Friday, 30 July 2010

Citizen Gove

Recently there have been some reruns on TV of an old 1970s sitcom called "Citizen Smith". In it a deluded left-wing politico, leader of the "Tooting Popular Front" believes that the country (or at least Tooting) is waiting desperately to be led into a revolutionary left wing government. Of course the reverse happens and shortly after this the country, in its wisdom, elected a particularly nasty Tory government in the shape of Margaret Thatcher.

The ultimate deludinoid Citizen Smith has now been surpassed in the delusion stakes by Citizen Gove. The new Tory education secretary has become the most deluded man in history, comfortably surpassing Wolfie Smith in the delusion stakes.

That he has achieved this within only a couple of months (yes it has only been a couple of months!) of being in government, demonstrates quite how spectacularly out-of-touch this man is with reality. Out of 25,000 schools in the UK just 153 have actually applied for his "academy" status, the Tories' flagship education policy. That is well under 1% of schools.

Citizen Gove, almost certainly aided by his chums in the Daily Fail, The Torygraph, the Scum and the Daily Excess believed the propaganda they built up over years, indeed probably decades, by the right-wing media. This created an unquestioned consensus in the media that there were all these schools, teachers, heads, pupils and parents just waiting to have their local schools set free from the Kremlin-like control of the local councils which were deliberately ruining educational opportunities for children the local democratically.

This iron-fisted grip elected...councils imposed their schools on whose governing bodies the parents had a majority...

Parents were crying out, looking for leadership and turning towards the shining light of Michael Gove, the education secretary who would set them free, the exalted hero who would replace these elected councils... and democtratically elected boards of governors with what the parents really want; the freedom for schools to go-it-alone, and do away with all this democratic hinderance as they are taken over by large private companies, religious zealots or run centrally by Government diktat. This is what parents wanted, this was the media consensus, this is what all right-minded people (especially journalists who tended to regurgitate official pronouncements on education without questioning their contents or wisdom) believed. More meddling in structures, freeing schools from local control and accountability and runnig them directly from Whitehall would herald a new dawn for education in which all children would learn their 3R's and every school would be special.

Into more than 20 years of constant restructuring and 'freeing' schools from local control jumped Citizen Gove. The man who would save the schools of this country from the their own locally elected representatives, and the yoke of accountability to the parents of the children they teach. Here he was, this was the man, his time had come! With one bound Michael Gove was going to be the man to set them all free, to give them all exactly what they had wanted.

Except it turned out that, exactly what they all wanted, was to have nothing to do with Citizen Gove's hair-brained ideas. Despite the fact that Gove had used emergency legislation to rush through his Bill to enable these schools to start up as soon as possible, despite the fact that even his own Tory MPs had described his actions as undemocratic, the future of the country was at stake and he needed to act fast to save the children from their own parents and their parents' locally elected representatives.

Predictably he has made a complete and utter fool of himself. Unforced error after unforced error, he could be an England goalkeeper.

The thing about Gove is that he is the same as all other education secretaries only more so. He has been to school so he knows all there is to know about education. Education secretaries have, for as long as I can remember, taken this attitude. An I-know-better-than-teachers-heads-parents-educationists-advisors-inspectors etc... It is like appointing someone with no knowledge of economics to be chancellor (OK so Osborne has no meaningful knowledge of economics but at least learning about economics is fairly easy compared to understanding how children learn). Education secretaries have all actually not really had a clue about learning, much less about teaching. So what have they done? Pretend they are doing something. Tinker with the superficial structures of schools rather than listen to teachers and education experts about how to improve teaching. It's not as if there are no models of excellent education systems in other countries to get ideas from; for example Finland's concentration on quality teaching with high quality teacher training and more professional freedom and respect for individual classroom teachers. This is in contrast with the top-down management structures of the UK, where decisions, which should be taken at classroom level, are too often taken at management or national level.

The problem is that Gove, and the rest of the Tories don't want to look at the successful countries like Finland. Because they know they will not like what they see. So they carry in making arses of themselves instead and fiddle while Rome burns.