At the end of March last year Mr Gove attacked those who opposed his views as being ‘blobs’. I wrote a blog about whether or not I fell into that category on the 25th March in case anyone is interested in seeing how the debate has moved on during the past year.
I was at one with the Secretary of State in believing in high standards of education for all, and still am. State schools cannot, and generally do not, aspire to produce second class citizens. Although, in the era of secondary modern schools, before the abolition of selection at eleven became the norm, around two thirds of secondary age pupils were in a system that wasn’t especially interested in their abilities. That should have changed, but we still see the greatest under-achievement among our less able pupils. If the message from Mr Gove is ‘educate these pupils’ and stop them disrupting your school then, so long as he recognises the key role of the classroom teacher in achieving this end, he may have the right idea.
If a focus on quality stops the time-wasting, and indeed, money-wasting, emphasis among Conservative, and some Labour politicians at Westminster seemingly determined on creating a nationalised and centralised school system, and recognises the need for local involvement in education, especially primary schooling, the present debate might even achieve a new understanding about how schools should be led: but I doubt it.
On the issue of the day, I might have more respect for David Laws position on Baroness Morgan’s contract as Ofsted chair if I wasn’t aware that alongside Theodore Agnew on the DfE Board sits Paul Marshall as the lead non-executive member. Now Paul helped set up ARK, and has both written books about education, and helped sponsor the Lib Dem leaning think tank CenteForum, as well as once being a researcher for an SDP MP. He was also involved with David Laws in the publication of the controversial Orange Book that upset some Lib Dems a few years ago. I am sure as a financier he and Theodore Agnew each brings financial discipline to a government department often in need of such skills. But, I doubt if he has suddenly become politically neutral. So, perhaps David Laws really wanted a Lib Dem in the job of chair of Ofsted. There are a number of possible candidates in the House of Lords that would fit the bill nicely as a replacement for Baroness Morgan. But, the row is now so political that I am sure it will be the Prime Minister that will make the decision helped by the independent commission on appointments.
Any way the row won’t have done the Lib Dems any harm among teachers and educationalists that Gove sees as blobs, even if it hasn’t fundamentally changed any Lib Dem policy on education. In the short-term it may have enhanced David Laws’ credibility, but, longer-term, his reputation may rest on ensuring there isn’t a teacher supply crisis between now and the general election.