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The last word

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It doesn’t do what it says on the tin, Mr Gove Martin Freedman, director of economic strategy and negotiations, ATL

Rigour? Academic excellence? Character building? These are fine slogans but they don’t get a look in when it comes to distributing money

It would be difficult to apply the aphorism, “it does what it says on the tin” to the education policy of Michael Gove. Rarely has the gap between the label on a tin and its contents seemed so yawningly, so unbridgeably wide. On the outside, Mr Gove talks about rigour, academic excellence, high standards for all and allowing education to build ‘character’. Yet his actions betray a politician who brushes aside inconvenient evidence; who claims that all critics are ‘enemies of promise’; and, most tellingly of all, who can find money for some schools and some young people while many suffer disparagement and cuts.

Take, for example, his oft-repeated assurance that education funding has been protected. Latterly, this has come to mean funding for five to 16-yearolds only. The recent reduction of 17.5% for students aged 18 has hit all colleges hard; sixth form colleges have arguably been hit hardest. College employers estimate that these hugely successful institutions have lost more than £100 million in the last three years and that almost half have had to slash courses - mostly A-levels. Rigour? Academic excellence? Character building? These are fine slogans but they don’t get a look in when it comes to distributing money. A National Audit Office report for the DfE in March 2011 warned that the government should be wary of encouraging new schools to have sixth forms to increase competition because, “increasing choice of providers may lead to lower quality, high-cost providers and reduced choice of courses for learners”. Money can, however, be found in its millions for Mr Gove’s pet projects of academies and free schools. Some reports have claimed that the government has spent £62 million setting up nine new free schools, offering education for 16- to 19-year-olds, which between them have just 1,557 pupils. They estimate that the government is spending more than £39,616 for every student at these free schools, compared to around £5,000 on pupils in maintained schools.

Elm April 2014  
Elm April 2014