I was asked by a friend to give him a quick summary of Michael Gove’s policies. Here it is:
Free Schools – most important – and other systemic changes
- Gove has made it possible for any primary or secondary school to become an academy. There has been HUGE take up, despite what the unions were warning. Academy status means:
- Freedom from the Local Education Authority in financing – usually the LEA keeps 10% of the school’s budget to spend how it wants; academies keep 100% of funds.
- More freedom from the LEA over staffing: hours, holidays, pensions, salaries.
- No more freedom re: admissions (although academies tend to be more imaginative: e.g. West London Free School has quite a rare lottery system for 25% of its admissions – see point 15)
- Pupil premium: more disadvantaged children get more state money, so teachers get paid more for teaching them.
- Gove believes that most children are capable of an academic education based on a slimmed-down, core curriculum.
- His English Baccalaureate (EBacc) ranks schools on how many A* – C they have in English, Maths, 1 Language, History/Geography, 2 Sciences. And it’s working!
- This is a noticeable departure from previous, more progressive, educational thinking that stressed ‘skills’ as being on a par, or more important, than ‘knowledge’.
- Return to synthetic phonics taught for children learning how to read. (Ruth Miskin appointed as reading tsar)
In the classroom
- Tougher discipline (have appointed a behaviour tsar, Charlie Taylor)
- Less health and safety, especially with school trips
- Irwin Stelzer hopes that Michael Gove is surreptitiously, through the academies programme, trying to bring in a far more market-driven education system than he has publicly let on.
- The mark of this would be whether he allowed companies to make profit from sponsoring academies, like Charter schools in the US
- Gove challenged on his philosophy by ex-Blair aide Matthew Taylor
Three policies on which he has received most flak: cancelling of Building Schools for the Future; scrapping Educational Maintenance Allowance; raising tuition fees.
To begin with, the author shloud make it clearer that his proposals can relate only to England, as schools policy is devolved. Secondly, why focus on importing language teachers rather than improving the skills of our existing primary-school teachers and those entering training? Why do we always feel we have to import people to remedy our skills shortages? It isn’t just about short-term economics, and if a culture of foreign language learning and use is promoted among our adult population as well as our children including but not limited to the teaching profession then it is arguable that the benefits will be more profound and sustainable.Finally, the main reason for teaching French is not that it was the language our teachers themselves learned at school. That may be the main cause, but there are plenty of other reasons for learning French. In fact, French alongside Latin and Ancient Greek, which is why the private schools do it provides an indispensable foundation for deepening one’s understanding and appreciation for English itself, as the contribution to English of those three languages has been so profound over hundreds of years. As I say, it’s not just about economics but about culture. And even if our focus were primarily economic, it seems bizarre to say the least that we would focus on languages spoken in parts of the world Latin America and China with which our trading relationships are still less important than with our close European neighbours. Alongside French, what about German, which is also by the way an excellent language to learn to deepen one’s understanding of English itself? Africa is also on the rise, where French is still widely spoken. And the emphasis on Spanish is arguably short-sighted, as it’s Brazil that is the motor of the Latin American economies, and they speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Who knows, in ten years’ time, people will be crying out for Portuguese-language skills?I think we need a broader vision of the purposes of language learning, and not a narrow and arguably ineffectual, short-term economic view.
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