Coffee House

Michael Gove: Unions need to do a better job

18 April 2013

3:11 PM

18 April 2013

3:11 PM

Cometh the Gove, cometh the angry trade union representative. It was inevitable that the Education Secretary would have at least one exchange with someone from one of the two largest teaching unions when he took questions from the floor at today’s Spectator education conference. Gove spoke powerfully without notes on his vision for education, and then in conversation with Andrew Neil, attacked those he believed had low expectations for certain pupils. He said:

‘There are wonderful people in teaching and I want to empower them. This is, I think, a tremendous opportunity for teachers. But there are some in the teaching profession, I’m afraid, who won’t take yes for an answer. They say we’d like more freedom – and we’d give them more freedom with academies and free schools. When they say your curriculum proposals are ridiculous well, in that case, with academies, you can create your own curriculum and with respect to continuous professional development, one of the best ways of professional development is to have your lessons observed by another teacher and to observe another teacher yourself. Yet the unions are saying that lesson observation should be demoted to three hours, not a week, not a month… but a year. Why? One of the tragedies of our time if that the teaching unions have chosen to put the interests of adults, ahead of the needs of our children. And that is why sadly, the unions, as a voice of teachers is diminishing. My challenge not to teachers, but to teaching unions – is to do a better job.’

And then he told the audience that schools were heading for strikes, adding:

‘There seems to be a competition between the NUT and NASUWT to compete for members, with each one trying to out-radical the other.’

Shortly after this, a trade union rep who was in the audience took the minister to task for his comments. Celia Dignan from the NUT said:

‘There will be a one-day strike in the North West in June if the Secretary of State refuses to meet with the teaching unions to discuss the new proposals that he has put out on pay.’


Gove replied:

‘We will meet. I don’t know that we’ll stop the strike but I’m looking forward to meeting both the General Secretary of the NUT and the NASUWT.’

You can listen to the full Gove exchange with Andrew Neil and Celia Dignan below:

Now this sort of knockabout is quite fun. But there are two serious points worth considering. The first is that relations between the NUT/NASUWT and Gove have deteriorated to the extent that if the Education Secretary announced he thought chocolate cake was tasty, they’d accuse him of ‘dangerous rhetoric’. These two unions are infuriating in many ways and not just for Gove: the Labour party is also currently trying work out how on earth to deal with them when they are opposing measures such as performance-related pay that Stephen Twigg isn’t automatically against, and when they are carrying out strike action that the party leadership does not support.

But a second lesson is that by opposing a measure like performance-related pay and going so far as to threaten strike action on it, the unions could seriously undermine their own credibility. This policy is not a difficult sell to voters or specifically to parents. Parents might, as private polling for the Labour party suggests, hate the idea of unqualified teachers going into schools, but given they themselves are likely to receive pay rises based on their performance (or at present, no pay rise at all), they may well struggle to have sympathy for a union kicking up such a potentially disruptive fuss over rewards for teachers who work hard. If you oppose everything right down to performance-related pay (and tasty chocolate cake), then it makes it very difficult to turn up the volume when a really bad decision that really will affect your members comes along.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • First L

    You have to remember that the opposition to Gove is ridiculous. One recent anti Gove invective on the Guardian started with the commentator, being a stay at home mother, admitting that her children came into bed with her at night, she knew she should return them to their own beds, but in her own words she ‘couldn’t be bothered’. I stopped reading.

    Two more mollycoddled, entitled children who will grow up to rage against the world whenever they don’t get their own way about anything at all.

  • The Chocolatier

    “if the Education Secretary announced he thought chocolate cake was tasty”…

    Unfortunately, the increasingly crackpot SoS is more likely to announce that chocolate cake was much better in the 1950s, that chocolate cake can be made just as well with lard instead of chocolate, that anyone who disagrees is a Marxist and an enemy of promise, and that it is more important for kids to learn that chocolate cake was invented in 1842 (in Britain) than to learn how make or heaven forfend to enjoy chocolate cake.

  • nowruk

    Thankfully Gove can’t interfere with Scotland’s education system.

  • rubyduck

    My 13 yr old grandson has just been told by his RE teacher that during Thatcher’s tussle with the unions women and children were starving on the streets. He wanted to know whose side I was on, at the time.

    (just thought I’d mention it)

  • Barakzai

    Gove has his work cut out dealing with the the confrontational hard leftie Blower who runs the NUT. Negotiation for her will be to prescribe policy for Gove to adopt – or else. Years ago, Doug McAvoy warned his members about her political stripe, but they elected her anyway. I hope Gove and his strategists give her enough rope for parents finally to grasp that the NUT is run by socialist careerists, not teachers.

  • KJR42

    The unions are to blame, there is snow on the tracks, my alarm didn’t go off, the cat ate my homework…..yawn!
    what little wag is left in the tail of unions cannot be used to beat the electorate for the failings of successive governments anymore? surely?. I would love to see performance related pay for Whitehall civil servants and MP’s, that will never happen!!
    So therefore any problem that they have butchered and made worse is always the fault of anyone but them.
    sick to goddamned death of nobody taking responsibility anymore.

  • Monima O’Connor

    My admiration for Michael Gove increases in leaps and bounds. He has unshakeable laser vision of what is best for our children’s education and not afraid of confronting his dissenters full square on. I can’t find any sensible person who disagrees with him. He is the shining star in the Cabinet…. In Maggie’s mould.

    • Makroon

      You need to bear in mind that many parents (and children), have very limited aspirations. If you are happy to have your daughter pass her life as a “beautician”, and your son as a “builder”, (and don’t want them to stray too far from “their roots”), you might prefer school to be less demanding, with higher “social content”, less competition, more “relevant subjects” and teachers who are “nice” and can have a conversation with their pupils about X-factor.

  • Simon Clarkson

    The problem with performance related pay is that in every country where it has been tried educational standards have suffered as a result.

  • Andy

    Who cares what the Teaching Unions think ? They are a bunch of useless Fascists and it is high time the Government actually broke their power. You do that by privatising education, putting the power back in the hands of parents. And if the teaching unions and teachers don’t like it, well they can shove it where the sun never shines.

  • thanksdellingpole

    Go on then, go on, strike you proles, go on I dare ya!

    Wait until the kids across the country don’t get taught, wait until then, wait until you have to meet their parents face to face during parents’ meetings and if you thought that the odd ruff and tumble before was bad you’d better hang yourselves in advance.

    Go on, strike, see how much time people have for that kind of behaviour!

  • lgrundy

    “the Labour party is also currently trying work out how on earth to deal with them”
    That’s an easy one for Labour. They just need to do what they always do when faced with trades union militants: give in to them and bung them a wad of taxpayers money to keep them quite for a few months.

    • Russell

      If labour voters don’t want their childrens education ruined by bad teachers and union interference with education, they should re-consider their voting ‘habit’ and either abstain or vote for another party.
      Similarly, it was mineworkers unions that ultimately got even labour governments to close over 250 pits as they had become uneconomic, with the same thing happening to British Leyland, British Steel, British Shipbuilding and British Rail, all made uneconomic by unions and shut down/sold off by both labour and Conservative governments (Not all down to Mrs T as the IQ2’s are told by Labour MP’s and the BBC).
      The police force, the fire service, the education system and the NHS will ultimately all have to be privatised if the unions in these services continue to put the emphasis on their members conditions above the people who receive those services and pay for them.
      Vote labour if you wish all these public sector services privatising as it will be as a result of putting in a labour government that services will deteriorate to the point where even a labour government will have to take action.

  • HookesLaw

    ‘Now this sort of knockabout is quite fun…’ No its an essential confrontation with the unions. Something which the usual suspects deny this namby pamby govt is prepared to do.
    As ever the reality is not the same as the fantasy. The govt has also been confronting the unions over pensions.

  • Nicholas chuzzlewit

    Were I a member of the teaching profession, I would jump at the chance of performance related pay, hardly an alien concept in any event. The chance to excel and receive a comensurate reward seems unarguably reasonable. Creating an objective basis for assessing performance is not straightforward but the head teacher should be able to deduce which of his/her staff are outstanding performers without resorting to a ‘tick box’ approach. A remuneration committee from within the board of governors given proper powers of oversight should ensure that the best teachers get the top rewards. Coupled with a determination to fire indolent and ineffective teachers while average performers receive no additional reward would encourage the best teachers and help to push standards in the state sector towards those achieved in many of our excellent private schools. Indeed, proper rewards for excellent teaching might keep a few more of them in the state sector instead of seeking fair rewards elsewhere.

    • Adrian Drummond

      “I would jump at the chance of performance related pay.”

      I too would jump at the chance, if my pupils were the best, brightest and most motivated. I’m not so sure I’d jump so quickly if my pupils (through no fault of their own) were more challenging and less likely to fully apply themselves. Unlike pupils in the public sector schools, pupils in the private sector are far more likely to have parents that push and support them to do their best.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Your recommendation therefore is that we continue to award you annual pay rises regardless of how hard you work and the quality of your performance? Consequently, an utterly incompetent teacher will receive the same reward as an excellent teacher. Am I safe in assuming that you do not regard teachers as being homogenous as to quality? My suggestion makes no reference to the quality of the pupils, which obviously will vary from school to school, but suggests a mechanism for how your performance might be judged by a head teacher relative to your peers. I suspect that you and the rest of the public sector get used to the idea.

        • rubyduck

          You may not be on to a winner. Performance related pay rises tend to go to those blowing hardest on their own trumpet.

        • Adrian Drummond

          Where in my comment does it say that I am a teacher and even one that works in the public sector? My comment was predicated on you saying, “If I were a teacher….”

  • the baracus

    I think the premise that the teaching unions have any credibility left is a false one.

    Clearly the strategy now must be to give them enough rope so that they can very publicly hang themselves.

    It is high time that the influence of the teaching unions was recognized for what it is – a deliberate attempt by socialism to control the levels of education with a view to propagating their disastrous philosophy.

    It is high time that the war that was so well fought by Thatcher be continued to remove this ugly stain on our country.

    There is enough HR law to protect teachers employment rights.

    Politics has no place in the classroom – hence Unions have no place in the classroom.

    It is time they were removed.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Well said. Their role is to represent the interests of their members. It is most certainly not their job to decide upon or veto any government’s education policy.

      • Russell

        And yet they do veto and decide on policy, and with the Pilgrims carrying out organising strikes etc. whilst being paid for by the taxpayer to teach!

        Gove needs to do to the teaching unions what Mrs T did to the mineworkers unions. Plus every other government Minister should do likewise with the appropriate unions causing disruption in their departments whether pcs or others.

    • thanksdellingpole

      Performance related pay schools and free schools should insist that no teacher employed be a member of any teaching union.

      • Roger Hudson

        I was once a member of the Assistant Masters Association, the AMA was never extreme and as one comment put it ‘ just an insurance policy’ for the individual teacher , the NUT was always political and always puts ‘policy’ above defense of the individual.
        Everybody should be entitled to be in association with others in the same work, just not use collective power for political ends.

        • thanksdellingpole

          The problem is that the same thing happened with the Unions in general, the Femenist movement, the Animal Rights movement, the Global Warming movement…

          Any time there is a body of people of whom are bound by collective acts (i.e. thoughts) then it will be ripe for infiltration.

          I think everybody should be self employed and there be enough competition to allow the true talent to fly, nobody is irreplaceable, but there is such a thing as a valued employee.

    • telemachus

      What on earth is wrong with a respected profession moulding our young minds to promote caring for others and fairness for all?

      • the baracus

        Well, clearly for you it is too late – you are the victim of exactly the preconditioning that I mention.

        You’re limited intellect reduces you to the view that collectivism is an ideal, not realizing that the only way to implement your ideal is the removal of personal freedom.

        The inevitable path of socialism will always result in totalitarianism.

        The purpose of political indoctrination is to sow the seeds of compliance early. Something that I believe should never happen at school.

        So to summerise, you are either to dim to understand this concept, or so childish that you can only make yourself feel better by trying to provoke reactions by stating stupidly absurd things.

        • telemachus

          “The inevitable path of socialism will always result in totalitarianism. ”

          You are wrong

          Socialism is an economic and political system characterised
          by social ownership ie citizen ownership and opposes
          the use of state power working instead through democratic processes

          If we can mould our childrens minds to this egalitarian ideal the world will be a better place

          • David B

            One persons “moulding” is anothers indoctrination.

            I want my children taught maths, English and science not political views, they will grow up and decide those for themselves

            • telemachus

              There is more to education than facts
              Even you would want induction of a moral compass

              • David B

                And education does not just happen in school. As a parrent I have been providing a moral education to my children since their birth. As my parents did for me.

                Schools should be primarily interested in the facts and parents deal with the moral and spritual aspects of their education as well as helping with facts.

          • the baracus

            You again prove my point. In fact you could be considered a case study.

            Socialism depends on people like you – those that do not have the intelligence to follow the logic of this philosophy to the inevitable conclusion.

            As life does not treat people equally, socialism depends on coercion to create uniformity, and hence the perception of equality.

            For example, you clearly believe that those who possess more should be coerced into giving this to those that have less.

            In order to do that there has to be someone who decides whom to coerce and whom to pay.

            Once this arbiter has been defined, the natural conclusion is that process is of totalitarianism.

            Unfortunately, the only way that this system can operate is by the idiotic support of the stupid – that is where you come in.

            You would be better off reading a history book then wasting your time on this website.

            • telemachus

              you clearly believe that those who possess more should be coerced into giving this to those that have less.
              Absolutely not
              You cannot coerce
              You set the framework of your tax and benefit stucture to induce fairness
              For avoidance of doubt that does not include 5% tax breaks for the rich, spare home subsidies or bedroom taxes for the poor

          • alabenn

            “The inevitable path of socialism will always result in totalitarianism. ”
            Your reply of “not true”
            Can you name one instance where this did not happen.

      • Andy

        Well your stint in the Hitler Youth has done you no good. We should not allow Fascists to poison young minds as yours was poisoned.

        • telemachus

          THe last celebrated member of the Hitler Youth became Pope

          • David B

            And he covered up child abuse because it was better for the institution. Ignoring the best interests of the children!

            That is the unions problem more interested in their own interest and are willing to damage the children to achieve it. The best teachers never seen to mention union membership

          • Andy

            Never let it be said you are not ambitious.

          • Russell

            Exactly! Look at the Catholic church activities over many years, all covered up sp people did not know what was going on. And a church which rules its congregation by fear.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Is it fair to pay an excellent teacher exactly the same salary as an incompetent teacher?

        • telemachus

          No but who decides and what are the criteria

        • Vimeiro

          No, but it should be easier to sack the incompetent teacher.

      • Russell

        Nothing wrong with a respected profession, unfortunately teaching is no longer a respected profession. Teachers are widely seen as people who are more interested in their pay, pensions and working conditions than their pupils education, primarily because of the militant unions who represent some teachers.

        • telemachus

          They are grossly underpaid and have every right to pursue a fair wage

    • DeadlyInArms

      Except if you’re studying Politics.

    • ButcombeMan

      Your first line is what I had determined to say until I tabbed down to your post.

      Thatcher never really got stuck into the education failure, the current batch of ill educated scruffs who so often fail our grandchildren are in many cases Thatchers children and Thatchers failure.

      Really good teachers nowadays stand out, they tend, for reasons Telemachus can perhaps explain, not to be “of the left”. They tend to dress smarter, they tend to be able to enforce discipline.

      The really good ones tend to regard being a member of the union as just an insurance policy.

      Paying good & committed teachers more and raising their status, is what is needed, so Gove is on the right lines.

    • Makroon

      And Hardman’s laborious attempts to try to prove that Labour is independent of the unions is just dishonest.