How have the new Government's two ministers in charge of education measured up so far?

Headmaster Richard Garner delivers his end-of-term report
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The Independent Online

Michael has distinct hyperactive tendencies, as anyone who has come into contact with him cannot fail to notice. Within three weeks of his arrival, he had decided to revolutionise the whole school system. He wrote to every school in the country suggesting they consider opting out of local authority control and consider instead academy status. He said this was part of his plan to put a "rocket booster" under the academies system.

In fact, Michael tries to put a "rocket booster" under everything he comes across. For good measure, in that same period he also decided to do away with everything he thought bad under the previous Labour head boy – Ed (Balls). Quangos were scrapped: first Becta, an organisation that helps school with new technology; then the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, the watchdog for the national curriculum; and thirdly the General Teaching Council for England, which is the regulatory body for the teaching profession and passes judgement on incompetent teachers (admittedly dismissing only 17 of them since it took on this role nearly a decade ago).

It is here, though, that one can find fault with Michael. He sometimes acts without thinking through the consequences of what he has done. Someone, for instance, will still have to keep an eye on monitoring the curriculum; and there really should be a regulatory body that can keep pornographers, paedophiles, incompetents and violent people in general out of the profession (even if we would hope it could tackle more than 17 cases of incompetence in 10 years).

Michael is very good at wriggling off the hook most times (we shall come to evidence of where he has been unable to do so later). He tells people he will reveal his master plan for dealing with the work of the axed bodies, which has to be continued "soon". He is prone to saying, "Well, I'll leave it in-house" (i.e. with the civil servants at the Department for Education), momentarily forgetting that there will be far fewer people in the house as a result of his friend George's public spending cuts, and that his philosophy is less central government control, not more.

We have only touched on some of the things Michael has done so far. He has also axed Labour's proposed reforms to the primary school curriculum on the grounds that there was insufficient attention paid to the delivery of a traditional curriculum; he has announced there will be a review of the national curriculum and tests for 11-year- olds – which those naughty headteachers boycotted last term; and he has revolutionised the exams system by allowing state schools to offer a broader range of qualifications – such as the International GCSE, which the private schools are much enamoured of and which is constructed along the lines of the traditional O level, without the focus on coursework.

Oh, and it should be remembered that he has introduced his plans for Swedish-style, independent "free" schools to be run by parents, teachers and charities. (Or, more probably, private companies specialising in education brought in by parents, teachers and charities – since who wants to start running a school after they have got back from an exacting day at work and are just enjoying a mug of cocoa or glass of Chablis?)

Now we come to the incident near the end of term which led to Michael having to make an unscheduled visit to the head's study. Michael, along with most of his friends, has an abhorrence of spending other people's money if it can be avoided. That is why he came to the House of Commons in early July to give details of the abandonment of predecessor Ed's programme to lavish £55bn on improving school buildings.

Adopting a sober pose, he told his fellow MPs that more than 700 of Ed's projects would have to be cancelled. The trouble was, he did not give his colleagues details of what would be scrapped but did give the details to the media. This in itself was an unpardonable sin in the eyes of his Commons colleagues. What made matters worse was that there were several inaccuracies in the list supplied to the press. (Yikes! And they complain about us getting things wrong. Still, put a journalist in charge of the education system...)

Well, all hell broke loose. Schools which had been told they were getting a building programme were suddenly told it was now cancelled. A Conservative MP even threatened to mobilise a march on Whitehall.

There was no alternative: Michael had to go before the House and offered an unreserved apology. He even had to accept meekly all the criticism made by Vernon Coaker of the Remove (remember Billy Bunter?), the former Labour Schools minister.

I have to say to Michael that any repeat of these shenanigans and there will be pressure on him to spend some more time with his family, in the time-honoured fashion of getting rid of ministers who are causing an inconvenience.

Which would be sad because – for all his faults on this issue or, more probably, his civil servants' faults (so why rely on them to take on more work "in-house"?) – Michael has some very good ideas, particularly his one about getting all the schools in the country that are rated as outstanding by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, to become academies and help out not-so-outstanding neighbours.

Indeed, were I to be awarding grades to him for this term's work, it would have to be an A for effort, B for content, but a borderline C/D for delivery. Luckily, though, due to those pesky exam league tables, there are plenty of people around in our schools who have expertise in turning borderline Ds into Cs. The only trouble is that Michael is trying to reform the league tables to remove the necessity for that as well.



David, on the other hand, has made a quieter and more thoughtful start in his new job. He gives the impression of someone who is prepared to weigh up the evidence before committing himself to action. The only time he has ruffled a few feathers was over an interview just before his first keynote address setting out his portfolio.

In it, he described the cost of students' degree courses as a "burden on the taxpayer that had to be tackled". That, in itself, might not have been enough to inflame passions, but it was followed by a claim that students should consider their fees "more as an obligation to pay higher income tax".

That's just not cricket, came the cry from those opposed to higher fees. After all, had not he, David, been a party to the self-denying ordinance agreed by both him and Labour not to talk about the elephant in the room during the election campaign? The party line then was that it would all be sorted out by Lord Browne, the former BP boss, as there had been all-party agreement that he should hold an inquiry into the issue. This inquiry should not, under any circumstances, report until after the election campaign. Surely that self-denying ordinance should remain in place until the autumn, when the report is due to be published?

On a closer reading of David's speech, though, it emerges that he was not saying there should be a massive fees hike. Speculation may have ranged on whether he would like to see fees rise from their current level of £3,240 a year to £5,000 or £7,000 – the Russell Group, which represents Oxford and Cambridge amongst 20 of the leading higher education research institutions, would like to see the cap lifted altogether. But what he actually said was: "If fees were to go up, the Government would have to lend people the money to pay for them and that would push up public spending. It's not just that students don't want to pay higher fees: the Treasury can't afford them."

What he was arguing for was a system whereby students could attend lectures at their local university while living at home, but might sit exams to gain a degree from another, more prestigious, institution. Cut-price degrees, if you like. He made it plain that he did not want to pre-empt Lord Browne's review – again a sign of playing his cards close to his chest.

David, then, earns a B for content (a very thoughtful essay, deserving of the soubriquet "Two Brains" that most of his colleagues have landed him with, though there were some things left unsaid), and a B for effort. Were a grade to be awarded for catching the public eye, he would have to be a borderline C/D. There is, however, every chance this will be rectified next term, after the publication of the Browne review.

Michael Gove: a life in brief

Born: Aberdeen, 26 August 1967

* Education: Educated in state and private schools in England and Scotland; read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, where he was president of the Oxford Union.

* First career: Journalism. Formerly worked for The Times and the BBC's Today programme, in addition to On The Record, Channel 4's A Stab In The Dark and local newspapers.

* Political career: First elected, as MP for Surrey Heath, in 2005. Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, 2005-2007. Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, 2007-2010. Appointed Secretary of State for Education on 12 May 2010.

* Books: His books are Celsius 7/7, published in 2006; The Price of Peace, 2000; and a biography, Michael Portillo: The Future of the Right, in 1995.

* Ideals: Wants to raise standards in state schools nationwide.

* Family: Married to Sarah Vine, a columnist for The Times, and has two young children, Beatrice and William. Gove was himself adopted by a Labour-supporting family when he was just four months old.

David Willetts: A life in brief

Born: Birmingham, 9 March 1956

* Education: Willetts went to a grammar school, the King Edward VI School in Birmingham, and then to Christ Church, Oxford University, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

* Political career: Nicknamed "Two Brains", he took charge of the Treasury's monetary policy division when he was only 26, and was a key adviser in the Thatcher government. Elected to Parliament as MP for Havant in 1992. Shadow Secretary of State for Education, 2005-2007, then shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Now Minister of State for Universities and Science.

* Books: His books include Why Vote Conservative? and Modern Conservatism.

*I deals: A centrist moderniser. Notably opposed to the reintroduction of grammar schools.

* Family: He is married to Sarah Butterfield, an artist. They have two children, Imogen and Matthew.

KAT CAIN

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