Dear Mr Gove: your reforms are killing education not improving it

Janet Downs's picture
Dear Mr Gove

Your letter in the Telegraph says "reformers" are gathering to discuss reform of education systems and this will be informed by the large amount of evidence about successful education systems.

You are right – there is much evidence about the characteristics of schools systems which are successful in the international PISA tests. But it is a pity you either distort or ignore it.

You rightly say the best education systems tend to give schools the most autonomy. You follow this by saying you are giving schools in England more “freedom”. But you don't report the findings of the Academies Commission (2013):

1Schools in England already had a great deal of autonomy;

2The extra freedoms which supposedly come with academy status don’t amount to much;

3Non-academies can do most things academies can do.

You rightly stress the importance of having highly-qualified teachers. You praise yourself for having raised “the bar for entry to the profession”. But entry is only the starting point – teachers need training. In Finland, for example, teachers are expected to gain a Masters in their subject and another in the science and art of teaching. But you think the “craft” of teaching can be acquired on the job.

You say you’ve expanded “elite recruitment”. You do not make it clear what you mean by this. If you mean Teach First then you need to explain why Teach First is given preferential treatment; why it costs more to train a Teach First teacher and why Durham University’s evaluation into Teach First hasn’t been published yet.

You say “academies and free schools are designed to put power in the hands, not of politicians or bureaucrats, but teachers.” But the Academies Commission found many academies had less autonomy: “sponsored academies in many chains have to subscribe to centrally mandated systems and practices”.

You say successful school systems share common characteristics including “a rigorous, academic curriculum.” But an academic curriculum wasn’t one of the factors identified by the OECD (see here).

OECD’s Andreas Schleicher said successful school systems have moved from “professional or administrative forms of accountability and control” to “professional forms of work organisations”. The emphasis, he said, was not on outcomes but on the next stage in a pupil’s education: the next teacher, the next school, the pupil’s future life.

But you put far too much emphasis on outcomes. The OECD expressed concern about the excessive emphasis on exam results in England three years ago. And the Academies Commission warned it was league table pressure that was stifling innovation not lack of “freedom”.

Your attack on “vested interests” is lazy but typical. Anyone who argues against your “reforms” is smeared with some vague derogatory description: “enemies of promise”, “Marxists”, the “Blob”.

But such rhetoric won’t do, Mr Gove. Your policies are not informed by evidence. It was you, remember, who ignored OECD warnings not to compare the 2009 PISA results with flawed data from 2000. It was you who used surveys from UK TV Gold and Premier Inn to say English teenagers were ignorant of history. And your much-hyped data about academy performance has been punctured repeatedly by Henry Stewart’s analysis which has not been denied by your Department.

Your idea of reform is inspired by the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). And that’s the virus that's killing our schools.

Yours sincerely

Janet Downs

PS You have yet to respond to the Academies Commission report which was published in January 2013. Could you explain the delay in commenting?
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Phil Taylor's picture
Fri, 11/07/2014 - 07:26

I agree entirely Janet and thank you so much for pointing out again and again the precise ways in which Gove is laying waste to our school system.

But isn't it depressing that the opposition's education policy is, essentially, more of the same? Or, as in the case of 'master teachers' a gimmicky idea which appears to have been dreamt up by someone ignorant of the existence of Advanced Skills Teachers, meaningless tinkering. Hunt's appearance last week on the same Marr programme as Gove was intensely embarrassing. Even Gove looked embarrassed for him!

Something a lot more radical than this is required if state education is to be rescued.

agov's picture
Sat, 12/07/2014 - 15:31

That letter starts with a lie -

"In the eighties and nineties, across the globe, the world's economies were reformed to empower individuals and extend opportunity."

Actually, in the eighties and nineties, across the globe, the world's economies were perverted to ensure the rich got richer and the poor were denied opportunity.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.