Western Mail Article – Michael Gove’s Sacking

21 Jul

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“Michael Gove is Commons Chief Whip. He’ll have an enhanced role in campaigning and doing broadcast media interviews. #Reshuffle.”

That was the tweet David Cameron published to seal the fate of the former Secretary of State for Education. To the layman you can just as easily read; “Michael Gove has been sacked.”

It appears that the Prime Minister and his team have finally woken up to the reality that many people already knew; Michael Gove and his policies have been incredibly unpopular amongst not only the teaching profession but also the wider general public.

YouGov polling shows that between March 2010 and December 2013, support for the Conservative party amongst teachers, who are generally individuals motivated to exercise their right to vote, dropped by -17%. An opinion poll in January this year showed the Conservatives 41% behind Labour amongst teachers. The gap was just 8% going into the last general election.  A few months on and no doubt that gap will be widening further still.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the NUT highlighted that just 8% of parents thought the Westminster Government’s reforms were a good thing for education. Only 6% of parents said they trusted the former Secretary of State with education compared to 58% support retained by teachers.

These are of course UK figures. Through Huw Lewis AM Wales has its own Education Minister setting the priorities and direction of our policies. However it is still clear that Gove has become electoral poison for the Conservative Party.   The statistics make sobering reading for David Cameron and they were no doubt an important factor in the cabinet changes he made. I’ll go out on a limb and say that while the MP for Surrey Heath may still be seen in the papers from time to time, an enhanced broadcast media role he will not enjoy.

In many ways Michael Gove’s departure from post is an important step. Teachers across Wales who have seen their pay and pensions slashed, and policies introduced that threaten the very sustainability of the role, will be celebrating. Michael Gove has presided over a crushing attack on the professionalism of teachers with his consistent, and highly misguided, views being a key reason that we have seen plummeting morale, motivation and engagement in the sector.

While we are fortunate enough that devolution has helped shield us from some of the more ludicrous approaches that are evident in England; namely the development of Acadamies, Free Schools and classes lead by unqualified teachers, the areas that are still in the gift of the Westminster Government have meant that Welsh teachers have been equally hindered by Michael Gove’s approach. While the vast majority of education decisions come under the responsibility of Cardiff Bay, Westminster remains responsible for pay and pensions. Policies around those issues have, unfortunately, been implemented to the detriment of the teaching profession here and are directly responsible for the decision of many to pursue alternative careers outside the sector. Schools in Wales have already lost enthusiastic and intelligent practitioners who have become disillusioned at the way they have been treated.

With all the above being said it is very important that we remember that while the personalities may have changed at the Department for Education the policies, for now at least, remain the same. Where teachers have been taking strike action; arranging lobbies of parliament; discussing concerns with MPs or holding street stalls in town centres to speak directly to parents, they have done this not in opposition to Michael Gove but in opposition to what Michael Gove has been doing.

It is not the name on the door of the Secretary of State’s office that is troubling classroom teachers but the implementation of policies which have little evidence to support them and that will not improve standards. In fact policies such as performance related pay have been widely discredited within education systems across the world with no recognised proof that they will support better teaching. Even Conservative MPs have come out in opposition to these reforms.

While Michael Gove’s sacking does not mean there is a change in focus for those campaigning against changes that mean teachers are working longer, paying more and receiving less in return, it does at least offer a little hope. Discussions have in the past been solely focussed on the implementation of policy rather than why representatives right across the education debate have grave concerns about them. This is in contrast to the Welsh Government’s Education Minister. Since Huw Lewis’ appointment there has been clear dialogue. It is true to say that there are disagreements on the areas that are devolved. It would be foolish to suggest the profession is supportive of school banding or standardised tests for example. However, these are concerns that have been debated in a rational fashion. This has enabled relationships to be developed that where agreement is found there can be collaboration and support. In losing the confidence of the workforce Michael Gove failed to build those bridges.

Nicky Morgan MP has it in her power to rebuild some of the damage her predecessor caused. She can become a proactive and progressive voice in listening to the teaching profession and addressing the failures that past policy mistakes have created. That is the challenge now facing the new Secretary of State and the Westminster Government. Failure to do so will not only be a failure for the Westminster Government but a failure for all the teachers, parents and pupils who remain invested in creating a world class education system.

You can read the article on the Western Mail website here

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