Heads send Michael Gove to bottom of the class

The Education Secretary was given a very rough ride by the NAHT. Richard Garner draws up his end-of-term report

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain's headteachers withdrew their support from Michael Gove, overwhelmingly backing a vote of no confidence in his school reforms and then heckling him as he addressed them. Mr Gove's reception by 500 headteachers at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) conference in Birmingham was the most hostile he has received in his three years as Education Secretary.

At one point, when he told his audience that "I admire your candour but we are going to have to part company," a heckler shouted: "Are you leaving, then?" There was loud laughter when Mr Gove said it was important to discover the sources of the stress that heads were facing. Gerard Kelly, editor of the Times Educational Supplement, chairing the session, said: "They think you're one of them."

Bernadette Hunter, NAHT president, said: "Those of us within education – both leaders and learners – have never had it so bad." Her comments were greeted with prolonged applause – in stark contrast to Mr Gove's reception.

He said: "I'm only interested in a constructive dialogue but what I haven't had during the last hour is a determination to be constructive – critical, yes, but not constructive."

The "no confidence" motion is the first by a headteachers' organisation in this Government, and was overwhelmingly passed with fewer than 1 per cent of delegates voting against it or abstaining.

Tim Gallagher, from Worcestershire, moving the motion, said: "We must send the strongest message to this Government that many of their education policies are failing our children, their parents and the fabric of our school communities." The motion singled out the use of government-appointed brokers to persuade schools to become academies by using bullying tactics against heads, and the controversial reforms to the national curriculum and to exams.

Mr Gallagher claimed that many of the reforms had been "drawn up on the back of a fag packet".

Mr Gove did offer one olive branch to headteachers, announcing that he plans to redraft the history curriculum. The redraft will make clear that pupils should study the history of other cultures, he said, but that the proposal to teach the subject chronologically would remain.

Academic Performance

The new national curriculum

B for effort, C for performance

No one can doubt Michael's enthusiasm for reform. He has opted for a traditional approach to teaching – history taught in chronological order, times tables in maths and an emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar in English. He has failed to convince teachers, though, that the new demands will give them enough free time to introduce more creativity into the classroom.

Reforming exams

B for effort, D for performance

In racing to tell people of his plan to bring back O-levels, Michael failed to first speak to his classmate Nick (Clegg), whose support was essential. A compromise was put forward with GCSEs being replaced by the English Baccalaureate Certificate, which Michael eventually had to admit was "a bridge too far". We are left with GCSEs, but Michael assures us they will be more rigorous.

Academies and free schools

A for effort, C for performance

You have to hand it to him – the first new academies were being set up within four months of Michael taking office; there are now 2,900 of them. Hundreds of new free schools are also in the pipeline. But a number of the free schools are not in areas where new places are needed, while a baby boom has left the nation short of primary school places in some areas – notably London. On academies, Michael has infuriated teachers.

Communication/grammar, spelling and punctuation

C for effort, E for performance

Michael's use of source material to make his arguments (UK Gold, for instance) is questionable. His condemnation of a teaching resource urging 15 and 16-year-olds to liken members of the Third Reich to Mr Men came unstuck as the students in question were studying for the IGCSE (which Michael favours) and had just completed a 1,000-word essay on the subject and were to use the approach in trying to interest primary school pupils. On spelling, grammar and punctuation, Michael's new test has been welcomed by traditionalists, but an 11-year-old schoolgirl questioned whether he put the commas in the right place in the final paper.


A for effort, E for perofmance

Michael has been typically robust in his dealings with everyone. However, he has alienated teachers and heads by insisting those who disagree with him are the "enemies of promise".


Michael is a gifted orator. However, he too often denigrates and alienates his opponents. This is a pity because – in three years – he has achieved more than they would give him credit for. He must tone down the rhetoric levelled at opponents if harmony is to be restored to the classroom.