Michael Gove and the Education Revolution

Since becoming the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove has succeeded in reclaiming the education agenda for the Government, Conservative Party and centre right. A difficult feat, since this area of policy has for so long been considered home turf for the social democrats. Since Anthony Crosland and the emergence of Deweyism in the second half of the 20th Century, successive Labour Governments have won the political battle over educating our youth. The Labour party took education from being merely a public service like trains, roads and dust bin collection, to the focal point of social policy. It became the primary route out of poverty and, quite rightly so, the mechanism for social mobility. The Conservatives and their traditionalism defence of private provision and distain for state education lost credibility on the entire issue. However any Conservative defending his Government’s record today will instantly refer to Gove’s administration as a reason to vote Tory in 2015.

So what have been the causes of this triumphant turn around?

Gove’s single biggest success has been awakening the political class to the realisation that traditional conservatism and modern equitable education are not issues juxtaposed. Tory values of tradition, high standards, egalitarianism and meritocracy have all been reintroduced into an education system that so often failed the bottom half.

Gove has rightfully reversed falling standards at schools and grade deflation in exams. He has replaced the three heads of the educational establishment (OFSTED, Ofqual and the National College for Teaching and Leadership). Regulators have been pressured towards increasing inspections and toughening criteria. At the most recent Teachers Union conference, a disheartened teacher likened Gove and OFSTED to a crazed fitness instructor. Grade deflation has been a travesty in modern education policy, wrongly convincing the nation that children were getting better exam results, when they were in fact getting devalued A-grades for the same results. A new national curriculum has also been introduced to reverse the emphasis on easy subjects, useless in the modern workplace.

His focus on standards has been born from his critique of progressive education. Progressive education placed education in the hands of the educated, stressed the importance of children following their own instincts and setting their own goals. Gove honestly believes that progressive education has failed millions of children by offering a sub-standard education and no opportunity out of social deprivation.

In the process of eradicating soft-touch education and low expectations he has proven that these tory values of high standards and traditionalism are the foundation for a good education. Schools have also been improved through changing their structure and accountability. The Education Act 2011, pushed through Parliament in 77 days, meant that the majority of state secondary schools could become free schools or academies, free from Local Authority control, and evidently a lot more competent at educating children. Under Gove, each child will have the opportunity to go to a good school for free, where teachers have discipline and the curriculum is sufficient to equip you for a life in work. In a recent parliamentary debate, resident socialist Diana Abbot praised Gove and his reforms as being of particular benefit to black and working class boys. If anything this was a concession in defeat from the left.

But alas, congratulatory gestures and rambling texts in adulation of Goveism are premature.

There is still so much to be done, and unfortunately with little time to spare. While Gove has done so much to recognise what is wrong with today’s education system, he must follow through with the vision to create a world class system that will never leave a child behind. This will mean properly tackling the unions and their protection of sub-standard teachers. It should also include digging up policies left in the bone yard of centre-right ideology. Arguments the Tory party waged during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are still relevant today. Gove should consider introducing school vouchers, allowing the Government to pay for children from a low income background to attend private schools. The system made famous by free market thinker Milton Friedman has been a success in Sweden, Ireland and Hong Kong. A 2004 report in Sweden concluded that increased competition for state schools increased standards and results across the board. We should also be considering streaming pupils according to their academic qualifications (something reported in the press recently). And yes we should start doing this at the tender age of 12 and 13. This is merely an extension of the Butler Act in 1944. The argument for streamlining children according to academic attainment is a simple one, we group our best athletes to compete with each other, and group our best musical talent to play with each other. This fosters a spirit of fair competition and helps those strive to the top of their group and not squander talent in a pool of underperformance. We should not be afraid to allow the P-word to enter the education debate too. For-profit schools do work and should work for anyone and everyone. We should not be afraid to let for-profit schools run rampant. The best schools in this country are private ones and yes they do make a profit. This has not inhibited their ability to educate the rich and privileged, why shouldn’t their innovation and well-funded service be extended to those less fortunate at a reasonable price to the taxpayer. 

So in the end, the job is really only half done.

Michael Gove can go further, and he should. The narrow minded ideology of progressive education has blighted the chances of so many bright, intelligent and gifted children who haven’t had the opportunity to go to a ‘good school’. Whether it is a free school, academy, for-profit or faith… its quality and ability to educate, enable, and empower a young individual to achieve a life better than that of his or her parents is all that matters. While the left succeeded in recognising education as the mechanism for social progression, the right have now provided the means to deliver it. A strong education will be a vital component of our national story going forward. A good education for all must be at the heart of everything the Government say and do. It is the foundation of our fair and just society; it is the foundation of our national culture and the bed rock of modern conservatism.

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