Back from holiday now, and back to the grind. Sorry for disappointing my regular reader(s) with the lack of communication from a Breton farmhouse. By a lake. In the sun. Bees buzzing, chaffinches singing, and crops growing in the fields. Buzzards over the corn fields, herons by the lake, tiny lizards on the second tee of the golf course. French bread and wine, neighbours bringing round bags of courgettes and cherries. Somehow, the authorial urge was weakened. Oh, and I had a summerhouse to paint.
But as soon as you get away from the decencies of personal life, and look at what is happening in the world, the full awfulness of what is happening in our world becomes evident. Syria is followed by the Ukraine which is followed by Gaza. Forgive the flippancy, but the only good news is the removal of Michael Gove as Education Minister.
The reaction to Gove’s dismissal has been predictable. Right wing papers (and Gove’s wife’s tweets – she is, after all, a Daily Mail journalist) have created the image of a martyr, a man who stood for truth and right against the barbarian hordes, who alone wanted to raise educational standards against Marxists and idiots determined to betray our children. Read, and weep, Chris Woodhead’s column in yesterday’s Sunday Times. Sacked, we are told, not because his policies were wrong but because he was unpopular with the electorate.
Can we just scan the field here a moment ? Gove is a proven liar, given to sweeping statements about people he has not met, schools that do not exist or regions he has not visited. His announcement ending Labour’s Building Schools for the Future was full of inaccuracies. The Local Government Network called this ‘sloppy’, which is being kind. There is little evidence that the craze for academies and free schools, taking education away from locally elected representatives and giving them to rich conglomerates, inexperienced parent groups or religious organizations, does anything to raise quality. A recent UK court case has obliged the DfE to admit that academies do no better than community schools. In the USA, more charter schools reduce standards than raise them. What Gove (and, to be fair, his predecessors) have overseen is a massive experiment on British kids, in which obvious truth (some state schools are poor) has been conflated into a palpable nonsense (we must therefore abolish – oops, did I say abolish, I meant radically reform, there, that’s better – state education). In a strange way, it is a pity Gove isn’t around as the policies unravel – such as the recent massive fraud at Haberdashers School. What would have happened to an LEA school which lost £4m to fraud ? (a) it wouldn’t happen (b) it would be turned into an academy.
The enthusiasm for educational reform amongst people who know nothing about education – and who condemn those who do as a conspiracy – has been best depicted in this wonderful cartoon. In reality, of course, Gove has been shot down not by an alien starship, but by his best friend Cameron, who decided that a fragile recovery of the Tory vote would be helped by the removal of a massively unpopular twit.