Susan Young gives her weekly round-up of the issues and events in the world of school leadership and management. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of NAHT.
Mr Gove pleases his party
Watching the party conferences always feels a bit like eavesdropping: you know perfectly well that the speeches are meant to persuade the delegates in the hall, and possibly the party faithful with nothing better to do than spend the day in front of the telly -- but aren't really meant for anyone else apart from those odd clips designed to make the news bulletins.
Heavy specs, jutting bottom lip... was it my imagination, or did Michael Gove appear to be channelling Winston Churchill in his speech to the Conservative party conference? It would certainly have happy resonances for his audience.
Given that the Education Secretary was appearing in the same session as the Tories' pin-up boy, Boris Johnson (who'd just promised to help free schools in London) -- and that there seems to be some genuine muttering going on about who the next party leader might be -- I suspect the visuals may not have been entirely accidental.
Mr Gove's speech, too, was clearly designed to tickle the fancy of the party faithful, who like nothing better than to boo and hiss at the mere mention of trade union leaders. So after praising his own policies, free schools and academies, head teachers, the "best ever" generation of teachers, and three named primary schools, he moved in for the kill.
"I have taken the opportunity from time to time at trade union conferences to singe out schools and say why aren't more schools like them," he divulged. "After, I get taken aside by the union general secretary, who says, 'Michael, one piece of advice. Please don't single out these very successful schools. It makes the others feel uncomfortable.'"
Laughter and a menacing rumble echoed round the conference hall. Mr Gove's expression became ever more pious. "I wonder what were trade union general secretaries doing through the Olympics? Hiding under the bedclothes because every time someone amazing had their talents celebrated they were too worried that other people might feel uncomfortable? How can we succeed as a country when every time we find success and we celebrate it there are those who say, no, someone might feel uncomfortable?"
Mr Gove's lip pursed as he moved in for the kill. "What I feel uncomfortable about is the soft bigotry of low expectation that leads so many to believe that so many schools can’t be as good as the best schools and I am determined to fight that bigotry wherever I may encounter it."
The soft bigotry of low expectations? Mr Gove can certainly turn a phrase. He can also turn his praise, explaining that he believed teachers were members of the noblest profession... the highest calling, that he wanted them to be much more respected -- before notching his voice up an octave to snarl that general secretaries were "ordering -- yes, ordering" teachers to take industrial action and not do the things which had called them into the profession. His namechecking of wall displays and photocopying were rather puzzling -- weren't both of those things part of the workload agreement more than a decade ago? His closing phrase, "Don't let your ideology hold back our children," should go down a storm in the Daily Mail and ought to line him up a few votes in any -- hypothetical -- Conservative leadership contest. Practically a victimless crime, too -- no actual teachers or headteachers were injured in the making of this point.
So what else did we learn? Well, there were more indications that Mr G may have one eye on the future as he stressed the lack of selection in successful free schools and academies, and praised Conservative councillors to the skies for supporting his work.
He praised his past and current Tory ministers -- and then, just when you thought he wasn't going to, his Lib Dem ministers on the grounds that "we are more likely to get a majority Conservative government if people can see that we behave in a civilised and constructive way with anyone who wants to work with us and puts children first."
There were no new policies, no mention of anything controversial like GCSEs or new exams, lots of high expectations, and a real-life success story in the form of nearby school Perry Beeches and its new Free School just yards from the conference centre. Leadership bid? I wouldn't put it that strongly -- but I bet the bookies have just shortened the odds on Mr Gove.
Page published: 10/10/2012