Gove won’t listen to academics or teachers, what about parental demand?

First published April 2013

This is a cross post from educatingbrentwood

The current Secretary of State for Education and I share two characteristics. We are both parents and neither of us has any professional experience in education.

One of us likes to inform our understanding of teaching and learning by reading and listening to those who have studied, trained and practiced in classrooms. The other is in charge of education policy. 

Michael Gove is not alone in his lack of professional expertise. It is extremely rare for any Secretary of State to have any teaching experience, Estelle Morris was the first and only former state school teacher to hold the post and she only lasted a year or so, resigning in 2002. While a lack of this experience should not be a barrier to holding the office, I would like to think it would at least oblige you to engage, consult and listen to those who do have it before forming and implementing policy.

Regrettably, the approach of Mr Gove appears to be to form policy around his own beliefs about education and abruptly dismiss any counter argument. This approach was never better demonstrated when, last month, he rejected the concerns of 100 educationalists regarding proposed national curriculum reforms, labelling them “bad academics”.

Again, I’m sure that he is not the first Minister to fit data or selectively pick research to meet the direction he wishes policy to go. The problem, it seems to me, is that the imperative to meet certain objectives within the timeframe of a single parliament is leading to rushed, ill thought out policies. Crucially, this approach is alienating the profession he expects to act on his “reforms”.

The concerns of teachers are well known and are often stated. Unions have been accused of polarising debates and are too easily dismissed as being politically motivated. Mindful of that, and frustrated by the lack of a coherent challenge to the huge weight of proposed changes and the breakneck speed with which they are being implemented, some school leaders have organised themselves via social media.

The Headteachers Roundtable formed last year intending to be “a non-party political group that wants to influence national education policymakers so that education policy is centered upon what is best for the learning of all children.” Sounds good to me, a group of school leaders, running good schools offering their perspective on how to improve education. Why wouldn’t politicians take account of their views at the very least?

Developing this theme, teacher Debra Kidd has been in the national media having delivered a petition to the Education Select Committee signed by over two thousand of her colleagues following the dismissal of the “bad academics”. She also appeared on Channel 4 News to state her concerns about the current approach to the profession opposite former school’s minister Nick Gibb MP.

Mr Gibb, a chartered accountant, demonstrated his suitability for a role in forming education policy by suggesting that being able to name a 19th Century British Prime Minister was a prerequisite to being able to embark on an arts degree course.

Following that appearance, Debra seems to have understood that maybe a different approach is now needed. If policy makers won’t listen to academics or teachers, maybe they’ll listen to parents and grandparents? Of course the two are not mutually exclusive and, more importantly to politicians, most are voters.

To challenge the current approach to education policy and as a plea to engage professionals in developing and implementing policy, a new petition has been created and can be found here with a full explanation:

Seven points are made within the petition but two appealed to me in particular (her emphasis):

“6. We challenge your refusal to accept that childhood is as much a place for happiness and curiosity, as it is for developing the important building blocks for reading and numeracy”

I am increasingly concerned that we have lost sight of the central question of what education is actually for and what outcomes we want for our children. Are exam grades the be all and end all? Talk of longer school days and shorter holidays, first raised under the previous government, is just one example of proposed erosion of family time, but to what end?

The crux of the matter is addressed in the final point:

“7. Finally we ask that our children are no longer used as political footballs to promote the careers of politicians keen to make their mark. It is not just their future at stake, but that of our nation and indeed our species. We need to have a sensible and open debate about the role of education in our society, which is free from party politics.”

As a society, and particularly as parents, we seem to be accepting a situation where what constitutes good education is dictated by politicians.

Where narrow academic study is the only worthwhile education.

Where schooling based on the “needs of employers” is the central goal.

Where teachers are expected to be obedient appliers of policy and not central to their development.

Where opening schools seemingly at random with no thought of the consequences for the resources of existing schools and their pupils is acceptable.

Where parents battle with one another to “choose” the “best” school in the area based on spurious league tables.

I’m not an education professional, but I’d like those who are to be involved in guiding my children’s learning. As a parent and citizen I expect the decision makers that my tax is paying for to do the same.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to reappraise those forming policy, now and in the future. I’ve signed Debra’s petition and I hope many others who support our teachers do the same.

As Mr Gove is apparently a champion of “parental demand” perhaps he will listen.

Stephen Mayo (@StephenJMayo) is a Labour Party member and education blogger. His site is:

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