Posted by: mrlock | June 7, 2014

Michael Gove at Policy Exchange #PXEd15

I’ve edited this to say at the start that you could do worse than go and see these sessions for yourself – here’s the link.

Jonathan Simons (@PXEducation) started the day and introduced the session. When I was at the bloggers curry last weekend, we discussed how long Gove had been Secretary of State for education. This appears even longer, when putting it in days, as Jonathan did – Gove has been Secretary of State for education for 1488 days.

I’ve seen Gove speak before. He is an excellent politician, beginning on areas of agreement and moving seamlessly to areas of challenge.

Gove started by saying that the last couple of weeks have been fascinating. He amiably talked of an incident over the Of Mice and Men twitter furore when the foyer of Department for Education was occupied by a group reading passages from the Steinbeck novel. He then took a couple of cheap but effective shots (to laughter) at the group organising the sit in – Left Unity – first at their name: “a group named left unity are guaranteed to be a splitter group” and then at the irony of their accusation that Gove was not sufficiently open to American influence.

Gove started the substance of his talk by defending the academies program and the development of free schools as a higher bar, for example because free schools are twice as likely to be judged outstanding. I internally remarked at this stage that the sample is small, and that it’s probably possible to use the data on OFSTED reports on free schools to illustrate any conclusion, including far more negative ones.

Gove continued to list the achievements of his government, and the link with the hosts of the day – policy exchange – Pupil premium, the establishment of the education endowment foundation, more emphasis on accountability for the most disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes.

Gove claimed that all of the reforms carried out under his watch are part of a long term plan – shaped by long term focus.

He listed a vision for children. This included that every child has access to the best that has been written, thought and said, that children are prepared for world of work, strength of character, to appreciate art and culture, music, drama, to experience the competition of sport and games, and have a secure grounding in the academic basics.

He then said he wants that for every child, because he wants it for his own. This is superb stuff – and something any decent school leader asks themselves – is my school good enough for my own children (something I can answer affirmatively now, and am proud to do so).

This is a compelling case for increasing reform – as Gove says he won’t settle for any child going to a school where he wouldn’t be happy to send his own child – and nor should he.

Gove then says that 1/5 of pupils leave primary school not literate, 2/5th of pupils leave without a grade C in maths and English, and amongst the poorest this increases to a majority. I’d argue that we’ll always have pupils leaving school without a grade C in maths and English if we have norm-referenced assessment (something I’m coming to the view we should have).

As Gove says, no-one (including union leaders, headteachers or politicians) would accept illiteracy for their own child. Rescuing that has been his driving moral purpose.

This is a theme I’ve seen Gove speak to before, and it’s a compelling case that is hard to argue with. Gove goes on to say that some people do say in reforming education the DFE are being too demanding and driving too hard.

He listed, for example, the National Association for the Teaching of English, who suggest Dickens should not be read, or historians who defend the teaching of World War 1 through the showing of Blackadder or the oft referred to example of teaching Hitler through Mr Men cartoons.
Gove suggested that some argue that promoting the academic EBacc is claimed by some to be a barrier to success.

Gove then referred to his personal experience – he knows what barriers to success are really like – parents left school at 15, spent time in care.

He then listed real barriers to success prevalent in schools – sending working class children to poorer performing schools, setting expectations low, flimsy worksheets rather than rigorous textbooks (though I’d argue that many textbooks do not represent rigour and we need some work on this), lowering passmarks and dumbing down qualifications – sending children into adult world without knowledge and qualifications required to make something of their lives.

Gove then said some might think the guiding principles might be mistaken even if they agree with the vision.

He then went on to make the case that if you consider twitter, blogs, teachers in the staffroom, there is a debate. There is no such thing as a view of teachers because there is a real and live debate going on. As he says, John Blake takes a very different view from Mary Bousted.

What’s right, according to Gove, is what works. This is something Tristram Hunt said a bit later as well. And I think Gove is right when he says “We’ve been lucky to be in office at a time where research is showing us what works.”

For example, School autonomy and parental choice – the more the better. The more that Headteachers can spend money, hire and fire, and be captains of their ship – the more standards rise.

Gove continued that this goes alongside “Proper accountability – allowing accurate fair and timely intervention”. The strongest form is external data and judgement by inspectors. Given credit for progress of all pupils. I would argue that maybe inspectors are not as expert as we would want them to be. I have serious reservations by what appears to have happened in the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham, and if you’ve read my blog you’ll know I have reservations over my own school’s inspection.

Gove said, however, that we’re (presumably the education system) better equipped to identify failure and deal with it.

Gove (and later Hunt) pointed out that an effective teacher can we worth a full year’s worth of learning. This is one of the things that I think Labour correctly challenge him on – the removal of the need for QTS (or to be working towards it) to teach contradicts this message. As Gove said, the quality of teaching is key – increased and improved trainees, and a higher professionalism of teacher standards, schools in centre.

Gove continued that there are two key areas for schools to consider – behaviour and the curriculum. I agreed with him that schools should be ordered, purposeful places, and that school that don’t eliminate backchat and disruption (and have lack of support from insufficently rigorous leadership teams) mean that those schools are ineffective.

Gove defended his record on ensuring behaviour can be great, including “ridiculous no touch rules abolished”, exclusion reform, strengthening alternative provision.

Every child must be in school benefitting from teaching every day, parents must play their part – Gove went on to suggest that parents have to play their part and outlines what sounds like a threat regarding parents being properly accountable for ensuring children behave. I look forward to seeing what this looks like.

A phone goes off, Gove glared at the offender and I felt sorry for them to be honest.

He continued, making the case that the number of children who leave primary school unable to read is indefensibly high – pupils need to be decoding fluently. Ensuring children are numerate and literate – is not a narrowing of the curriculum, it’s access to a rounded one. Fluency in reading and writing and mastery of maths are the keys to access to a stretching academic curriculum. I couldn’t agree more.

Gove then referenced one of my favourite papers by Cristina Ianelli – the role of the curriculum oin social mobility – which shows that the type of curriculum studied is more important that the type of school. Gove reinforced this by referencing achievement in Poland – improvements are down to a more academic curriculum studied for longer – and Germany, whose improvement Gove claims is down to a stronger emphasis on academic curriculum for all.

Gove then made a point that I wholeheartedly agree with – an academic focus is not downplaying vocational education, but academic study is a prelude to vocational education. This is the best way of stimulating critical thinking and creativity. I can’t help but wonder why UTCs exist then.

Gove then defended the new national curriculum and pointed is one of the first to include computing and coding. Microsoft and Eric Schmidt of Google have praised curriculum as world leading.

The Secretary of State is brilliant at heaping praise on school leaders who have done things well. He focused in on Burlington Danes Academy – and says people should observe Dame Sally Coates in action. At Burlington Danes every half term children are assessed across subject areas and told how well they’ve done that half term – every student and parent will see a ranking. This rank order system is hugely popular – parents assured in vague, airy and amiable terms now have hard data, and they know when they’re not meeting expectations. Students know which teachers are most likely to help them climb the ranking. Sally Coates has hence replaced competition over “whose backchat is the most fly” with competition over who is hardest working, most striving for success. Challenging intakes outperforming other schools. I’ve met Sally Coates and seen her in action – she’s an impressive woman I think all school leaders can learn from. I also agree with her systems of accountability by exposure with regard to pupil achievement.

The fact that Gove singles these schools out sometimes generates criticism, he said, in the form of why don’t more schools match them. He reported that he’d been challenged “Always ask why every school isn’t as good as this, and don’t worry if some say the question is fair. What’s fair is giving every child a chance.” I couldn’t agree more.

He said that demanding better for the next generation has generated some opposition, but that when he asks for the specifics for criticism, they don’t stand up.

For example funding – but education has been protected from funding slashes elsewhere.
On valuing teachers – he said thatteachers can never be valued highly enough, and that he takes every chance he can to emphasise how fortunate we are to have the best generation of heads and teachers – and he hasput teachers in key positions, including at the DFE and OFSTED.
On autonomy – but acads and FS are more accountable – more stringent than charities, for example. LA schools 191 cases of fraud. All FS scrutinised by OFSTED before opening, scrutinised early, and inspected 2 years in. He also pointed out that amongst LA schools – 2 are put into Special Measures every day – there are many who have been in SM for 18 months or more. Have taken 900 schools and given support of academy sponsor.

I’m not convinced on this structures debate to be honest – it seems like its skting around the edges.

Returning to criticisms, Gove referred to culture and creativity – and said that under him they have set up wholly new funded progs such as BFI film academy, or a dance academy, have given particular emphasis on drama, and refers to the Shakespeare schools festival (which I love). He referred to the Royal Shakespeare Company help actors get into the classroom and to RSC guide to teaching it is in all schools (though I don’t like this guide at all to be honest, and I’m not sure Gove would approve – my school was an RSC Learning and Performance Network Hub school, but I think the RSC is a bit wrong-headed in its methods while being great for giving pupils access to Shakespeare).

Gove continued on the criticisms – that he has neglected vocational/ technical education – he says they’ve stripped out qualifications that lack value, they have developed tech levels that lead to skilled occupation, reforming GCSEs so all students master the basics, and people at 16 will have to continue to master them if they haven’t reached a minimum standard – plus apprenticeships being developed.

On developing an atomised system that work against collaboration – open rather than forced collaboration can help and Gove referenced 450 alliances of teaching schools – 1/5th of schools working in this form of collaboration and increasing.

There have been mistakes – GCSE structures were a step to far (but this may need some reform to stop exam boards from competing by racing to the bottom) and Gove said some academy chains have expanded too fast (but poor schools in the wrong hands for too long). Gove uses Moseley as an example, referencing learning styles, innovation zone, kinaesthetic learners, there were no improvements. The £24m school closed after 2 years, and Moseley is the lowest performing authority – 43.7% got 5A-C grades including English and mathematics and 10% took the Ebacc. This figure doesn’t seem that bad to me for the lowest performing authority and is of credit that we no longer have areas where this figure is in the 20s, but I accept there is a job to do.

Gove continued – Referring to Nottingham – where half achieved 5A*-C inc EM – and in Nottingham a ‘challenge board’ was set up, but as yet Gove claimed there is no evidence it is further forward, and he then referred to Derby – an area vehemently opposed to academies, one of the worst performing LAs in the country. Again, I’m not convinced over this debate on structures, but anyway.

Gove claimed that “I would rather than we sought to intervene quickly than to assume defensive and defeatist postures. It is important to recognise the excellence in many state schools – fewer NEETs since records began – down by a third in this Govt. Fewer kids in underperforming schools (250,000 less), more studying maths, further maths, physics, chemistry.”

I think there was something of an own goal when he said “Teachers are better qualified” given he’s removed the necessity for teachers to be qualified. He continued with more defence of the government’s reforms.

He then pointed out that free schools and academies have sometimes only been open for a short period, and hence there is a lot more to come from free schools and academy sponsors who have had schools for a year. This is true. I guess there’s a range of good and less good stories to emerge as they have more impact.

Gove then provided the headlines – his conclusion – We must not retreat from reform, we must accelerate – other nations are accelerating, employing performance data better, stripping out bureaucracy, using technology in an innovative way.

We have to embrace reform and set standards higher than ever before, accountability should be sharper than ever before and that student or adult behaviour that compromises safeguarding must be dealt with. He said that teacher training needs to be better, which I think is true.

Gove defended subject knowledge, saying that we need more powerful incentives for mathematicians and scientists in the classroom, including at the end of Key Stage 1.

Gove concluded that “We want to ensure that disadvantage is not destiny”. This is ironic given the Trojan Horse case at the moment – Park View in Birmingham has this strapline as its explicit aim and it succeeds in getting great results for working class kids. Gove said he wants to make sure every child attends a school that is orderly, calm, with a positive learning environment and purpose.

He finished by saying that ensuring that every child has the chance to become authors of their own life story is his mission and moral purpose.

I reflect that he’s a brilliant politician who has exactly the right vision.

There were then questions:

Do you plan to give OFSTED the power to inspect Multi-academy trusts as a whole?
Gove’s view is that OFSTED have already successfully inspected groups of schools within MATs. If we are going to do that we must be clear on the framework. Open minded on whether to do this, but it must be focused and proportionate and with purpose. What works is what works.

What about improving teachers who are already there (Gove spoke about improving quality of recruitment)?
Yes – teaching schools as professional development. Refers to INSET days and death by powerpoint – people often feel better about practice, but rarely leads to great improvement. CPD associated with performance management – those schools can learn from outstanding schools.
Despite a robust answer, I feel like he probably hasn’t thought about this as much as he should have.

There was a schoolgirl error when the ITV news person asked the Theresa May question and referenced OFSTED of Birmingham schools and whether Gove has considered his position, plus whether this has damaged the government. She asked this as a closed question and allowed Gove a one word answer to appear assertive and end the session. He replied “no” to laughter and the session ended.

He certainly ‘beat’ Hunt, who I’ll blog about later.



  1. Gove is a great speaker. And he’s good at politics. But as a policy maker, all I see from him is rhetoric and manipulation. This is all ‘mom’s apple pie and democracy’ – who doesn’t share his aspirations? The way he’s setting about achieving his aspirations, though, is simplistic in the extreme – in a complex system things don’t get to happen just because a politician says they should.

    Take his comments on literacy for example. It’s quite possible that we could improve literacy levels. But where does he get the idea that every child should leave school functionally literate or get a C grade in Maths & English? Not from evidence, that’s for sure.

    First, there’s the 0.5% of the population with severe or profound learning difficulties. They are unlikely to learn to read, although some might. Then there’s another 1.5% with sufficient difficulty with learning that they need substantial support in school. Most will learn to read, but whether they meet Mr Gove’s criteria for literacy, and whether they manage to get Maths & English GCSE no matter how hard they and their teachers try, is anyone’s guess, since GCSEs are not designed with people with sensory, motor, attention or speech impairments in mind. In fact, these children don’t appear to cross Gove’s mind at all when he’s making speeches. Instead, he blithely says no parent would accept illiteracy for their own child. He seems utterly unaware that for many parents, illiteracy is the least of their children’s problems.


  2. Reblogged this on Phonic Books.


  3. You went to a lot of effort to write this post and thank you for that. Having said that I could have written it myself without actually having heard the presentation, it is simply same old same old.

    I agree with the above comment, evidence seems to have little in common with much of what Gove wants for everyone’s kids.

    There is a big difference between Gove’s own kids and the majority of working class kids. His kids are privileged, they will not have any student debt when they finish at Oxford and they will have routes into professions that are not open to the majority. The majority will be the most highly educated plumbers, road sweepers and data entry clerks the wolrd has ever seen. They will have debts that will prevent them from buying their own property for most if not all of their lives, with the exception of the few who strike it lucky.

    “For example, School autonomy and parental choice – the more the better. The more that Headteachers can spend money, hire and fire, and be captains of their ship – the more standards rise.”

    The evidence for this one I would love to see. Hiring and firing people at the whim of the Head may seem like a sure fire route to higher standards to you but I have direct experience of such behaviour (no I wasn’t fired I was quite successful) and the school in question has falling admissions and is rapidly declining.

    In the real world there are more important issues than whether Dicken’s is part of the curriculum. In the real world, the idea that including coding and programming will be useful to the majority of kids is laughable. To me this is clearly absurd and unlike the unbaised Google and Microsoft I don’t see this producing a world leading curriculum.

    In the words of that great social philosopher, Harry Hill. There are the trads at Policy Exchange and the Eclectics at Nothern Rocks, and there is only one way to sort this out…………FIGHT.

    Speaking as one who came from a disadvantaged background myself, who has expereince of a number of workplace experiences, I sincerely hope for the sake of my grandchildren that the Govites do not prevail.


    • You could also have written it yourself as policy exchange are going to publish videos of all the talks later today I believe.


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