By Nathan Boyd
Could Michael Gove be the most unpopular Education Secretary in living memory?
Last week Michael Gove attended the head teacher’s conference in Birmingham and was heckled during his speech and his 1 hour question and answer session didn’t go too well for the poor fellow either. Indeed if this had been the Home Secretary or the Health Secretary under Tony Blair there would be a cabinet reshuffle. Especially as this is another failure in a long line for the embattled Education Secretary of State. In his three year tenure as Education Secretary we have seen radical changes in the UK education system from toughening of sats tests, the introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificate and the subsequent scrapping of this policy before its implementation.
But where are we up to so far. Under Mr Gove’s reign we have seen the introduction of academies, and over 2000 have so far been set up. Also we have seen the introduction of free schools which help to give students and parents more choice. But further up the education ladder we have seen university fee’s rise to £9000 at a lot of institutions, placing further education out of the reach of certain students, who under the old system would have been able to access it. Indeed the Conservatives have abolished such items as the “No Touch” rule which give teachers more power to restrain violent pupils but at the same time the current management have also granted teachers the power to search pupils without consent. While 30 years ago this was acceptable, in the days of social networking and the culture of legal claims teachers may not want to use this power, either at risk of having claims made against them or indeed for their own safety.
So where are the unions standing on this issue. Historically whenever huge changes has been broached by any government a union somewhere will oppose it if it is going to upset the status quo. Be it the privatisation of the coal industry, huge government cuts to the UK police forces at a time when they are most needed or indeed a complete overhaul of the education system. Under previous governments changes were made to the education system. The introduction of higher education awards such as AS and A levels, or the introduction of vocational subjects to the education curriculum, but these were introduced steadily. The current set of reforms are very wide ranging and rapid. Since 2010 we have seen the introduction of academies, free schools, scrapping of modules for GCSE’s, the opening of almost 20 University technical colleges, the remapping of A levels where they revert back to the old system of two years of study then an exam and also as previously mentioned the u turn on the E Bac. On top of this is the increased pressure being applied by Ofsted inspectors on both teachers and governors who are volunteers who give up their time to run their local school to help to improve education.
So is this too much change at once or just what was required over the last ten years but neglected so therefore needs attention? Unions are arguing that there is now more pressure on teachers to perform than ever before, not just by results of exams but the results of Ofsted inspections. The changes are very wide ranging and will require possibly more training of current teachers and more rigorous training of graduate teachers, which is no bad thing. If this was a doctor or nurse you were talking about you would be glad to hear they were keeping up with all the current advancements and techniques. But the unions seem to be trying to blame the government for teachers not being adaptable, due to severe changes within their profession. The bigger picture of this should be the outcome of the education. Will it result in school leavers being better qualified and having the right skill sets for working in the “real world”, or will the changes to the system create almost a forgotten generation who sit between the old qualifications pre 2010 and those of the coming few years? The real implications will be on someone’s CV for the rest of their life when they apply for a job. Be the overall changes to the system good or bad, they have to benefit the student a lot more than what is easier for the teacher. Indeed while the unions may well be right to express their distain to the changes, if it is at the cost of children’s education being effected through lazy teachers or nationwide strikes then they, and not Michael Gove will be the reason for a forgotten generation.