Is Mr Gove a chauvinist?

I suspect that Mr Gove doesn’t much like the Human Rights Act, but until his speech yesterday I wasn’t aware of his lack of feeling for equal opportunities. Addressing 700 school leaders on what the DfE seemed to think was a speech about training schools, the Secretary of State indulged in a spot of ‘hero’ worship.  After praising those he has appointed to lead both the Training Agency and Ofsted, both men, he dug deep into his own education to select a Scottish philosopher from the Victorian era; a Roman emperor; and the obligatory Greek for classical balance, as heroes for his audience to learn from. Throughout the whole of his 24 minute oration that was more peroration that speech about training schools he didn’t explicitly mention a heroine at any point. But, perhaps that’s not entirely surprising since, apart from Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, women don’t feature largely in much of classical literature. No doubt his comment would be that the praise he heaped on his talented audience of school leaders, included those women who were present.

In speaking to his audience of freedom and innovation Mr Gove best resembled the Roman God Janus, offering freedom to schools, including freedom to fail, but castigating higher education for straight jacketing how we train teachers. He curiously forgot to mention that it was one of his former colleagues who required all trainee primary teachers to be taught phonics as the mechanism for learning to read; with their compliance rigorously enforced by frequent Ofsted inspections.  Mr Gove also seemed to forget that the Graduate Teacher Scheme he abolished in favour of School Direct required no university involvement, so perhaps he was offering to make a rather veiled –U- turn despite the House of Commons Select Committee last year making it clear training schools could benefit from links to universities. Here’s what they said on the subject:

13. We welcome the creation of Teaching Schools, and note that they will be expected to work with universities, which we strongly support: we believe that a diminution of universities’ role in teacher training could bring considerable demerits, and would caution against it. We have seen substantial evidence in favour of universities’ continuing role in ITT, and recommend that school-centred and employment-based providers continue to work closely with universities, just as universities should make real efforts to involve schools in the design and content of their own courses. The evidence has left us in little doubt that partnership between schools and universities is likely to provide the highest-quality initial teacher education, the content of which will involve significant school experience but include theoretical and research elements as well, as in the best systems internationally and in much provision here. (Paragraph 78) 

On School Direct, and the comments he made during his speech, it wasn’t clear where he obtained his numbers from, and how robust the data about applications to the programme actually are. What was clear is that either the DfE isn’t keeping their web site up to date or schools aren’t yet filling the places in the scheme despite little more than 14 weeks of schooling left to the end of the summer term. If they really need to fill 94% of Physics places in that time, then that is likely to be a challenge for some of them, especially as Teach First and higher education are also still recruiting.

Had he been speaking to a predominantly primary sector audience his lack of heroines might not have passed unchallenged. However, after praising the Chief inspector, Mr Gove must have been pleased to find an Ofsted press notice released a day later suitably critical of higher education and teacher training. The fact that it covered only four institutions training school teachers, all post-1992 universities, one of whom was linked with a school-based programme identified as outstanding, did seem to undermine the credibility of the announcement. Whether it was up to the standard of evidence acceptable to one of Mr Gove’s modern day heroes isn’t certain, but as an academic I would hesitate to make any sort of claims on such a small sample, especially when he inspector’s overall comments on the university programmes included the following remarks:

Liverpool Hope – Report issued 25th December 2012 (sic)

The partnership produces high-quality secondary school teachers, particularly in English and modern foreign languages. The majority of primary trainees become good or better teachers but the teaching skills of a minority require improvement

Bedford – Report issued 14th March 2013

The key strengths of the primary partnership are:

  • The good progress leaders have made since the last inspection in:

– removing previous weaknesses

– improving outcomes for trainees so they are now good

– setting the right priorities to improve training further.

  • The good quality mentoring in schools that:

– identifies well the progress trainees are making

– sets targets for trainees that is securing better outcomes for both trainees and the pupils they teach.

  • The good training in phonics and early reading and mathematics that is:

– identifying well where gaps or strengths in subject knowledge exist

– enabling trainees to teach these areas increasingly well.

  • The commitment of trainees to their chosen profession as demonstrated by their:

– high employment rates

– attention to meeting the different needs of pupils in their classes

– promotion of good behaviour and positive attitudes with the pupils they teach

– ability to reflect on their own teaching to being about improvement both to their own teaching and the learning of their pupils.

University of East London – Report issued January 2013

Key findings

The partnership is successful in supplying good teachers, from a diverse range of backgrounds, who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to raising standards and aspirations in the communities in which they work.

Trainees have good skills in facilitating a positive climate for learning and good behaviour and in ensuring that pupils and students make good progress in their lessons.

The teacher training team is skilled and experienced and provides very effective support for trainees, ensuring that they develop good practice as a result.

The recruitment and selection procedures are rigorous and effective in attracting trainees who become good teachers.

University of Cumbria – Report issued March 2013

Key findings January 2013

  • Schools and settings display strong commitment to the partnership and play a leading role in the training. This means trainees gain an effective range of experience which helps prepare them for teaching in schools.
  • Both primary and secondary trainees promote literacy very effectively. Primary trainees’ confidence and competence in teaching phonics (the linking of letters and the sounds they make) has improved. Secondary trainees promote accurate use of written and spoken language and focus on subject-specific vocabulary.
  • Trainees in both phases benefit from training that helps them promote good behaviour in pupils. Trainees understand the links between good behaviour and good learning.
  • Leaders in both phases have been successful in bringing about improvements that are reaping rewards in ensuring trainees are successfully prepared to teach.

Mr Gove may not like higher education’s involvement in training teachers, and here he follows in the path trodden by many of his predecessors, but this is hardly damming evidence from Ofsted. Now is the time for those who support the Select Committee in believing in the effectiveness of a partnership between schools and universities in training teachers to stand up and be counted.


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