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Michael Gove’s schools ultimatum pushes up standards

14 December 2012

5:36 PM

14 December 2012

5:36 PM

Michael Gove’s reformation of the education system from top to bottom has so far been unstoppable. Often though, the Education Secretary’s detractors bellow there is a lack of proof that his reforms are doing any good.

Today’s news (£) that hundreds of primary schools have benefited from Gove’s tougher approach to internal management adds credence to the view that his freeing up of our education system is working. This year, the number of schools below the government’s baseline target dropped by more than half:

‘League tables of this year’s primary school test results showed that 521 were beneath his minimum threshold. Of these, 37 have since been replaced by academies with new sponsors or governance, and seven have closed. This compares with 1,310 primary schools whose results were below target a year ago.’

The sudden change can be attributed to the threat — from the Prime Minister no less — of management takeovers and conversion to academies if targets are not met. Gove’s self-determined goal for primary schools is for 60 per cent of pupils to reach expected levels for maths and English by the end of primary school. Gove raised this from 55 per cent under Labour, and the Times suggests the rapid rise may push the level up again to 65 per cent.


Focusing on subjects, 84 per cent of 11 year olds now reach the expected government levels for maths (up four percent) and 87 per cent at English (up 3 per cents). The number of schools meeting the required level for English and maths combined is 86 per cent for academies, compared to 79 per cent for other schools.

With these improvements, it is hard to deny that giving schools freedom is having a positive effect on pupil’s education. But the teaching unions try to deny it anyway. The National Association of Headteachers grudgingly accepts the rise is a good thing, but claim leadership and determination are the key, as opposed to the school itself.

This is rather ironic, given Gove’s plans for 2013. Fraser interviewed the minister for our Christmas issue, where he reflects on his achievements so far and looks to the Education Secretary’s battle next year over teachers’ pay. Setting him for another collision course with the teaching unions, Gove is taking the drastic step of shifting from pay-by-time served to pay on merit. Attacking the unions’ power on pay bargaining and empowering headteachers is a bold move, one that could result in a nationwide teaching strike.

But Gove has consistently proven throughout this parliament the Department of Education is the one place where radical thoughts can actually be turned into radical actions. If there is a minister who can take on the full collected might of the unions and win, it’s Michael Gove.

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Show comments
  • Mr Arthur Cook

    I have never read such ill informed nonsense!
    Primary school reading test scores improve – “it’s because the reforms are working”!!
    GCSE grades go down – “it’s because the reforms are working”.

    Gove is like a 3rd rate, incompetent magician … pulling mangy stuffed rabbits out of his ideological hat to the applause of a gullible audience who don’t have the insight to see the mess he is creating.

    Sadly, Gove’s politically motivated side show of Punch and Judy with teaching unions will bolster his image with the morons of the right will press but will not serve the interests of parents or children “when thousands more weep than did laugh at it”.

  • FF42

    Educational statistics normally improve (or inflate if you are cynical) at a fraction of a percent a year. SATS tests have followed this trend until this year when they jumped 5% over one year. This article from the BBC gives a clue: the Government dropped the writing test in 2012. Writing was felt to be particularly difficult for children.

  • a teacher’s husband

    Gove’s biggest problem is that he’s upsetting the good teachers as well as the bad ones. The performance-related pay won’t achieve anything because the school bursars won’t budge an inch, so it will only ever be used as a stick, not a carrot.
    His reforms are on-the whole good and necessary, but he needs to reach out an olive branch to the really special teachers out there, because without them, it will all come crashing down.

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    Gove? “Thinking”? or just playing to a gullible audience?

  • Acorn

    Lies, damned lies and statistics. Worthy of Blairite spin.
    What a sycophantic article. Wholly holed and flawed. 1 out of 10.

  • Headfromupnorth

    This article mistakes standards for SATs resilts, two utterly different things. Go is a bigoted oaf whose philosophy will lead education up a 1940s alley.

    • Dimoto

      Ha-ha, a semi-literate “head” speaks.
      God help our children, and deliver them from evil.

    • Colonel Mustard

      You should be ashamed of yourself! Is “bigot” the latest Borg pejorative for anyone resisting the bland mediocrity of their philosophy of failure?

      Lefty teacher leave those kids alone!!!

    • Rhubarb

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful to return our education system to the 1940’s. You know , the age of educational excellence, zero tolerance toward disruptive behaviour and social mobility through the Grammar Schools.

    • anyfool

      If you are a head teacher no wonder the north is up an educational creek, the last 100 years have been the most inventive in the history of mankind and most of it was driven by teaching standards of the type that came to fruition in the forties, that you cannot work that out by dint of looking at what happened over the last few decades is a testament to your blinkered stupidity.

      Please retire before you damage mine or any other chidren. or a least add the word “empty” to the front of your moniker.

      • Helen Johnston

        Did you chose your moniker because you are one? Your ignorance is astounding. Do you truly believe that all the progress made in science, mathematics and technology over the last 100 years is a direct result of 1940’s teaching methods? That’s hilarious.

        By the way, if you are going to be a pedant about others use of the English language, you should be aware that you made a grammatical error and a spelling mistake in your last sentence. I believe you were referring to “my children”, not “mine chidren”. I wonder if you really meant to write “mein kinder”.

    • RealTory

      One would hope that, given your inability to write our language correctly (bottom of the class for misuse of the apostrophe), you have never been:

      a) an English language or literature teacher,
      b) any other type of teacher,
      c) God forbid a head teacher, and
      d) ever allowed within 50 yards of other people’s children.

      No doubt you are at least 3 of the above and probably a labtard activist as well which explains why the magnificent Mr Gove has such a Herculean task before him (one he is performing extremely well I should say).

      • Tarka the Rotter

        Just to add spice to the ragu, one of the issues facing schools for the last 15 to 20 years has been the massive influx of children from overseas, most of whom arrive as non-English speakers. Coping with that and doing so with limited resources has put a considerable strain on schools, though this factor has never been acknowledged, even by OFSTED. This was not the case in the 1940s. Also, schools have been made to bolt-on a raft of ‘extras’ like citizenship and ‘awareness’ of this, that and the other, which also stretch resources and squeeze the curriculum. In many areas of social and economic deprivation, schools provide the only element of stability in some children’s lives (and in many cases supporting parents too). No, I am not a lefty, but I do know something of how schools operate and what is expected of them. Schools are dealing with the results of a fractured society, and politicians, with their constant meddling, are to blame for a great deal.

  • Henry Stewart

    “It is hard to deny that giving schools freedom is having a positive effect on pupil’s education.”

    Is there any evidence of this improvement being down to more school freedom. The huge reduction in the no. of below-threshold schools is not down to academies:

    156 primaries had results that went up 40% or more. None were academies

    1,540 primaries went up 20% or more. Only 14 were academies

    It may be that the threat of being turned into academies is seen as so terrible by primary schools that it really shifted them but these results do not show the effects of school freedom, but remarkable improvements in LA schools.

    • anyfool

      Well if it is not down to Gove and his changes, Academies only of marginal effect, if as you say remarkable improvements in Local Authority schools the main thrust of the improvements.
      What the hell have these LAs been doing for 40 years, why if they are so good have they blighted the lives of millions of children in that time and why now have they decided to start doing their job correctly.
      Regardless of whether you are correct or not, these people need to be fired and all schools taken out of the hands of these mindless ideologues.

      • Henry Stewart

        So the response to people who’ve just achieved big improvements should be to fire them? A novel use of reward and punishment.

        • anyfool

          If they require fear to make them teach children properly, yes they should be sacked because they will return to their slovenly efforts once the fear is removed, most have no pride in their work.

          • ommadawn

            ‘If they require fear to make them teach children properly…’

            I know who you are! You’re Michael Wilshaw!

          • Gareth

            Neither intimidation nor removal are sustainable strategies for creating a highly performing education workforce. Morale is low among a worrying number of schools, with record numbers leaving the profession. While Gove might win plaudits with some for creating such an exodus, he is misplaced in his assumption that there’s an army of educational geniuses who will magically swoop in from outside the profession and raise attainment. While Labour did much to support individual teachers in developing their pedagogy, Gove has nothing to say beyond ranting.

      • ommadawn

        ‘What the hell have these LAs been doing for 40 years, why if they are so
        good have they blighted the lives of millions of children’

        Any substantiated evidence for this? I won’t expect an answer soon as you will need to do a fair bit of research to support your claim for period of time in question. Unless, of course you have the the information at hand because you’ve worked in the field of education for most of your life. Or is this just simply a rant?

        • anyfool

          I do hope you are not a teacher, your comprehension leaves a lot to be desired, do you not understand the context “why if” or are you just another brainless lefty who reads whatever you want into words that you perceive do not suit your inbuilt prejudices.

          • ommadawn

            I’m not reading anything into your words. You plainly state a belief that LAs have ‘blighted the lives of millions of children’ and I simply asked for links to evidence to support this. Instead you resort to personal abuse. You obviously have no idea of how the relationship between LAs and state schools has changed, at a very fundamental level, over the past 40 years you speak of or you wouldn’t have written the last sentence in your original post.

    • andagain

      these results do not show the effects of school freedom, but remarkable improvements in LA schools.

      Why did they not have these “remarkable improvements” five years ago, when Labour were in charge? A nationwide effect must have had a nationwide cause, and the only thing that has changed nationwide is the policy of the Minister of Education.

      • ommadawn

        A good point but you should appreciate that any new educational initiative from the DfE, which is designed to improve standards, would need a few years to ‘bed in’ to the system before it produced the intended results. Gove’s new Primary Curriculum is still being developed and won’t be introduced into schools until 2014, so these results are not due to any pedagogic intervention by him.

        However, two specific initiatives (‘Every Child a Reader’ and the ‘Maths Specialist Teacher’ scheme) introduced nationwide in 2007/08 may be having a desired affect here but a few years of results are needed to see if there is a trend.

        • andagain

          A good point but you should appreciate that any new educational
          initiative from the DfE, which is designed to improve standards, would
          need a few years to ‘bed in’ to the system before it produced the
          intended results.

          Indeed. And this improvement occurred a couple of years after Gove became Education Secretary. Not during the thirteen years that Labour were running things.

          • ommadawn

            Since taking office there have been no major interventions by Gove in primary schools. He has simply allowed teachers the freedom to produce their own planning and curriculum until 2014.This will obviously be considered as a factor which helped produce good results, but you can’t simply dismiss the initiatives introduced by Labour 4 years ago as not having any influence at all. These gave exta support in Literacy and Maths lessons to the 11 year olds who took the test this year when they were younger

            In any case, nobody can be certain that this is real improvement until we see future test results. They may fall next year so the argument over which party should take the credit is a pointless exercise at the moment.

            • andagain

              He has simply allowed teachers the freedom to produce their own planning and curriculum until 2014.

              So he has, in fact, made a nationwide change?

              And of course, there is the threat and promise of academy status. That is a nationwide change too.

              • ommadawn

                Yes and the initiatives introduced by Labour, implemented by every state primary school in 2008 and directed at the very children who sat this year’s tests – a nationwide change. I don’t see your point.

                • andagain

                  Labour lauched initative after initative for thirteen years, with no apparent effect except grade inflation. Gove has been in office for two years. So if there has been any dramatic improvement in that time it was almost certainly due to Gove, not Labour.

                • ommadawn

                  Grade inflation is a different and still contentious issue. You obviously have no intention of excepting any suggestion that Labour may have done anything worthwhile in education, even when presented with evidence that may indicate this. We’ll leave it there shall we? Have a good day, what’s left of it.

                • andagain

                  We were arguing about what had caused a sudden improvement in standards in primary schools. In other words, we started off with the premise that primary schools have, over the last year or two, seen a much more rapid improvement than for many years in the past.

                  If you wish to deny that there has been such an improvement, fine.

                  All I am saying is that if there has been such a change it was almost certainly due to Gove, rather than to any of Labours near-annual inititives and policy changes.

                • ommadawn

                  There is nothing wrong with educational initiatives. They are designed to improve standards and are generally welcomed because they provide extra money and resources for schools to focus on important areas of the curriculum. The ones I refer to are good examples and were introduced as long term intervention strategies.In fact, the maths initiative is still running.

                  SATs scores have been consistently good but have remained fairly static over the past 5 years.until this year when, as the article explains, there was a rise across all subjects. Yes this improvement is very welcome and, if sustained for the next few years, should be celebrated but you can’t claim Gove to be solely responsible for the success. Improvement in test scores like this doesn’t ‘suddenly’ happen in schools. It has to be fostered.

                  It takes 4 years to teach children, in Key Stage 2, the subject content and skills necessary to achieve good scores in these tests. Labour’s initiatives were fully introduced in 2008 as a response to the leveling and to push up standards. During most of the following 4 years they were operational and helping children (6 and 7 at the time) who would eventually sit the test this year. In the final analysis they have to be considered as having an influence.