Chalk talk: The two Michaels now appear to be the best of friends


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The Independent Online

Last weekend's annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders could really have been renamed "the two Michaels show".

First we had the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, saying what splendid changes the other Michael – chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw – was going to make to the Ofsted inspection process (good or outstanding schools will henceforth be subjected to a more light-touch inspection regime).

Then it was Sir Michael's turn to tell the conference what changes he planned to make.

It happens like that in today's world because, of course, Sir Michael had floated the changes in an earlier interview on the BBC's Today programme.

Michael – Gove, that is – was a little coy when his former work colleague, the Times journalist David Aaronovitch, asked him if he thought more of his fellow Conservative MPs should send their children to state schools. He would not presume to tell other parents where to send their children.

Aaronovitch rephrased the question, asking if he felt his fellow MPs needed to be so scared of the state system. "It's a beautifully phrased question, which I'm going to shamelessly ignore," Mr Gove replied.

All in all, though, the session – in which one Michael followed the other – reinforced the image that all is sweetness and light between the two Michaels, following rumours of a spat earlier this year. Interestingly enough, though, on a panel the following day, most members said they could not care less whether the two were still friends or not.

Indeed, the whole question of how much influence politics should have over the education system emerged during the Question Time-style session on Saturday morning. The former Education Secretary Baroness (Estelle) Morris pointed out that two political parties – the Conservatives and Labour – had made pledges in the run-up to the last election to promote synthetic phonics. You would not get them insisting doctors only use penicillin to treat patients.

One example of a government initiative too far, said one head teacher from the floor, was the "troops to teachers" scheme advocated by Mr Gove, whereby former service personnel were fast-tracked into teaching jobs.

"Why not turn it on its head – and have teachers to troops?" he suggested. Trouble is, he went on, what skills would he have to go and bomb villages?

"We might have done better in Afghanistan if we'd had more teachers and a few less bombs," one panellist observed.