton, another who has held her hands up and said ‘enough is enough’, was among its biggest critics.

She said a report released in April that ranked her school as inadequate in all areas was not constructive and did not present a fair reflection of the school. Yesterday, the Mail reported pupils had exceeded their exam targets.

It is this sort of inconsistency that infuriates education chiefs.

But Pat Murray, who spent four years as a governor at Granville Sports College, in Woodville, said not all of the criticism of Mr Gove was fair.

He said: “With schools, they always think change is wrong and will work against it. Some are receptive to it but there are others that aren’t.”

Mr Gove has been replaced by Nicky Morgan, who has emerged from relative obscurity to land one of the top jobs in the Prime Minister’s new-look female-friendly cabinet.

Mrs Hunter said the change represented an opportunity for the Government to build bridges.

She said: “I think it will be time for Nicky Morgan to try and build some trust and confidence by talking to the profession. I’m hoping the relationship with the Government will be better.

“We don’t know a great deal about Nicky Morgan but I hope she will be willing to engage in dialogue with us and listen to the views of the profession. They need to understand that in order to bring about improvements, they have to involve teachers as they are the people who carry them out.”

Mr Smith added: “I will be optimistic for the future if some of the changes are slowed down or scaled back. At the moment there are lots of things happening too quickly.

“The pace of reform needs to be slowed down rather than going hell for leather.”

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  • mattlong  |  July 16 2014, 3:15PM

    Michael Gove has upset many public sectors workers and made unnecessary enemies in a bid to appear 'tough'. He has ostracized large sections of the athletics community in the UK by commenting that running should be reserved as a form of 'punishment' in schools. You've got national celebrities and household names signing petitions against this guy. These people can't all be card carrying members of the Labour party.