Chalk Talk: How Gove gave headteachers something to cheer about

The London Metropolitan Hotel turned out to be a most appropriate venue for last weekend's annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders. Appropriate, that is, because just opposite the hotel entrance was a hair salon called "Headmasters" – which led me to wonder whether anyone had dropped into the salon expecting to find the conference. Probably not, though, because they would have had to have been sexist.

Meanwhile, an impressive array of speakers amassed in the main conference hall. I say speakers but that was not strictly true in the case of Education Secretary Michael Gove who preferred a question-and-answer session chaired by Times Educational Supplement editor Gerard Kelly. It was an interesting format, allowing Mr Gove to speak to the teachers not at them. One of the biggest bursts of applause came when he acknowledged that the way he had handled cutting Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme had not been "my finest hour".

Talking of applause, Labour's schools spokesman Stephen Twigg got some when he was introduced as the man who beat former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo in the 1997 election. I know it's right up there with landing a man on the moon as one of the seminal moments in TV history according to surveys, but you would have thought by now he could be remembered for something more recent.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to report the campaign to set up a free school in south London aimed at weaning young black pupils away from the gang culture is gathering momentum again. One of the parents who wanted to send her son to the school, Diaspora High, has won a judicial review of the Department for Education's decision to turn the application down (twice!). It always seemed to me a most innovative project, supported as it was by leading academics at Cambridge University. It will now be the first true test of the free-school decision-making process.

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