Michael Gove’s flagship policies are “entirely derived from his own educational experience”, Margaret Thatcher’s former education secretary has claimed.
The Conservative peer Lord Baker said that Mr Gove – who has championed a controversial agenda including the free schools programme, exam reforms and changes to teachers’ pay and pensions – was pushing through plans that could fail children who did not have his natural advantages.
Speaking at the Sir John Cass Foundation Lecture at the Cass Business School this week, Lord Baker, who was Education Secretary from 1986 to 1989, said: “Michael Gove had a tough upbringing and he believes if he did it, anybody in the country could do what he did: whether they’re orphans, whether they’re poor, whether they’re impoverished, they can all rise to the top. That is not actually true, and that is dominating the attitude of a key minister in government.”
Mr Gove reportedly attended a state school in Aberdeen before winning a scholarship to the private Robert Gordon’s College in 1979, where he excelled.
Lord Baker’s criticism was not reserved for Mr Gove. In comments reported by Civil Service World magazine, he said David Cameron was “not that interested in education, frankly”, and described prime ministerial views on schooling as “not worth listening to”.
His comments capped a week when Mr Gove’s free school plans have triggered a rift at the heart of the coalition that led Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, to criticise the “ideology” at the heart of his proposals. In extracts of a speech Mr Clegg was due to give today he said: “There are aspects of schools policy currently affected by the priorities of the Conservative Party which I would not want to see continue.
“Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education. They don’t care about the latest political label attached to their child’s school.”
In the wake of several high-profile free school failures, including the Al-Madinah school in Derby, which was described as “dysfunctional” by Ofsted, Labour branded the scheme a “dangerous free-for-all” and an “out-of-control ideological experiment”.
Since Mr Gove established the programme in 2011, hundreds have opened. But this week even Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange – a think-tank closely linked to Mr Gove – said free schools must not be protected from a system of “clear accountability which we rightly expect all other publicly funded schools to work within”.
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which has been at loggerheads with the Department for Education over the reforms, said Lord Baker’s comments were “yet another nail in the coffin” for Mr Gove’s “personal vision for education”.
“It really is time we returned to evidence-based education policies,” she told The Independent.
Lord Baker, who this week launched his plans for “career colleges” for 14- to 19-year-olds to fill a “skills gap” among young people, said Lady Thatcher, a former Education Secretary herself, had been “rather ashamed” of having “signed the death of more grammar schools than any other secretary of state since the war”.
When approached last night, the Department for Education declined to comment on Lord Baker’s remarks.