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Gove’s ‘reforms’ meet their Waterloo

One can be forgiven a degree of Schadenfreude that Gove’s ideological zealotry, which has thrown the UK educational system into deep disarray, has now at last turned to consume himself. The charge sheet against Gove is clear. His sensitive touch in dealing with alleged extremism was expressed with his characteristic restraint as “not waiting till the crocodiles get near the boat, but draining the swamp”. That then led to his appointing a former head of the Met’s counter-terrorism unit to investigate the Birmingham allegations, a completely over-the-top and wildly inappropriate response.

As he breathed fire and brimstone, it then emerged that the DfE had all along known about the Birmingham goings-on since 2010, but had done nothing about it. And the whole current episode has shown Gove is the last person to be suited to dealing with Islamic influence in schools since he wrote a book called ‘Celsius 7/7′ in 2007 which is an excoriating diatribe against Islam, the results of which we now see. Like Blair, whom Gove much admired, he has a Manichaean, utterly polarised view of good and evil, in this case between Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism. But the Birmingham problems – and there are serious issues there which need to be addressed – will not be properly addressed in such lurid terms.

It is Gove’s ideological hotheadedness that has blown this issue out of all proportion. There is no evidence whatever of a jihadist plot, and indeed extremism only emerged as an issue at all on day 40 in what is now a 97 day saga. What has been revealed, which is serious enough, in the 5 academies now placed in special measures is such practices as manipulating some subjects to fit with conservative Islamic teaching, a ‘madrasa curriculum’ in personal development, the abandonment of arts, humanities and music in primary year 6, classroom segregation with girls sitting behind boys, and governors chosen clearly not based on their skills. These failings should certainly be tackled in an adequate but proportionate manner, but it should be understood that such problems are not confined to Muslim dominated schools, but have arisen in the same manner in evangelical-run institutions and ultra-orthodox Jewish schools.

But what is most striking is that the 5 schools at the centre of this row are not faith schools at all, but State-run academies. And therein lies the root of Gove’s failure in educational policy. If you allow a whole range of academy providers and and marginalise local authorities as a moderating element, meaningful oversight collapses. Gove’s legacy is plummeting teacher morale, acute shortage of primary school places, the absurdities reported in the free schools programme, and now the inflaming of the Birmingham row because proper local control of schools has been all but extinguished.


  1. Matty says:

    A very good summary of what has happened. I was amazed by Wilshaw’s statement as well. There was an implied criticism of the DfE but explicit criticism of the council for not doing enough even though the majority of the problem schools were academies. Also, it is difficult to believe Wilshaw’s claim that the problems have suddenly appeared so that the Ofsted ratings of Outstanding barely a year ago were correct.

  2. swatantra says:

    Always felt there was something odd about Gove; now I know, from the picture; he’s an Alien.

  3. David Ellis says:

    Deregulation and privatisation of education was bound to end in disaster as it has with everything else. If it was up to Gove and he was still alive he’d have been cutting the ribbon on the Jimmy Saville Yorkshire High School Academy and presenting the man himself with a set of golden keys.

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