Ever wondered what happened to Del Boy and Rodney? A less funny duo has been reincarnated at the DfE.

Janet Downs's picture

“Gove ally savages No 10 on schools…General Gove is ready for a fight to the death”,

Times front page, 16 June 2014

While other front pages focussed on the horrors perpetrated in Iraq, the Times dedicated nearly half its front page to an interview with Dominic Cummings, ex-special advisor to Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Gove was held back by a “dysfunctional” Department for Education (DfE), said Cummings, otherwise he could have moved “faster, further, better”. Perhaps Cummings has forgotten that Gove pushed the Academies Bill through Parliament with the speed usually reserved for terrorist legislation. It is, therefore, unclear how much faster he could have moved.

But academy chains, said Cummings, would have “the most profound effect on education”. They will lift schools from being a “cottage industry” to “companies that deliver excellence at scale”. But not all chains have delivered this "excellence": 14 academy chains have been "halted" and one, E-Act, is being deprived of some of its academies after a culture of extravagance was found.

Speed was essential, Cummings said, because “millions of people have left school in the past ten years without being able to read”. Nonsense, of course (see here) but it’s a useful piece of propaganda to shore up Gove’s “crusade” on illiteracy.

Gove and Cummings are partners, a mutual friend said. They’re “like Batman and Robin”. No doubt this description was designed to evoke an image of caped crusaders battling everything from near-universal illiteracy to Trojan Horse (Cummings “slipped in” to the DfE last week to help sort out the “debacle, the Times revealed – was the “debacle” Gove’s handling of the affair?).

But instead of courageous heroes I saw one of the funniest comic moments in TV history: Del Boy and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin running out of the mist. And I imagined the Gove/Cummings duo adopting Del Boy's motto: "He who dares, wins!".

The deranged, expletive laden, interview didn’t just dominate the front page of the Murdoch-owned paper. It was accompanied by two double-page spreads and a pro-Gove editorial. The leader said the Tories had “promoted a massive decentralisation of school education”. But taking centralised control of thousands of schools is not “decentralisation”. The teacher training programme “Teach First” has had “a small transformative effect”, the editorial claimed. Quite how “small” this effect is would be clearer if the Durham university evaluation of the scheme were to be published. The leader writer asks why schools shouldn’t be run by “brands” selling education like “food”. It claims it’s only “sentimentalism” which prevents schools being run for profit.

This is typical GERM propaganda – and GERM is a virus which is killing our schools not improving them.

But as Del Boy might say, “fromage frais”, the penny has dropped. Gove’s reforms aren’t “crème de la menthe”. They’re not “cushtie” or “cosmic”. It’s time to give them the “heave ho”.

CORRECTION The above has been amended. There were TWO double-page spreads. I'd missed one. It contained the usual stuff: implying PISA results were worse than they were and not saying other international education league tables (TIMSS and PIRLS) show England in a more positive light; the domination of "trendy" teaching methods ; the malign influence of the Blob and an extended attack on The Active History website.

Ex-schools minister Nick Gibb explains how you wouldn't find "progressive methods at Winchester or Uppingham. But these methods are used at Eton, Mr Gibb, they're called Slow Education. We learn Gove hung a picture of Lenin on his office wall and calls Blair "the Master" (says it all, really). But even Blair, while advising Gove to "keep driving through", warned that he risked looking like "a zealot rather than a reformer".

So, in today's Times, the front page, four inside pages and a leader were devoted to praise of Gove. I think we can see who Murdoch is backing for next Tory leader. But there is such a thing as overdoing it.

UPDATE 18 June 2014

In the House of Commons yesterday Gove deflected several questions asking whether Cummings continued to visit the DfE and whether he still had his card. Kevin Brennan was one MP who attempted to get a straight answer from Gove:

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): "Can the Secretary of State confirm that the architect of the free schools policy, Dominic Cummings, was in the Department last week, despite the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) saying in a written parliamentary answer to me that there was no record of his visit? Could that be because he wrote last week, in typically bad taste, that he always signs into Government Departments, including No. 10, under the name of Osama bin Laden? What on earth is the Secretary of State doing still relying on this man’s advice?"

And here's Gove's flippant reply:

Michael Gove: "The architect of the free schools programme was actually Andrew Adonis, not Dominic Cummings, as he himself has said. Free schools were a Labour invention — a point that was repeated by the former Prime Minister Tony Blair when speaking to The Times today. As for the hon. Gentleman’s points about former special advisers, all sorts of people from time to time seek to visit the Department for Education to exchange ideas with old friends and colleagues."

View the “Only Fools and Horses” clip with Del Boy and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin here.

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Jenny Collins's picture
Mon, 16/06/2014 - 14:33

Gove and Cummings are PR people for Murdoch and his corporate chums. Here are some of my own reflections on Cummings:
Let's not forget that, as a country, we voted for this.

Brian's picture
Mon, 16/06/2014 - 17:07

Jenny Collins says:

'Let’s not forget that, as a country, we voted for this.'

Did we? I seem to recall, just before the last election, a certain party leader describing Tory education policy as 'a disaster' and his education spokesman deriding the Conservatives' plans for education as "deeply flawed", "absurd" and an "incoherent muddle".

Much of the Tory policy has been voted through with the ongoing support of that party. So how did 'we' vote for that?

jennyquestions's picture
Mon, 16/06/2014 - 18:42

If we didn't vote for this then who did? Labour and Tory are pretty much the same; we get what we deserve for voting in careerist politicians with more interest in themselves than those they apparently represent. Education is just one area of policy where revolving doors and corporate money distort and ultimately undermine the democratic values we hold so dear.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 17/06/2014 - 10:24

So what is the alternative if all parties are the same? That we don't vote at all? This is already a worrying trend. We are lucky enough in this country to have a democratic and human right to vote. Millions across the world don't have it and they suffer more because of it. These changes are here to stay - the schools landscape has been drastically altered and fragmented so we need to encourage politicians to come up with policies that bring all schools, whatever their type, back into the family of a local middle tier structure; bring an end to endless teaching to the test and give all children equal access to great education and exposure to a wide curriculum.

Cummings' remarks in the Times exposes just how political education has become. We should be voting in a next government that understands the complexities of dealing with the present mess and which has real solutions as to how to rationalise it all as well as back off from micro managing and controlling every aspect of learning and teaching.

jennyquestions's picture
Tue, 17/06/2014 - 23:22

The alternative is having politicians who work hard to represent the people that have elected them instead of flirting with big money: the latest Private Eye has a cartoon with an alien emerging from a spaceship saying "Take me to the corporate billionaire who gives orders to your leader."
But before we start going round in circles quietly misunderstanding each other let's return to the subject of education: what sort of education system has produced a) an electorate that has voted for/tolerates an extremely unrepresentative cabinet of (multi-) millionaires and b) a tame set of politicians and media types - all more often than not hugely well 'educated' - who make little effort to resist what Balduino A Andreola calls "...the flow of determinism, inexorable market-economy fatalism, speculation, greed and exclusion..." that characterises our society?
Not an easy question to answer.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 17/06/2014 - 09:04

Questioned about Dominic Cummings’ influence, Michael Gove quoted Margaret Thatcher: "Advisers advise; ministers decide." Yet so much policy is devised in thinktanks, virtually set in place before Ministers take up their positions. Given all the other demands of running a department, sitting in the Cabinet and in Parliament, there is previous little time for an Education Secretary to devise and think through policies, especially one as radical as what we have experienced in the past 4 years.

What comes over loud and clear in the Times interview with Cummings is his sheer contempt for the working of politics - politicians and the civil service. They are an impediment to the policies he has devised, both in terms of interference from ministers and from the slow pace of change. It might be more correct to say “Advisers decide; ministers implement”.

Cummings shares and probably exacerbates Gove’s zealotry and both have been caught out circumnavigating the processes and protocols of government. Cummings’ influence, as we know, extends far beyond Gove himself and it has been exposed as being bullying, smearing and dictatorial.

I imagine that he truly believes that the reforms he has helped Gove push through at such breakneck speed (still not fast enough according to him) will improve education but what is worrying is that all these controversial school reforms are the work of an unchecked, ruthless, unelected SPAD utterly convinced that he his ideology is correct and intent on imposing them.

We face a real problem in that more and more, especially young, people are disengaged with politics and politicians. Cummings’ rude but amusing opinions of politicians across all parties will encourage this. I don’t like him but I can see how his contempt for politics would appeal to the disenchanted. I don’t see him as Robin – he reminds me of the pompous would-be anarchist played so brilliantly by Rik Mayall in “The Young Ones”.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/06/2014 - 17:15

UPDATE. See my update giving the Commons exchange between Kevin Brennan MP and Michael Gove in which Brennan asks Gove whether Cummings visited the DfE last week and whether the reason there was no record was because Cummings joked he always signed himself as Osama Bin Laden. And read Gove's reply.

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