Update: Within about an hour of posting this I saw the news that Michael Gove has backed down on a major part of his proposed teaching reforms, the rapid introduction of the EBacc. Opposition from the deputy prime minister and Ofqual, and realisation that some of his reforms might break EU rules appear to have caused this. I guess I should add these to the Gove vs the World list below. ~ Daniel, 7/2/2013
Update: Gove’s U-turn is perhaps not all it seems. He is still pushing for quite aggressive and sweeping reforms. See “Gove vs The Exams Regulator” below. ~ Daniel, 8/2/2013
One of my Twitter contacts said this of Michael Gove: “He is spot on with his reforms. More teaching, less examining, listening to employers.”
To be honest, Gove really doesn’t appear to be much of a listener to me – to give him credit, the recent announcement of the inclusion of Computer Science in the EBacc shows that he is capable of listening. I suspect that lobbying by the high-tech industry – including personal pleas from Google’s chairman – made this possible. There is perhaps a small part of Gove that recognises that however much he worships the past, that the future is digital and perhaps Britain ought to be ready for it.
But this ‘listening’ to what people are saying to him doesn’t appear to come naturally to Gove. At least not when the people doing the saying aren’t leaders of the world’s biggest multinationals. And when people have the temerity to disagree with Gove, he frequently turns to insults and outrageous attacks to dismiss them. (And it seems that his advisors might be helping him out here, in ways that they perhaps shouldn’t)
There is a lot I would like to say in this post, but rather than try and ‘finish’ this post before I publish it, I’ll publish now and update over time…
Gove vs. The World – round one starts below…
The Department for Education (DfE) likes to cite the UK’s drop in Pisa rankings as an indicator of the existing problems in the system and to highlight the need for reform. Gove argues that “these are facts from which we cannot hide.” But his love of rigour does not extend to a love of rigorous use of statistics. If they were, he would admit that the baseline Pisa figures for the UK from 2000 are not accepted by Pisa itself as being statistically valid.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD official who runs Pisa, told TES that the data used by Mr Gove was “a little bit dodgy”.
There is a question over whether results in England are improving as they should be, but Pisa and the UK Statistics Authority would like Gove and the DfE to stop misusing available statistical data (and promoting a misunderstanding of what it means).
The lack of art and design in the EBacc has reportedly already led to hundreds of schools dropping these subjects for students at GSCE level and above. This I find particularly amazing that while Gove is quite strident that school students should be able to spot biblical and classical allusions and references when they visit art galleries (“Unless you have a stock of knowledge … about Biblical stories and classical myth, about colour, line and perspective – then many of the works on display in the National Gallery will just be indecipherable cartoons“), his reforms are likely to mean that far fewer students actually get opportunities to practice art.
“No sensible reform of assessment can take place without clarity as to what is to be taught. Coherence is not achieved by accident but by design,” said Graham Stuart, the committee chairman and Conservative MP.
The committee highlight numerous problems with Gove’s rushed reforms and changes – not least the rush with which the reforms are being implemented and the difficulties and problems that are likely to follow. The evidence and reasoning to justify many of the changes is also found to be severely lacking.
Gove vs. The Teaching Unions
Actually, I’ll not bother putting a link to start this one. Anyone pushing for large and sudden changes in the education system is going to find opposition from the teaching unions. I happen to think that their opposition is justified in many cases, but it is also unsurprising. What is perhaps a little more surprising is the vociferous, uncivil and outrageous attacks on professionals employed in education from the minister in charge of the department, who is happy to label any dissenter to his very radical reforms as an ideologue “happy with failure”
Michael Rosen writes so lucidly and clearly in his series of letters that I really think I need to include some here:
Gove vs. Parents and Governors
Gove is particularly frustrated by parents who for some reason don’t want their schools turned into academies. Downhills Primary school is the most famous example of this. Gove sacked the governors of the school, and against the wishes of the vast majority of the parents who were happy with the school’s leadership and the steps they had been making to improve the school, forced the school into academy status. The school is now sponsored by the Harris Federation. A group set up by a major Tory party donor. Hmm.
A similar but less well publicised case was Roke primary in Croydon. Absorbed after a single notice to improve – despite DfE guidance that the education secretary should only force a change to academy status if a school has been under-performing for a period of time and if problems are not being tackled. Not only was the school forced to academy status, a move that was not wanted by the parents, governors or the local Conservative council, but the preferred choice of academy sponsor was ignored. Instead the school is now run by… the Harris Federation. Hmm.
A parent whose son attends Roke, who asked not to be named, said there had been “zero consultation”. She added: “Harris Federation has been forced on us. Harris is lauded as a consultant on failing schools, yet Roke is not a failing school. It was a wavering school that needed a little time to get back on track.
“The fact we’ve not had another Ofsted inspection just means Harris will take credit for the changes already made. It’s underhand politics.”
Gove’s work at the DfE is heavily prioritising academic subjects. Meanwhile, the head teacher of Eton says:
“I think some schools do focus too much on academic results alone. It’s very important you create an environment where students can go off and try things without being afraid to fail.
“Sport is also very useful at developing these softer, life skills. It teaches team-work, resilience when coping with failure and success.”
The head has also called for most traditional ‘Victorian-style’ pen-and-paper exams for pupils at age 16 to be scrapped, while the DfE is busy scrapping modular and project work and re-introducing Victorian-style exams for all.
Cambridge University disapproves of Gove’s plan to reform the A-level system and scrap the intermediate AS qualification.
While the planned introduction of the EBC (EBacc Certificate) to replace GCSEs in England has been dropped (for now at least), Gove is still trying to push ahead with quite comprehensive changes to the current GCSEs. Ofqual, the exams regulator has written to Gove to say that they will delay the changes if they are not satisfied that they can be implemented according to Gove’s timescale without harming children’s education:
Ms Stacey said in her letter to Mr Gove: “The timetable for qualifications development that you have set out is challenging.
“We know you would not want us to compromise on the quality or standards of the qualifications.”
She added: “We will need to jointly keep the timetable under review and if problems arise Ofqual would, if necessary, delay the reforms.”
To be continued… I haven’t even started on ‘rigorous’ Gove vs. actual rigorous research on education.