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When did Michael Gove’s plans to reform UK Education go wrong?

Theresa May, GCSE, NUT. School reforms - where did Michael Gove go wrong?
EdChron Desk on July 17, 2014 - 5:53 am in Opinions, U.K., World

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UK – It is no secret in the UK Michael Gove’s departure from the Education Secretary role delighted many educators, who took to social media to express their relief and joy.

Here is a politician who has children of his own. Reforms he advocate will affect his children’s education (we assume). So what has Michael Gove done to deserve the bad rep?

First reforms as Education Secretary

When Michael Gove became the Education Secretary in 2010, his vision was to revolutionize schools. One of his steps towards a better-quality education was to give all schools the opportunity to be academies – public funded schools that are autonomous and not governed as much by local authority. Schools with “outstanding” Ofsted rating could be fast-tracked into academy status.

While in theory this sounds like a great idea – greater autonomy means flexibility, greater ownership and responsibility, many identified this autonomy as a double-edged sword that could backfire and change the face of education.

Building Schools for the Future Programme scrapped

Building Schools for the Future Programme is a government investment initiative for secondary schools to rebuild and refurbish the school facilities and buildings. Primary schools were later included in 2007 under the Primary Capital Programme.

When Michael Gove become the Education Secretary, the education department announced its decision to scrap the project, citing budget, timeliness and bureaucracy within the process that have costed billions of dollars. The initial plan was for England’s 3,500 schools to be revamped by 2023, replacing old buildings with new facilities “that suit modern education”. But the government’s 155billion-pound deficit meant Gove has to drastically reduce (but not entirely cut) funding.

This affected many schools, and while Gove’s decision in principle was rational, its sudden implementation without due consideration and extensive consultation with schools, coupled with the building list error saga, was his first major popular vote loss and a huge knock to supporter confidence.

Other reforms that affected teachers and students

Amongst the torrent of changes Gove wanted to implement were examination and curriculum reforms: the leaked plan to axe GSCE, taking up another language, changes to the literature texts, approval of opening creationist schools, and most recently Birmingham Schools extremism saga that involved the Home Office and Theresa May have all chalked up demerit points against Gove.

Many other curriculum reforms are not mentioned here, but even if they were, it’s too late for Gove. His plans were for the benefit of education, his ambitions lofty. But they were changes too drastic, sweeping, heavy-handed and elitist in the eyes of many in office and on the ground. Just think about autonomy in schools – shouldn’t we focus on getting high-quality, talented teachers to join the current group, groom them into leaders and train them to lead academies before we give schools the opportunity to be one?

While it was definitely poorly-planned execution, Gove’s ideas to revolutionize education, although not new, was commendable. Let’s hope Nicky Morgan takes a more balanced, measured and consultative approach to education.

It’s not just policies and government budget at stake, but livelihood of educators, parents and children on the table too.


What education reforms have Gove introduced that affected you (as a teacher of parent) or your school?

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