In calling the – in his view – change-resistant educational establishment “The Blob”, Michael Gove obviously identifies with the late Steve McQueen, whose first major role, film buffs will recall, came in the 1958 horror classic of that name. Having seen at first hand the terrifying amoeba-like alien, McQueen has trouble persuading local townsfolk of the threat they face, lamenting: “How do you get people to protect themselves from something they don’t believe in?”
This seems to be Gove’s problem, too. He arrived at a new East London free school having been chided by just such a non-believer. David Bell, Reading University’s Vice Chancellor and Gove’s former Permanent Secretary, had attacked the teaching unions’ “knee-jerk opposition to any change”. But he added that the row over Gove’s dropping of Sally Morgan as Ofsted chair demonstrated the importance of not being surrounded by “yes men”, and that “The Blob” might “not be as deep-rooted as the Education Secretary believes”. In mandarin-speak, this roughly means: enough already, Mike.
Gove was unabashed by the criticism. At the London Academy of Excellence he lavishly praised teachers, and also by implication, himself. He listed improvements since 2010 to show that “people who work in our schools are making history”.
Talking of history, he continued in a creaky segue, he was a fan of George Dangerfield’s book about Edwardian times, The Strange Death of Liberal England (Was this a dig at his Lib Dem schools minister, David Laws, who is said to be furious about Morgan?). A new Dangerfield should chronicle “the strange death of the sink school and the strangely overlooked transformation of English state education,” he added.
Not exactly a snappy title, but it made his point, which was that state schools should be so good you won’t be able to tell whether they’re in the state sector or fee-paying independent. “When even Tatler publishes a guide to the best state schools you know tectonic plates have started to shift,” he said. He didn’t mention that an advantage of state schools cited by the posh mag was that “when you do finally get into the Cabinet, everyone will love you because you didn’t go to Eton.”
Asked if the Government was stuffing public bodies with Tory supporters, he insisted the “right candidate” would replace Ms Morgan whether “a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party or someone generous enough to support a political party with their hard earned cash.” For now, we can only take a wild guess at which is likelier.