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Michael Gove: an adult in a parliament of toddlers - Spectator Blogs

16 November 2012

16 November 2012

Michael Gove, the most important and successful Aberdonian politician since, well, since I don’t know actually, is also that rarest of things: a grown-up cabinet minister. He knows the importance of praise. Consider this passage – highlighted by John Rentoul – from a speech he gave on Child Protection this morning:

Just as the Labour Government early in its life felt that teachers needed to be told how to operate – down to the tiniest detail of what should happen in every literacy or numeracy hour – so the Labour Government towards the end of its life felt it had to produce thousands of pages of central Government prescription on social work practice. Both sets of interventions reflected a lack of trust in the frontline.

But the Labour Government – to its credit – recognised that while central prescription of what professionals do every day could, in certain circumstances, lift performance from weak to adequate it very rarely elevated it beyond that. So it gradually shifted its attention to helping teachers improve their practice – by setting up the National College for School Leadership, encouraging teachers in poorer schools to learn from their peers in stronger schools through initiatives such as the London Challenge and the Academy Programme and supporting professional development organisations like the Prince’s Teaching Institute. And – crucially – the last Government helped change perceptions of the profession – and enhance its prestige and self-confidence – by backing charities like Teach First which persuaded the best graduates from the best universities to enter the classroom.

Oddly, as Mr Rentoul reports, these remarks were omitted from the text of the speech published on the Department of Education’s website. Apparently this part of Gove’s speech was deemed “political content”.

Be that as it may the substance of Gove’s remarks is correct. So too is the politics. There is, as we all know, a strong anti-politics sentiment abroad these days. One of the many reasons for this sour sentiment is surely that politicians routinely insult even voters’ intelligence.

The zero sum approach to politics in which everything the other mob did, does or proposes to do is invariably at best stupid and more probably wicked contributes to the public’s not unreasonable To hell with them all mood.

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Sensible people appreciate that it is statistically improbable that Labour could be in power for more than a dozen years without doing some good and sensible things. Similarly, sensible people understand that it is unlikely that everything this present government does can be motivated by the worst of intentions.

This is not some soppy plea for consensus or trimming from the middle. It is merely a plea for some measure of proportion. Not everything Labour did was bad; not everything this government does will be bad either.

Gove’s rhetoric admits this and, by being seen to praise the better parts of his predecessors achievements, he positions himself as an adult in a parliament of toddlers. Of course, since Gove is building upon the work of Andrew Adonis he could hardly pretend to be starting from Year Zero. Nevertheless, he shows how a certain generosity coupled with an awareness that no political party is likely to have a monopoly on wisdom can be deployed for useful political advantage.

By conceding that not everything Labour did was wrong Gove implicitly suggests his opponents should grant him the respect of supposing his intentions may be honourable. If they decline to do so then they look small, churlish and narrow-minded. If they do honour Gove’s arguments then, by jove, the argument will then be conducted upon turf of Gove’s choosing. He wins – and by winning I mean advances his agenda – either way.

That’s good politics in the service of good policy. It is depressing to consider how rare this is.

 


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  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice blog.

  • Ringstone

    One of the many reasons for this sour sentiment is surely that politicians routinely insult **even** voters’ intelligence.

    Now there’s some condescension from the commentariat to us plebs.

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    Let’s take stock of this political giant and intellectual colossus’s achievements so far:
    1. Ambition for the best trained teachers in the world…and then allows schools to employ people who have no teaching qualification.
    2. Changes the ownership of lots of schools to “improve standards”…but has not made clear how who owns the buildings improves the quality of education.
    3. Tinkers with assessment making wild pronouncements he then withdraws and then turns his back on the major court case over GCSEs between the nations head teachers and OFQUAL…..”wooops nothing to do with me gov(e)!”
    4. Tries to “reform” the curriculum. Appoints experts who all then resign because, they won’t say what he wants them to say.
    5. Opens – freeschools…..and then withdraws funding weeks before in is to open leaving the children with no school to go to.
    6. Charges £9K to train as a teacher so numbers applying fall at a time unemployment is high!!(What a triumph!!”.
    7. Cuts school budgets and sends every school a bible! Presumably so they can pray for more money.
    8. Cancels the BSF schools programme (messing up the stats in the process) condemning millions of children to learn in substandard buildings.
    9. Takes a break from “improving education” to suggest buying the Queen a yacht. Presumably in the hope that she will travel the world and then decide she wants to be a geography teacher!
    10. Allows freeschools to teach the 19th century nonsense of “Creationism” all paid for by the state!!
    11. Builds freeschools in areas which have a surplus of free places leaving other areas without schools.
    12. Turns a blind eye to the booming pupil population in the hope that he’ll have “moved up” politically before it hits the fan.

    …………………how long have you got?

    • DavidDP

      1. Ambition for the best trained teachers in the world…and then allows schools to employ people who have no teaching qualification.
      —> Which doesn’t mean they aren’t the best trained. Private schools employ fantastic teachers without teaching qualifications.
      2. Changes the ownership of lots of schools to “improve standards”…but has not made clear how who owns the buildings improves the quality of education.
      —-> He’s stated competition improves standards. Allowing different owners to come along and try different approaches may well drive up standards (and has elsewhere).
      3. Tinkers with assessment making wild pronouncements he then withdraws and then turns his back on the major court case over GCSEs between the nations head teachers and OFQUAL…..”wooops nothing to do with me gov(e)!”
      —>It isn’t. So that’s okay then.
      4. Tries to “reform” the curriculum. Appoints experts who all then resign because, they won’t say what he wants them to say.
      All of them?
      5. Opens – freeschools…..and then withdraws funding weeks before in is to open leaving the children with no school to go to.
      —> Link to the specific instance? Hard to discuss without the specifics. Plenty of freeschools have openend succesfully.
      6 Charges £9K to train as a teacher so numbers applying fall at a time unemployment is high!!(What a triumph!!”.)
      —> They have to be funded somehow. Those in teacher training are in reciept of grants as well.
      7 .Cuts school budgets and sends every school a bible! Presumably so they can pray for more money.
      –> We all have to live within our means. Perhaps if the schools moved to direct funding, they’d gain a bit more not having had the lical authoritiy overhead removed from the budget. The bibles where a one off, funded out of other monies to rightly celebrate the Kings James bible as a key part of our cultural heritage.
      8.. Cancels the BSF schools programme (messing up the stats in the process) condemning millions of children to learn in substandard buildings.
      —> The BSF was an expensive waste of money in doing what it aimed to do, even if you didn’t take into account of the fact that good schooling can come without having buildings designed by Zaha Hadid..
      9. Takes a break from “improving education” to suggest buying the Queen a yacht. Presumably in the hope that she will travel the world and then decide she wants to be a geography teacher!
      —> Which has nothign to do with any education policy. You are clearly struggling by this point though.
      10. Allows freeschools to teach the 19th century nonsense of “Creationism” all paid for by the state!!
      —> Free schools have to teach the national curriculum. But never mind.
      11. Builds freeschools in areas which have a surplus of free places leaving other areas without schools.
      —> Freeshools are built where people demand them.If you beleive that there are other areas that could benefit from more schools, perhaps you should organise getting one set up instead of spouting nonsense on blogs.
      12. Turns a blind eye to the booming pupil population in the hope that he’ll have “moved up” politically before it hits the fan.
      –> You’ve just noted he is opening schools. And he’s been quite clear he doesn’t want to “move up politically”.
      2how long have you got?”
      All the time in the world to point out rubbish like your post.

      • Mr Arthur Cook

        1. Many of those who fail their training go
        into private schools.

        2. Most academies don’t have
        “different owners”!! They are the same schools as before!!

        3. Why has OFQUAL now told him to stop
        tinkering?

        4. All of them? ……YES…see the
        resignation letters on line!!!

        5. One In A Million Free School – West Yorkshire.

        6. Only a small number are and none cover
        the full cost of their training. Check out with the Teaching Agency.

        7. “they’d gain a bit
        more”…Smile….he’s overspent by a ****ing billion!!!

        8. MPs spent £30K on fig trees for their
        new office block!! Why should our kids learn in a dump?

        9. Money spent on Gove’s attempts to
        ingratiate himself with the queen could be better spent on schools.

        10. “Free schools have to teach the
        national curriculum”. No they don’t!!! Try and read more!

        God! Why are you so badly informed????

  • OldSlaughter

    The reaction in the Guardian to ANY piece featuring Gove is very instructive.

  • Beefeater

    But what Gove praises Labour for is its recognition that principles of competition work, and that private charity is more efficient than government.
    Good politics in service of good policy? Or faint praise in the service of damnation? Oil in the service of a guillotine? Flannel in service as a wash-cloth?

    • Newsbot9

      Policies they were, in fact, starting to back away from because the evidence showed they were not working.

      What have the Tories done? Abolished collecting the data. Sigh.

  • Vulture

    ‘An adult in a world of toddlers…’ such a shame really then that in those big new geeky black glasses he looks more like a 14-year-old school swot awaiting his first wet dream than ever.

    • marzipanlil

      A surly toddler in a world of adult commentators.

    • CraigStrachan

      I think the glasses make him look like George Smiley. Which is to say, cool as f….

    • Mr Arthur Cook

      It’s to make him look less like a ventriloquists dummy and more like an “Intellectual”…….Michael….it’s take more than glasses but keeping your mouth shut will help.

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