Michael Gove has attracted controversy by suggesting that Britain’s education system is negatively impacted by unions. In an interview with The World at One on BBC Radio 4, he claimed that leaders of trade unions had been complicit in the declining standards in schools, criticising them for tolerating failure.
The Secretary of State for Education described the problem of the “Blob” – “BLOated educational Bureaucracy” – which had been, he claimed, directly to blame for poor educational standards in the past. Gove told the show that he has “a clear view and a specific plan about how we can drive improvement in state education. That involves challenging people who have been complicit in under-performance in the past.
“It is not surprising that there are some people – some people within the trade unions, some people within university education faculties – who are opposed to this. But what is striking is that the changes we are making – giving more powers to head-teachers, insisting on higher standards of behaviour, recruiting better teachers who are subject specialists – are backed overwhelmingly by the public.”
A Psychology student at LMH commented, “I think the idea of employing teachers who are specialists in their subjects is a positive one, but realistically, it is not being achieved. I come from a grammar school renowned for its good teaching staff, but at least half of my teachers didn’t seem to have that strong a grasp of their subject outside of the syllabus that they had been told to teach, and I don’t honestly see this changing any time soon.”
Gove has also suggested extending the school day in state schools so it lasts up to nine or ten hours, in an attempt to tear down the “Berlin Wall” between state and private schools and eliminate the difference in the standards between the two sectors.
One St John’s second year derided the idea. They told Cherwell, “Most of my friends in college who went to private schools never had such long days, and for the few who did a great deal of that time was spent on extra curricular activities such as playing sport. The state school I attended and many others don’t have the facilities to allow for this, meaning we would have longer days of work and more lessons. With many students already struggling to cope with the stress of their workloads, this can’t possibly be a good idea.”
In further pursuit of equality between state and private schools, Gove has recently announced a new teacher training project, headed by Oxford’s Regius Professor of Greek Chris Pelling, to ensure that state school students have better access to Classics teaching.
The scheme aims to support and train teachers who are interested in introducing Classics to their schools’ curriculum but have specialist backgrounds in another subject.
The move has received broad support, with one first year Classicist saying, “Training more Classics teachers in state schools would go a long way to dispel the myth that Classics is inherently ‘private school’.”
However, a diverse range of groups, including the Confederation of British Industry and members of what Gove termed the “Blob”, are calling for more rounded education systems than those Gove is promoting in his educational reforms. Concern has been expressed over the teaching of arts subjects in particular. Helen Thomas, an English student at St Anne’s, said, “I disapprove of anyone who completely denies the importance of the arts subjects. I did drama A Level and now I’m here – clearly studying Brecht and Chekhov doesn’t turn you into a monosyllabic frog.”
However one third year E&M student noted, “Gove has a tough job to do, and regardless of which policies he chooses to employ, his decisions will always cause controversy among some people.”