Education: Michael Gove vs. the teaching unions.

Posted by Alexander Hay

If only both sides could lose...

Image by Paul Clarke @

Teachers, after all, aren't friends of education. Schools are full of bullyingdysfunction and failed learning, though as long as pupils conform to wear a hideous school uniform, don't start sentences with 'And', and agree that Violence Solves Nothing, despite all evidence to the contrary in double History, the people charged with the educational development of our future business leaders with BA Eds and PGCEs don't seem to mind.

School is not a healthy environment for children: cast head-first into an in loco parentis, Lord of the Flies-lite realm of petty rules and indoctrinated absurdities, it's a wonder that schools are not shut down en masse by social workers, only they're on the same team and ultimately believe the same things - that they know what's best, for all their failures.

And yet, Michael Gove is every bit as obnoxious. Apart from him having done time as a journalist, he's also from the same somewhat abstract Oxbridge-educated, ideologically smug milieu as his master, David Cameron.

Like him, Gove is also a keen believer in free markets as the cure for all (again, despite all evidence to the contrary in double History), and like many in the Conservative Party, his instincts are both tribal and au doctrinaire.

Whether slashing the state will help in the long run or simply cause more expensive social problems down the line is neither here nor there. Like the teachers he is crossing swords with, he knows he's right and whenever he's not, it doesn't count and is someone else's fault.

He is also situationally ironic. In charge of an education department despite not having any prior experience with education (a common flaw among politicians who don't seem to be good at anything, even politics), he nonetheless claims to know best in an area where even the 'experts' don't know what they're doing.

Hence his call for parents and head teachers to take over schools when the staff go out on strike - never mind the fact that many parents rely on schools to keep their children out of the house, enabling them to work, or that this will further set teachers at odds with their management, or that he is implying that teachers aren't that necessary because even a housewife could do what they do. The point is that he is being true to his ideology, and so justified, just like the teachers he accuses of being dogmatic.

In his favour, he has spoken out against Section 28 and the infamous ID Cards scheme, now both consigned to the dustbin, and he has identified a clear link between poverty and poor performance at school.

But then, to their credit, teachers no longer beat children with sticks or training shoes, or make them sit in a corner with a 'Dunce' cap on any more. That doesn't undo either side's failings or remedy them.

In truth, the case against teachers' pensions and retirement ages does not ring true. Not while rich men avoid paying tax and we spend millions a day on military adventures. Government waste is a scandal, but rather than deal with that, the government is going back on its word and demonstrating it is both partisan and untrustworthy.

If teachers have anything in their favour, it's the level of masochism and single-minded belief in what they do, which means they trade in potentially more profitable careers in favour of sending children home for having dyed red hair.

The point is that the teaching profession has entered into a contract with the government to provide a service. Reneging on it means the teachers are perfectly entitled to go on strike - after all, if the other lot won't keep their side of the bargain... Newer teachers may well have to accept less generous terms in their contracts, but then as educators, they should be used to the young being betrayed by their elders.

It would be nice to think governments and teachers could actually work together and perhaps even realise that the school system itself is part of the problem. But then, neither side ever seems to learn.

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Alexander Hay

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