Michael Gove’s speech to the National College a week past Thursday was not widely reported, but a slight reference was made to it by folk who attended the “Aims-based Curriculum” book launch at the IoE. What they noticed was Gove’s reference to the current draft curriculum being the “last imposed from the centre”, thus launching an interesting though slightly bizarre future where schools “develop a variety of high grade curricula”. There was more, of course. There always is.
Amongst a bunch of 150 heads who have been accepted on the teaching schools program and who were Gove’s intended audience, was Anthony Seldon, who wrote the thing up for the Telegraph on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, he may have drawn some wrong conclusions in his piece, because schools who have gone into the teaching schools program will usually be those who are not overly linked to their local authorities and who have accepted a bunch of other givens. Not always, obviously, but Anthony Seldon cannot regard them (as he does) as typical of state heads.
That means that the Telegraph piece’s headline is suspect, although the analysis of the importance of Gove’s speech is, as always with Seldon, accurate and thought-provoking.
Gove’s speech itself bears some scrutiny. It is, as you might expect, full of evangelical zeal for academy chains seen as successful and there is a lot of rhetoric about putting the future of schooling back to schools. And of course, it has the usual pop at the unions, who of course did absolutely nothing over Easter to put themselves in a good light. If anything, it has fatally weakened their case because they have linked opposition to Gove’s curricular reforms not to the welfare of children but to the welfare of teachers.
It is all very alluring, though, and there are plenty who have been allured by it. It is an easy argument – a vision, if you will, to submit to. It offers the hope of a bright new future without having to think too hard about issues around localism, accountability to the community and the purpose of the curriculum. There will be no local authorities to worry about, no universities, those “dark satanic mills”, there will just be schools and partnerships of schools, with their own culture and ethos, divorced from that of their local communities. Once again, Seldon couches the speech in terms of our international competitiveness, rather than our own desire for the wellbeing of children, the contribution schooling makes to their families, and to the role we play as schools in our local communities.
But besides being alluring, it is also potentially dangerous. Since the absorption of the National College and teacher training into the heart of the Department of Education, we are going to see, amazingly, the divorce of teacher training from universities and from education colleges, and a new divide is thus set up between increasingly poorly funded university education departments and increasingly well funded teaching schools. We belong to a teaching schools alliance – not that you would know, really, because we have taken our teaching students from a university, acting locally through a partnership of schools. But the quality of training is, from what I have seen so far of the products, not especially fantastic in either.
The government says, and certainly Mr G probably believes, that this is not an ideological battle he is waging, but a practical one, to allow schools freedom. But the consequences of that (ideologically-driven) freedom, the ability of local leaders and school heads to maintain open and supportive relationships is threatened constantly. The consequences for communities, as argued cogently by Melissa Benn in her School Wars, and by Keri Facer in her Learning Futures, will be severe unless we have a clear vision of the education for “those living in a locality”. Teaching is first of all a service, a calling, and only then, if at all, a profession!
Anyway, I found the whole speech highly depressing, and the near antithesis of all that I am coming to believe and stand for. It is the more depressing because there is hardly a cogent argument being made against it in the political sphere, at least not by the Labour party. I will stop this blog now before I depress you too.