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.’

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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:

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