“Michael Gove’s explanation is that he is locked in a struggle with “The Blob” – the name he and his allies give to the educational establishment which is inspired by the 1950’s film” Nick Robinson

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Firstly, I must admit to not reading Dangerfield’s analysis of Edwardian Liberal collapse in “The Strange Death of Liberal England” but I did read The Amazing Dangermouse Pop Up (Genius!). I have read through Mr Gove’s speech at the London Academy of Excellence though and decided to interpret his words for meaning. One of the first things that niggled me in his speech was, “At the heart of the success of the best independent schools – and the best state schools – is freedom for the headteacher”. Surely, it should have read:

“At the heart of every successful private school is the selective, fee-paying exclusivity of the rich and privileged and the heart of the vast majority of the best state schools is simple geography.”

I am not being deliberately cynical. I believe outstanding schools can exist in every context and have seen, and been part of, this. But it is NOT the rule and basic income inequality metrics will tell you this. You only have to read through outstanding Ofsted’s to see how their deprivation factors are mainly different to the ones who get put into Special Measures. There are far too many schools not outstanding in the poorest areas of this country. Is that where all the worst teachers and school leaders are? Bristol (though changing) is a typical example. The majority of outstanding schools are in the wealthiest parts of the city – is that because all the best leaders and teachers happen to get jobs there? So is it about recruitment policy? Or is it more complex?

I also believe, ” that any child – and every child – can succeed.” but I know how hard it is for that to happen. How stacked against the odds for too many. It is frustrating and damn right unequal. Therefore, statements about social justice and opportunity being more equal is a bitter pill to swallow when heard from the mouth of a Tory MP who can ‘Yadda Yadda’ an argument and say things such as, “Proper history teaching is being crushed under the weight of play-based pedagogy which infantilises children, teachers and our culture.” as though he is the only right person on the planet carving his scimshaw legacy. Gove is about saying things which will go down in his beloved History. He is the consummate political artist who is posturing as a way of avoiding answering the hardest question – that we need to understand how best  to ensure that very different children have better learning experiences. Not the same elitist, private school principles (it worked for Uncle Tristan and Rupert) that clouded his speech on Monday.

I really struggle to understand how making schools more like independent, fee paying schools (with the economies they command) is going to help the vast majority of the children educated in state schools. This is not supporting the ‘dominant consensus that every child should not be expected to succeed’. (Dominant consensus? Which staff rooms has he being hanging around?).This is just looking at the world we live in and saying if you want equality, if you want a just and sustainable system for education then maybe we should stop saying ‘poverty’ is NOT a barrier. It’s like saying ‘teachers are resilient’ so we can beat them to death with overwhelming targets. By saying poverty is not a barrier, Gove (or any politician), moves the argument cleverly away from the cold dead eyed facts. It ignore’s these facts with idealistic ministerial ease (From Barnardoes):

Does child poverty affect children’s health?

  • Three-year-olds in households with incomes below about £10,000 are 2.5 times more likely to suffer chronic illness than children in households with incomes above £52,000 .
  • Infant mortality is 10% higher for infants in the lower social group than the average.

Does poverty affect a child’s education?

  • Only 48 per cent of 5 year olds entitled to free school meals have a good level of development at the end of their reception year, compared to 67 per cent of all other pupils.
  • Less than half of pupils entitled to free school meals (just 36 per cent) achieve 5 GCSEs at C or above, including English and Maths, this compares to 63 per cent of pupils who are not eligible..

How much money do families living in poverty have?

  • Families living in poverty can have as little as £12 per day per person to buy everything they need such as food, heating, toys, clothes, electricity and transport.

How does poverty affect families?

  • 1.6 million children are growing up in homes which are too cold. 41 per cent  of  children in the poorest fifth of households are in families who can’t afford to replace broken electrical goods, compared with just 3 per cent  of children in the richest households.
  • 59 per cent  of children in the poorest fifth of households have parents who would like to, but cannot afford to take their children for a holiday away from home for one week a year. This only applies to 6 per cent  of children in the richest fifth.

So on the basis of that, Mr Gove, justify this statement from your speech:

“It’s the belief that nothing is too good for the children of this country.”

Said like a future Prime Minister. But why then is the gap between the rich and poor in this country SO wide? I have worked hard at closing the GAPs in educational standards and that is why my school is graded Ofsted outstanding even though only 7% have been to university and many (due to your government’s politics) have lost their jobs in recent years (Free School Meals have doubled in the last 4 years). Of course you could argue that I prove your argument – the belief that any child – and every child – can succeed. But that is not my argument. My argument is you are a very clever politician who is becoming very dangerous – you are playing rhetorical games with education.

“My ambition for our education system is simple – when you visit a school in England standards are so high all round that you should not be able to tell whether it’s in the state sector or a fee paying independent.”

As Peter Wilby said, so well, in his article for the guardian on Monday:

So as parents visited, say, Marlborough College (founded 1883),  they would ignore the demand for £27,420 for a year’s teaching and nearly another £5,000 for boarding. They would breeze into classrooms and wouldn’t notice that, for 870 pupils, Marlborough has more than 150 teachers and assistants, a ratio that, if applied to all England’s 8.2 million schoolchildren, would require the teaching workforce to be tripled to roughly 1.3 million. Then they would wander the grounds and somehow fail to clock 11 rugby pitches, eight cricket squares, 14 cricket nets, 12 tennis courts, an eight-lane swimming pool and .22 rifle range, a variety of facilities which, if extended to every state school, would require (according to one calculation) 33m acres, or more than half the English countryside.

Now, I do not want to make excuses for why children fail. I do not want the finger pointed at me and to be accused of being “BLOB standard!”. I am not. I am a proud council estate product and education has put me where I am today. But a Secretary of State for education who spends so much time romanticising an ideal because it is the easiest option to justify his politics must be challenged more rigorously. Politics that have done the following to ensure that children get the best chances in life.

  • Deprived areas across England and Scotland are seeing larger cuts to local authority budgets – of around £100 per head – than in more affluent ones, according to a new report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  • Changes to the benefits system made by the UK coalition government since it took office in 2010 have hit women disproportionately hard, according to a new study published by the Scottish Government.
  • The coalition government’s austerity programme is mainly hitting those people who depend on vital support from public services and social security, according to a new study from the New Economics Foundation think tank.
  • New analysis for Child Poverty Action Group by Landman Economics has found that an increase of 600,000 children in absolute child poverty is likely between 2010 and 2015.

Where me and Mr Gove agree is in the fact that education is a key factor to breaking the cycle of poverty. He would argue that it is pupil premium that is the means to do this. It is not. Therefore, he would argue it is attitude – ambition, expectation – an ethos of excellence. It is. But, next time he walks the grime covered pavements of poverty street with £12 in his threadbare pockets he will need to consider this basic principle when writing a follow up to Mondays speech – that he so obviously believed will enshrine him in the annuals of Parliament. By creating a level education system has he the resources to bring state schools into line with Independent schools (Hurrah!) or will he need to really put his political clout into this and ensure that the inequality that currently exists between the two systems is broken down through a national cull of these schools? It is like the ideal that ALL schools will be GOOD schools. Surely, unless we change the system, that is a mathematical impossibility – in the same way that when I worked in a Special Measures school in which families needed help finding a house, human trafficking was a very real reality, children had no access to toys, wandered the streets, ran for drug dealers, saw gangs as a career option, wore the same clothes daily – because they were the only clothes they had… But I am making excuses! I need to start dreaming again. Of course, by just saying it, I can make it happen. I can use my outstanding army of teachers and we can take on the BLOB – we can break down the injustice within our system and watch as everyone rises, fists clenched, from poverty – and our government can continue to cut investment in the poorest while giving tax breaks to the richest.

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