As I was running the daily leaflet gauntlet at the entrance to the Tory conference this morning, a man thrust a flyer for the Trade Union Reform Campaign in front of me, saying hopefully ‘trade union bashing?’. He clearly hadn’t got Robert Halfon’s memo about not bashing the unions, and neither had Michael Gove when he addressed delegates a few minutes ago. He indulged in his favourite sport and took direct aim at the teaching unions, claiming that some union secretaries had told him not to praise high-performing schools as it risked making other schools feel uncomfortable:
‘How can we succeed as a country when every time we find success and celebrate it there are those who say ‘no, someone might feel uncomfortable’. What I feel uncomfortable about is the soft bigotry of low expectations that lead so many to believe that some people can’t be as good as the rest.’
He also attacked unions for telling teachers not to do photocopying (you can see the NUT’s list of tasks that teachers ‘cannot be required to routinely carry out here, on p16), and said the unions had also ordered members to write little more than perfunctory reports for their pupils. This actually roused cries of ‘shame!’ from the conference hall, as though we were actually at a Labour event.
The Education Secretary’s speech was largely defensive: defending why the government thinks free schools will push up standards, defending the way he talks about teaching and schools. He defended his team in the Education department: even those who had been sacked in the reshuffle, and even the Lib Dems. He made no new announcements about policies, mainly because he doesn’t need to. The party and voters are behind him already: this isn’t the remedial work that Chris Grayling is now performing in the justice department, but a celebration of the radical reforms the Tory party has succeeded in pushing through since 2010.