The entrance hall to the Education Department displays photos of former secretaries of state. Michael Gove has now been added to that parade. His removal has delighted many teachers and produced jubliation amongst teacher union bosses.
I recall Dennis Thatcher once telling me that when Margaret was education secretary she always knew that she had made a correct decision if it was opposed by the NUT. Conversely, if that union supported her, as it did over the closure of grammar schools, she knew she had probably made a mistake. When vested interest triumphs over sound policy we should all be concerned.
Michael Gove was unpopular with teachers for a good reason. He had the courage to hold up a mirror to the education establishment. It did not like the truths that it was shown: Weimar-style inflation of public exam grades, 20 per cent of youngsters leaving school without mastering even basic literacy and numeracy, mid-table mediocrity in league tables of international education attainment, ever-increasing complaints from employers about the quality of school leavers, and so on, and so on.
The mirror held up by Michael Gove to self-congratulatory teachers and educationalists was too much for them to bear. The mirror had to be smashed and smashed it has been.
All of this has come about at the behest of a prime minster who appears to see little beyond the coming general election. Michael Gove was perceived to have made himself too unpopular with potential voters. In the educational war currently taking place he had to be sacrificed.
In ‘sacking’ Gove, David Cameron has taken what must seem to him as the easy way out in terms of placating the educational establishment, what Gove branded the ‘Blob’; albeit by risking the future of our children. His peace settlement will turn out to be no such thing. The ‘Blob’ will be re-energised by his decision. It has never lost the day-to-day control of classrooms, exam boards, teacher training or the general culture of low aspiration. The way is now clear for it to restore its grip on government policy-making.
Michael Gove displayed plenty of flaws in his time as education secretary, but he was the best hope for the children of this country. If David Cameron supposes that the educational war has been won, he is much mistaken. As we approach the general election, the best that he can claim for education is that he has brought “Peace in our time.”