Michael Gove has gone to the whips’ office to help the Tories win the next election, and has left a big hole in the Department for Education. I am glad he has gone, but will miss the energy and personality he brought to the role, I think. What I will not miss is the callous disregard for any view of education as valid except his own, and his genuine failure to understand how people think and work. Ultimately he has failed completely, as the whole national government has failed, to restore any kind of good, effective local control over education, and thus has shown a huge lack of trust in those people who will be the beneficiaries of education. It is the arrogance of the man and his ambition that have stood in the way of true service to children and communities locally. The obsession with the national agenda has ultimately undermined everything he has done, and destroyed many local communities to the extent that most people now imagine that education is only about getting a good job in the end, and not part of the circle of life and learning that puts what you have learned as a community at the service of what is to be gained at a school and in turn, what is learned at school back into the service of the community. I am looking forward to seeing what Nicky Morgan will do with the role and whether she can take the heart of Gove’s genuine desire for children to have a fair education and translate it into something less ideological and more local.
After a couple of days, the press view is switching to a trade-off argument between those who see the need for Michael Gove to be at the heart of the election process (where he will be allegedly effective in the whips’ office, and not a policy liability in the writing of the manifesto) and to be a reforming minister. The Times view yesterday was that he will help get a Tory party elected in 2015 which will then be relatively toothless for want of his reforming zeal.
This is a pointless argument. Reform is necessary, as any fule kno, but it is the direction of that reform which is where the debate is housed. A drive towards strong local authorities with first class accountability structures and enough money to support and help schools grow and diversify would negate the need for central control and OFSTED at a stroke. But the current lot would not want to relinquish that much control. As Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, said in a tongue-in-cheek way about why he had never visited Milton Keynes: “never could; too scared, see!”
The Conservative press have resurrected the term “the Blob” for the opponents of Gove’s reforms. This is a facile and infantile tactic, because it follows the logic of dehumanising the enemy in war (think goons, gooks, tommies, jerries, yanks, rebs, commies) which then makes it easier to lump everyone together, strip away the fact that they can be engaged with at the level of serious debate (which I define as a reasoned argument capable of changing the mental perceptions of those involved and possibly changing their outlook on life), and ultimately, take delight in their extermination.
I am a proud member of the blob, but I have nothing much in common with other bits of it – teaching unions, for instance. If this is the level of debate that the broadsheets within a so-called developed democracy can cope with, then it is hardly a surprise when the level of overall political engagement in this country is so thin. On the other hand, serious-minded academics, coming from a strong research base in child-development and educational research, often get into the blob by default, and I am more than happy to be linked with them.