Will Michael Gove’s education reforms really have a lasting impact? It’s a question that perturbs his supporters no end, as the Education Secretary is attempting to do a great deal in five years that a Labour government could still unpick. Perhaps the funding for more free schools, a key dividing line, announced in the 2015/16 spending review, will make a difference, but Gove was today pretty optimistic about the chances of Labour embracing, rather than just tolerating, his reforms. In a question-and-answer session, Gove said:
‘I think that it’s certainly the case that there’s a lot of momentum in the department for education at the moment for continued reform. One of the great things about having David Laws as a Liberal Democrat colleague is that he’s as enthusiastic as I am about seeing more academies and free schools established, like me wants to see the prestige of the teaching profession enhanced, including with some of the changes that we’re talking about today. He like me wants to say rather more about how we can improve school leadership even further in the autumn, and he like me wants to reform the funding system so it’s fairer overall. So there will be a lot more coming from us, right up until the election is called.
‘What I think will be the case is that rather than scorched earth, what we will have done is that we will have moved the ground of the education debate to such an extent that the next government I think will accept the basis of what we have done because as the Populus poll reinforces, it’s in line with what the public want… so I’m convinced that the next government will carry that on and I’m even more convinced the next government will carry that on because I am convinced that the next government will be a majority Conservative government, with David Cameron as Prime Minister, and all the polling evidence from Populus and everyone else, given how narrow the Labour lead is, at this stage in the parliament, leads me to believe that David Cameron will have a majority of, er, such health that we will be able to carry on with the things that we need to.’
As with a number of other issues including welfare reform and health, Gove and his Tory colleagues are keen to position themselves as being the party that is on the side of the public – of parents, of ‘hardworking families’, of patients – rather than the producers such as teachers and healthcare staff whose unions don’t want to see reform. His message today is that if Labour wants to be on the side of voters, the only course of action is to embrace Goveism.
P.S. Of course, the Populus polling that Gove was talking about (and which Sebastian reported on this morning) may or may not help the Labour party to make up its mind about performance-related pay. But it certainly hasn’t swayed the leading teaching unions, who Gove had (another) pop at this afternoon. The NASUWT’s Chris Keates said this:
‘It is deeply disappointing that the Secretary of State for Education is once again engaged in criticising and vilifying teachers on the back of a shoddy piece of market research. The Populus opinion pollsters who have given a platform to the Secretary of State have simply failed to grasp the reality of pay and performance management practice in schools. The plain fact is that teachers’ pay is already linked to performance and this has been the case for many years.
‘Strike action by teachers would not be necessary if ministers were willing to engage in genuine dialogue with the NASUWT and NUT on changes being made to teachers’ terms and conditions of service.’
And the NUT’s Christine Blower said:
‘What the poll in fact shows is that those supporting and those not supporting strike action very nearly equals. Parents and the general public are very aware of the pressures that teachers are under and are also very aware that it is only when the profession feels they truly have no alternative to protect teachers and defend education that they will take this course of action.
‘Mr Gove has completely lost the confidence of the profession and it is about time he started listening to the profession for the sake of the education of our children.’