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Will Michael Gove's schools revolution be just another false start.?

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Will Michael Gove's schools revolution be just another false start.?

Post  Panda on Fri 19 Apr - 9:45

Will Michael Gove’s schools revolution be just another false start?

There are encouraging signs of real progress, but Labour may have other
ideas in 2015

Hard at work: a quiet revolution
is under way in England's schools Photo:

By Fraser Nelson

8:40PM BST 18 Apr 2013


There are two years until the next general election but already Michael
Gove’s mind is wandering. At The Spectator’s schools conference yesterday, the
Education Secretary posed a question: would his education reforms survive his
departure? If Ed Miliband triumphed in 2015, could he snuff out the academy
programme as quickly as Tony Blair abolished the hundreds of schools liberalised
under the Major government? No, he concluded, the genie of choice is now out of
the bottle. The reforms are being driven by teachers, not politicians, so the
momentum is now unstoppable.

Mr Gove was simply saying aloud something that most of the Cabinet wonder in
private: that if the bookmakers are right, and Mr Miliband wins the next
election, will the Coalition have a legacy? Some Cabinet members refer to a
“2015 strategy”, which is nothing to do with an election and everything to do
with tying the hands of a future Labour administration. What defensive
mechanisms are in place, to defend the best of the Coalition’s achievements?
With education, another question looms: what if Mr Gove were to be moved to
another department? Would his reforms continue?

David Cameron’s problem is not that Michael Gove might be run over by a bus.
His problem is, this weekend, that quite a few mothers wouldn’t mind if he were.
By the time tomorrow’s post is opened another 50,000 female voters will have
good reason to curse the Education Secretary. The last of the primary school
admissions letters will be posted today, and more parents than ever are likely
to be told that the education they had wanted for their child is out of stock.
By the next election some 240,000 places will be needed, but free schools are
expected to deliver just 8,000. The next few years will be bulge years.

Mr Gove had not envisaged this when he took over at Education almost three
years ago. Officials had not, then, realised that the effect of the mass
immigration of the Labour years would mean a boom in primary school pupils. A
quarter of all children under the age of six have foreign-born mothers
(including, for the record, my two boys). A boom in little Britons is, of
course, a great problem to have – but only if the poor souls can be educated.
There are now 79 free schools open, a figure that may double next year. But 415
new openings are needed every year just to keep pace with the rise in pupil
numbers. For every parent pleased that their child is in a free school, there
will be six voters still smarting from having their primary application

Judging by terse questions from the teaching union delegates at yesterday’s
conference, Mr Gove is doing plenty right. His Academies Act, passed in 77 days,
allowed any school to become independent. Remarkably, half of all English state
secondaries have reached for these freedoms. By the next election, this will be
closer to three quarters. A-levels are once again being set by universities.
Teacher training is being quietly transformed and more of it is taking place in
schools, rather than in the education departments of lower-rank universities.
Root-and-branch, radical reform is under way.

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To be sure, the heroes of the story are the teachers rather than politicians.
One of them, Sherry Zand, told yesterday’s conference about her experience
setting up the International English School in Brandon, Suffolk. She was given
the keys just weeks before they were supposed to open, with almost no handover
notes on pupils. Staff and parents worked around the clock decorating the
building, establishing a close relationship that now defines the school.
Teachers meet and greet parents at the gate, and look after pupils from 8am
until 4pm. Once a fortnight, they call parents to discuss their child’s

This marks something of a contrast with the council-run state system, where
the NUT has asked teachers to send only one written report to parents every
year. Many teachers reject this advice, and deplore the way pupils are used as
ammunition in disputes between adults. I visited Ms Zand’s school a few months
ago, and met teachers who said how pleased they were to work for an institution
that doesn’t give up on pupils because of their supposedly troubled backgrounds.
A school that had been marked for closure by the council was saved by parents,
working with a private company.

As Mr Gove said yesterday, a trip to any of these new schools is inspiring –
but deceptively so. Ministers can visit the best places and leave uplifted, but
the problem lies in those they are never asked to visit. To change English
education, you need hundreds of good new schools rather than dozens. Mr Gove has
plenty of remedies and added some more yesterday: longer days; shorter holidays;
more poetry. But all this will take time. As he concedes, schools that have
taken academy status will be very slow to use their new powers because they
behave like liberated prisoners unaccustomed to freedom.

The new “free” schools, impressive though they may be, amount to just 0.4 per
cent of places and will perhaps manage 0.8 per cent by the election. For most
voters, they remain an abstract concept anyway. Things could move faster. Ms
Zand’s IES would expand quickly if it were allowed, but it is banned from doing
so on ideological grounds – because it runs as a normal business. That is to
say: one that makes a small profit. Oddly, this is not controversial in
socialistic Sweden but it is beyond the pale in supposedly capitalist Britain,
where Nick Clegg vetoed any expansion of IES as soon as he found out about it.
So the Swedes have an education industry, but Britain – which has far better
schools – does not. If anyone sells British education to the Chinese, it will be
the Swedes.

Profit-making schools are not necessarily better, but they expand fast and
are hard to abolish. The vast majority of Sweden’s school expansion has been
carried out by profit-seeking schools, which have proven more likely to open in
deprived areas because this is where the demand is greatest. Profit is
recognised in Sweden as a sign of popularity, and schools mostly reinvest it.
The Westminster objection to money-making is all the more bizarre given that no
one cares about the private companies serving school dinners and even inspecting
schools. But profit seems an ideological barrier so great that even Mr Gove
dares not attempt to vault it. If IES does well in Suffolk, he says, then
perhaps he can point to it and loosen the rules. But this will take time.

Time, unfortunately, is something that David Cameron’s Government may be
running out of. Labour has a track record of strangling successful experiments
at birth: it cheerfully killed Kenneth Baker’s grant-maintained schools. Mr
Miliband now talks ominously about a One Nation education policy which is
typically short on details. But the small print of Labour’s manifesto is likely
to be filled in by the unions, who now provide 80 per cent of the party funds.
Labour does not need to be so crass as to abolish free schools and academies. It
can just put them back under “supervision” of the councils – and leave them to

“Is it the case,” asked Mr Gove yesterday, “that whatever we have achieved
might be like Cromwell’s interregnum, which seems significant but is swept away
by the restoration of a previously rejected regime?” He thinks not, but much
depends on when voters will change the regime. Without faster-expanding
profit-seeking schools, his new institutions may not be noticed by enough voters
by 2015 – and the project halted. The story of educational reform in England is
one of false starts: it would be tragic if Mr Gove’s bold programme were to end
before it has properly taken root.

Fraser Nelson is editor of 'The Spectator’
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Re: Will Michael Gove's schools revolution be just another false start.?

Post  Panda on Fri 19 Apr - 9:47

"The reforms are being driven by teachers, not politicians, so the
momentum is now unstoppable. "

Well that's good news!!!!
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