Labour’s manifesto commitment to “take over” the 1,000 least successful secondary schools in the UK (slightly less than a third) was not much more than an extension of an already existing policy. But it did have echoes of the kind of education policy the Tories’ Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Michael Gove has been saying. Except that Gove goes that little bit further.
Gove says much more of the state’s education functions can be handed over to private business (they could take over schools and make a profit if they want).
For Ed Balls, who wrote the manifesto, if not for some of his New Labour colleagues (Lord Adonis, for instance), that’s a step too far.
Private-school and Oxford-educated Michael Gove has a bit of a reputation for going “a little bit further”. Fond of posing as a cultured, intellectual man, who is open to all sorts of ideas (including those of drop-out Blairite James Purnell), he has also been dubbed the Tories’ neo-con. Someone who dares to say the things the Tories wouldn’t want to say in case it spoiled their squeaky clean image.
He is, in short, an appalling man ready to give voice to any populist, nerdy, neo-liberal, anti-working-class scheme going.
Under Gove you could imagine a self-important, unqualified team of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parents, Boy Scout leaders and company directors being allowed to take over schools. Popular but completely unexceptional people like Carol Vorderman will be sent out to schools to teach maths teachers how to teach!
Gove has a very particular view of education. It is, he says, the view of “most parents”. This (fortunately mythical) group of people (“most parents”) would apparently like their children to “sit in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That’s the best training for the mind and that’s how children will be able to compete”.
And that betrays the real Gove — he isn’t consistent and he doesn’t really care about “most children”. It’s not so much that learning about the kings and queens of England (and the complex social and political background that accompanied their reigns) would be bad training. The problem is he wants children to compete — presumably in both education and the jobs market? In reality he wants a slightly broader elite group of working-class children to make it to Oxford and Cambridge.
Michael Portillo has predicted that Gove will one day be leader of the Tory Party. But then Gove is the author of a reportedly toadying biography of Portillo.