Gove: Ideologically committed, utterly zealous, and hated

His departure may raise a smile among teachers, but his record deserves a more in-depth scrutiny

Share

Michael Gove was described by a headteachers' leader yesterday as “radical and sincere” in his vision for education, but with prescriptions that were often “too hard to swallow”.

Mr Gove was certainly the most ideologically committed and zealous Education Secretary I have ever come across. (He is the 15th I have reported upon since starting to write about education.).  He was also the most hated by teachers' leaders.

In his four years in office, he has managed to transform vast swathes of the education system. Some of his earlier reforms have already born fruit - particularly his English Baccalaureate at GCSE level which has led to a marked improvement in the take-up of key academic subjects such as science and modern languages by pupils.

Under this, schools are ranked by the percentage of pupils who get top grade A* to C grade passes in five subject areas - English, maths, a language, a humanity - history or geographyand the sciences.

Read more: Gove gone: the utterly obvious decision, once it is made

Without doubt, though, his biggest change is over the way schools are run.  He massively increased the former Labour Government's academies programme - previously confined to struggling inner city schools - and introduced free schools to the educational landscape.

The idea of the free school was to introduce a new type of school - run by parents, teachers, charities and faith groups - to provide something different from the diet of a local authority run state education system.

There is no doubt some have been innovative and popular - witness a number of bilingual primary schools in which young children are taught in two different languages simultaneously, and the highly over-subsrcibed secondary school set up by writer and broadcaster Toby Young in Hammersmith, west London, which has put Latin back at the centre of the school curriculum.

Unfortunately, there have also been some glaring failures. In particular, the New Discovery free school in Crawley, West Sussex, which had to close after inspectors revealed its pupils had made no progress in English and maths for a term.  In addition, there were concerns over the Al Madinah free school in Derby - criticised for its failure to carry out adequate safety checks on staff.

Mr Gove has also come in for heavy criticism from public spending watchdogs over his plan to earmark £22 million for what he describes as a state school version of Eton - for boys from Brixton, south London -  in the heart of the Sussex countryside, and splash out £40 million on a new free school in Westminster.  It will be interesting to see if lavish projects like this survive in what is likely to be the less ideological regime of Nicky Morgan, his successor.

He has been thwarted in some of his reforms by his Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Coalition Government. A plan to replace GCSEs and return to an O-level style exam system was quickly vetoed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who refused to countenance any return to CSEs that he felt would have had to go alongside such a move.

Nevertheless, he has still manage to introduce a widespread reform of examinations - which are returning to the days of end-of-year three-hour examinations instead of constant coursework.

Throughout, though, he has adopted a combative style which saw him liken his opponents in the education world to the “Blob” - a human eating ameoba in the 1950s science fiction film starring Steve McQueen.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said she expected a smile may have formed on the lips of many a teacher when they heard of his departure because of his treatment of them.

That may well be true - but his record deserves a more in-depth scrutiny. It is a mixed picture. Some of his reforms have genuinely benefited pupils, while others have taken a good idea and been derailed by a blinkered determination to push forward as far and as fast with them without considering the consequences.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?