Friday, June 11, 2010

House Points: Michael Gove's plans for education

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. Instinctively I am rather in favour of Gove's ideas, but it becomes harder to defend them when you have to set your views down in writing.

A mixed report

How do you know when the delegates for a teachers’ union conference have flown in? Because the whining noise continues after the jet’s engines have been turned off.

Unfair no doubt, but you have to admit the educational world is infected with a terrible negativity. Reading the Guardian education section on Tuesdays, which ought to be an uplifting experience, leaves you looking for an inventive way of ending it all.

So it’s no surprise that the education unions are against the coalition’s ideas for schools: they have been against every initiative for as long as anyone can remember. And such is the current malaise in education that it is hard not to welcome any proposals that will shake things up. But let’s try a fair evaluation of these ideas.

The Conservative emphasis on allowing new schools to be set up fits well with our beloved Pupil Premium. Without it there is a danger that we would just see children from middle-class families being squeezed out by poorer children in popular schools. What we desperately need are more good schools overall.

And we should be pleased if new schools are set up by parents and community groups. Such ideas were around in the Liberal Party in the 1970s and we have lost sight of them for too long. But Liberal Democrats will be less attracted by the suggestion that commercial companies should run schools and the accompanying talk of brands and chains.

Nor is the encouragement to successful schools to opt out of local authority control attractive. One thing that Labour got right was to grasp that it is the schools that are doing badly which need shaking up. And civic pride in local schools is likely to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

However these ideas turn out – as ever, some will flourish and some will not – we are going to have a get used to an education world where a lot of exotic flowers bloom. It certainly will not be one controlled from Ed Balls’ old desk in Whitehall. So it good to see that Michael Gove has trimmed the grandiose name (“Department for Children, Schools and Families”) he inherited from Balls.

And perhaps we could all stop moaning too?

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