I’m sure every teacher, parent or educator was jumping up and down with joy at the departure of Michael Gove, I know I sure was. What I was also hoping for is this means that the new secretary Nicky Morgan would slow down a few of her predecessors changes which are deemed somewhat controversial.
Well sadly for all you optimists out there, Mrs Morgan’s first speech in the House of Commons didn’t bode well. Mrs Morgan pledged to carry on the work of Michael Gove by radically expanding free schools, supporting unqualified teachers and keeping changes to the exam system, despite the unpopularity of her predecessor with teachers. Morgan made clear she admired Gove’s legacy and would maintain “undimmed” enthusiasm for free schools – the programme of new state-funded schools built by third parties such as parent groups, education charities or religious groups.
She made the remarks after Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford, said Gove had not been radical on free schools and called for a rapid expansion of the programme across the country, to which Morgan replied: “Can I thank the honourable gentleman? It’s always very exciting to be tempted and asked to be more radical. Absolutely. I am undimmed in my commitment to free schools and look forward to working with him and members on all sides in getting more free schools up and running.”
Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, called on Morgan to “make the break and put the interests of pupils and teachers above Tory party ideology” by ditching the party’s commitment to allowing unqualified teachers in free schools. He said Gove was “a man full of ideas – they just happened to be the wrong ones”. But Morgan responded by mocking his “theatricals typical of someone who took part in the Cambridge Footlights as he did”. She also accused the history lecturer, who has a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, of being an unqualified teacher himself. After ignoring the insult, Hunt asked Morgan whether she would slow down the government’s “rushed curriculum changes that risk undermining faith in the examination system, causing confusion for pupils and parents?”
“Already Ofqual has warned of greater than normal turbulence in examination results this summer. Is the secretary of state fully satisfied that her government’s changes will not compromise fairness and consistency as pupils receive their results in August?” he asked.
Gove argued his changes to the curriculum would make education more rigorous by placing more emphasis on “knowledge-based” exams and less on coursework. His critics accused him of trying to bring them in too quickly, returning to old-fashioned ideas and meddling too much in specifics of what should be taught, such as prioritising British history and authors.
Morgan, who described Gove as “one of the great reforming secretaries of state for education”, replied that she was confident in the exam results because a quarter of a million fewer pupils were now in underperforming schools and there were 800,000 more pupils at schools rated good and outstanding.
“That is the legacy left by my right hon friend the member for Surrey Heath, which I intend to be building on,” she said.
Morgan did not comment directly on last week’s report about extremism in Birmingham schools, which revealed evidence of “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.
The conclusion emerged from a draft of a report leaked to the Guardian, which was commissioned by Gove and written by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command.
Morgan will make a statement in the Commons on the report at some point today and told Birmingham Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood: “There is absolutely no place for extremist views in our schools.” She declined an invitation from Liam Byrne, the Birmingham Hodge Hill MP, to apologise for failings by the government to keep schools in the city in check.
Teachers are banking on Morgan to build bridges with their profession after criticism that Gove dismissed much of the educational establishment as “the blob” and pushed through radical changes without listening to warnings about the possible consequences. The Observer reported on Sunday that Morgan rewrote a final ministerial statement from her predecessor to include a promise to listen to their views on schools reform.
The new education secretary has said she will be “nice to teachers”, but she made it clear in an interview with the Sunday Times that she would not be “soft-pedalling” in the job.
This is an interesting point for those who have followed my blog before and remember my post Prosecute the term time holiday parents! (Can be found here if you haven’t read it: https://markmelaney.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/prosecute-the-term-time-holiday-parents/ ). She also backed Gove’s changes that mean parents can be fined for taking their children out of school in term time. She said: “For every day or half-day that a child misses school, it does affect their education. From the prime minister downwards, we have made it clear that being in schools during term time is the best place for children to be. I’m really clear that will continue.”
So all in all, what to make of Mrs Morgan so far? Well being brutally honest there were little glimpses there, particular regarding to term time holiday debacle and the rewriting of a final ministerial statement to give the educational establishment a bit of input which didn’t happen under Gove. But the reality is, it’s all more of the same. More and more unqualified teachers are set to enter our schools, despite the fact that it completely undermines the profession to the point where can we really call teaching a profession anymore? With all these free schools appearing is there a need for universities to offer teacher training programmes at all when even with a degree your job can be secured by someone who has no degree whatsoever. That is of course a whole different debate.
I don’t believe in free schools, I never have done, although most of what I know about them comes from looking from the outside at media and polls etc. The fact that unqualified teachers could be teaching the next generation of kids worries me too much to want to be in a free school (that’s not to say I wouldn’t teach in one if the job came round). If there is any policy stopped this is one I would definitely like to see grounded to a halt.
Exams have always been a tricky one throughout my years of existence and beyond that. I’m not old enough to remember O-levels or such like, but the change from O-levels to SATs, GCSEs and A levels has been all over the shot. The debate between exams and coursework will go on forever and a day but I do feel that you can look back on a lot more with coursework than you can with exams because exams is basically how much can you remember in the allotted time frame. Time is an unnecessary pressure for me when it comes to exams. What I find interesting is that Scotland’s new system is actually heading the other direction towards a more coursework based exam structure, so in the next couple of years we’ll get a pretty good picture as to what the differences are in performance.