Gove’s attack on public education is purely ideological

There has always been one asset the Conservative party has had over Labour since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, and that is the sheer ruthlessness of their convictions.

James Elliott is a journalist who also writes for the Huffington Post

There has always been one asset the Conservative party has had over Labour since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, and that is the sheer ruthlessness of their convictions.

While political determination is often an offshoot of ugly ideological zeal, it has served the Tories well in achieving their goals when in government.

The increasing evisceration of the British state under David Cameron may be halted in 2015, but should the Tories win another election the most fervent ideologue of them all knows exactly what trick to pull next.

A string of memos and leaks have revealed Michael Gove’s plan to convert all of Britain’s 30,000 state schools into academies, and then to allow ‘sponsors’ to operate them as for-profit commercial enterprises.

Hedge funds and venture capitalists would be able to invest into schools, supposedly to boost their performance. Schools would then compete for pupils, raising the educational standards in Gove’s libertarian panacea.

When you hear Michael Gove eventually come to defend these policies, as they are made public, he will cite Sweden as his model.

However the Institute for Public Policy Research concludes:

“In Sweden, the not-for-profit free schools performed better overall than the for-profit free schools.’ Outside of Sweden, the same IPPR report found, ‘Within many countries, schools that compete more for students tend to have higher performance, but this is often accounted for by the higher socioeconomic status of students in these schools.”

The evidence is against Gove.

Resting our copy of F.A.Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom aside for one moment, assuming we have not already graduated onto Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Michael Gove is living in a fiction. Far from being a free-market utopia of outstanding education, Gove’s plan would see standards fall and ability to pay determining quality of education. It would take Britain another step on the path to being a scarred and divided society.

It does not matter to Gove that his policies are deeply unpopular, with three quarters of those polled believing academies should not make profits. Anyone who doubts the Tories wouldn’t privatise a vital public service in the face of public opposition only needs to be reminded of three words: National Health Service.

What Jeremy Hunt is doing for our health system, Michael Gove will do to schools, but with the caveat that running schools for profit will further entrench people into the class they were born into.

If education becomes something only money can buy, then only money will buy the best, and only the richest will have access to the top-performing schools and universities.

Gove is a product of the Thatcherite revolution. The free-market ideals he opines are a product of neo-liberal think tanks such as the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute, which the excellent site WhoFundsYou? has found to be the least transparent of such operations.

In other words, they do not want to concede they are bankrolled by big business and the City; much like the Conservative party are. Gove himself is a darling of the Tory donors, and receives more in donations than any other Tory cabinet member.

The rise of neo-liberal Toryism has relied on the intellectually shoddy arguments about free-markets that these think-tanks peddle. They and their wealthy backers have succeeded over the years in hollowing-out the Tories to the point where they are now mostly funded by the City.

It should come as no surprise that 21 academies are now under the control of the Harris Foundation, owned by Lord Harris, one of the Tories’ biggest donors, who will no doubt be able to donate more to the party if Gove lets him run the schools for profit.

Such are the results when political philosophy is replaced with electoral philanthropy, and evidence-based policy replaced with free-market ideology.

If Michael Gove wants to position himself as a future party leader, as some are suggesting, it is this sort of dogma that will impress.

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19 Responses to “Gove’s attack on public education is purely ideological”

  1. OldLb

    At present a school is assessed as under-performing if fewer than 35% of pupils get five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including maths and English


    Very simple. If you can’t all pupils past that pathetically low target, then they have been failed. The state has screwed them.

    80,000 pounds spent on educating them, and you can’t even get them passed that standard.

    So reading your diatribe, there’s the obvious question. Where are your concerns about the kids? They don’t get a look in.

    That shows your priorities, and its not the child’s education, or you would have mentioned them,

  2. Kevin Leonard

    So reading your diatribe, there’s the obvious question. Where are your concerns about the kids? They don’t get a look in.

    That shows your priorities, and its not the child’s education, or you would have mentioned them,

    The above actually answers the question you ask as it has nothing to do with educating the children it is all about empowering the rich with the means to detach themselves from the poor whilst pretending all are equal in society.

    Gove has embarked on a privatisation programme which can only enhance the political and social divides within our society the rich shall inherit the best of teachers bought out in the annual transfer window whilst those in the lower divisions shall be cast aside into the minimum wage pool or failing that the new style poorhouse workfare apprenticeship scheme for the homeless.

  3. Lady Luck

    Pre-1997: 45% children GCSE A*- C. 2010: 76%.
    Worst performing Scandinavian education sysyem: private-equity funded system of Sweden. Mr. Gove’s favourite education system: Sweden
    Govt. minister who makes his friends and backers of the Tory party into lords so they can influence govt. education policy and benefit directly from privatising state system, whilst also donating even more to said party: M.Gove
    Political party that reduced spending on education1979-1997 resulting in statistic above: M.Gove’s party
    Minister known for shoddy sourcing of ‘factual’ information, including constant references to Far Eastern school systems where the only children who get ahead are the ones who can afford private tuition: M.Gove
    Govt. who have decimated Sure Start provision: M.Gove’s.
    Minister who has overseen removal of ‘ringfencing’ of Special Needs Funding: M.Gove
    Number of teachers made redundant since 2010: 10,000, Sec. of State M.Gove
    Number of extra school places needed within next five years: 250,000+
    Sec.of State who believes that children don’t need to be taught be a qualified teacher: M. Gove (but presumably not his own)
    End of EMA? : Yup, Gove again.
    Dramatic increase in child poverty, 600,000 by 2015, which will have an effect on educational attainment, thanks to: M.Gove’s party
    Belief that markets and risk can be good for education of children when all studies show that the opposite is true: M. Gove
    10,000 school places recently lost in which country when private equity firm pulled out of education system because it wasn’t ‘profitable’ enough?: Sweden, favourite education system of M. Gove
    Internationally best performing education system, with state-funded comprehensive model and much lower rates of child poverty and longest trained teachers in Europe: (Not Sweden) Finland
    Sec. of State who employs advisors to launch anonymous and vicious Twitter attacks on anyone with temerity to question The Master? : M. Gove
    Sec. of State with more powers than any Sec. of Sate EVER (3,000 – forty years ago it was about 5!): M. Gove
    Biggest centraliser of control of state system EVER (which was designed to be run locally, for local children and communities), suggesting Stalinist tendencies despite calling opponents Trotskeyists?: M. Gove
    What are M. Gove’s “priorities” I wonder?

  4. OldLb

    No, the article is all about teachers and the unions.

    I’ll reiterate. How can you spend 80K educating a child and not getting them past the 5 GCSE hurdle? [Bar the odd exception]

    Unless kids are educated beyond this level then pretty much all of them will be poor.

    Gove does realise that, and its his aim to stop it. I’ll give him credit for that.

    Now, what about his approach, and why are you so anti it. Let me suggest the obvious.

    1. Gove can get more spending by cutting out LA from the loop. If schools don’t have money creamed off by LA’s its a better deal.

    2. With independent schools, you can’t impose your ideology.

    3. It weakens the power of unions, who protect the bad teachers are the expense of the kids.

    With 80K being spent per child, why should anyone tolerate the failures of the educational establishment?

    On the min wage issue, the biggest problem apart from the education problem is unfettered migration. Do you need the economics 101 lesson on supply and demand and the impact on prices?

    1. 5 GCSEs need to be raised to 3 passes at A-Level.
    2. NI needs to go into a fund in your name – results in the poor having assets.
    3. Low skilled migration needs to be stopped.
    4. Teachers who fail need to be removed before they can damage any more kid’s chances.
    5. If you take your kids out of the state system, you should get half the cost as a voucher. The other half gets used for the education of those remaining. End result, more money for those remaining. If you are right, and its all about money in equals results out, then results will get better.

  5. OldLb

    24% have been failed. Now there are good schools, but that means there are truly appalling schools that bring the average down to 76%. Dire beyond belief.

    What I think we can draw from the vitriol is that Gove is certainly going after the vested interests.

    On the number of extra places? Ah yes, migration yet again. If you pull in 5 million migrants then you are going to need extra spaces. Or you help the poor and curtail low skilled migrants.

  6. Lady Luck

    The 76% relates to 5 A*-C GCSE grades, not the number who got some grades and the rest who did not. Not perfect, but don’t expect results to shoot up any time soon. Anyway, the important point is that this WENT UP and it did so with the kind of govt. spending that would never have happened under a Tory administration.

    Gove’s spending (and his OVERSPEND of a £1bn) has been on bribing schools to become academies or on free schools, not on improving provision. We need better training for teachers of special needs and FAR MORE of them. But Gove is not interested in special needs. They don’t exist, to him.

    LEAs distribute money to schools based on per head numbers. Discretionary spending went to schools with more pupils on free school meals. In Gove’s world the market would determine spending on schools, not on the needs of pupils. Both schools have 1000 pupils but in different catchment areas? So what, the company decides that they both get the same. That’s the market.

    Education isn’t some money-making scheme for LEAs. It is a core function of local government and what local government should be about. It’s like saying, IDS could get more money if state pensions weren’t creamed off by pensioners. For obvious reasons, state education was not designed to be controlled centrally. Local children, local schools, local solutions. Not the big boss man in London.

    The tax-payer funded private model costs big bucks to maintain, not least because the ‘state’ becomes a (willing) captive of the market. Look at the water industry. The water companies are essentially owned by hedge funds or other private equity providers. The water company and your bill is their cash-cow funding, to be distributed God-alone knows around the world. This money disappears from the British economy, as do the taxes that they should be paying here.

    This is almost the model being used in health now and will be the model for Gove’s new-look public/private model. I say almost, because it will be your taxes that will be redirected into the pockets and offshore tax havens of education companies. Big profits, big bonuses, big tax avoidance; smaller salaries for teachers, fewer training opportunities, less money on actual education for children. Any increases in spending will be at the behest of the companies and will be lauded as good for education, but will be about swelling their bank balances. OK, Britain is hardly democratic, but this is simply government by corporation.

    The introduction of the market will bring instability and risk into the sector. Think of what happens in football. New head teachers every year,replacing management and teaching staff, kids get different teachers every term, are they trained, who knows?

    The private system of education, especially the big ‘Public’ Schools, are the cradles of ideology! What else but ideology could explain the grip that these schools have on the strings of power, political, social and economic? Like, for ever! Was it not Wellington who said that Waterloo was won “on the playing fields of Eton?” Actually, it was won by men who had never been to school and could not read or write. But that’s British history for you. What school you go to determines your future, no matter how good or bad the education. ‘They’ (the elite) have their schools, which offer a fast-track to wealth and power. Changing Bogsworth High to the Lord Carpetright Free Enterprise Academy will not change this one iota.

    Most state school teachers are interested (sadly) in IKEA furniture, football and cookery programmes on telly.

    Ah, the evil teaching unions. Because it’s so easy to negotiate pay and conditions with corporate private sector bosses ON YOUR OWN, isn’t it? And ALL headteachers are kindly souls, who would never resort to bullying their own staff, would they? It’s not as if teachers have some of the highest rates of suicide amongst professionals, is it, or the highest death rates amongst newly retired professionals? Oh, they do. If the actions of a union stop at least one person from feeling that they have nowhere to go but suicide because of the actions of Offsted or a tyrannical head, then I say good.

  7. OldLb

    24% of all pupils have been failed by the state. Without those 5 GCSEs (and what a low target that is), after 80,000 pounds worth of spending, they are functionally illiterate to do much in a modern society.

    Now, that’s an average. What that means for the statistically illiterate like Ofsted and Bush, is that there are schools who are well below that level.

    So if you think money solves all, here are some suggestions.

    1. 10% of school spending ends up in charges to the LAs. How about removing schools from LA control, which means they get 10% extra to spend on pupils?

    Ah yes, can’t increase spending in that way because Gove’s doing that. Gove’s a tory and anything a tory does is evil. Plus we would lose our jobs. Can’t have that can we. Bugger the kids so long as we’re employed.

    2. Vouchers. You get 50% of the states cost of educating your child, if you educate them privately. That leaves 50% of the money for the state to use on spending the remainder. The money spent per pupil goes up by 3,000 pounds for every kid that leaves.

    So what are the objections to that one? Lets see the one’s I’ve heard.

    Private education is evil.

    The middle class will leave, and that means the state gets all the basket cases.

    Profit is evil.

    If the money leaves, how we will be paid a pension?

    3. How about some equality?

    Each and every school gets a per head amount to spend. If they want to spend it with the LA, 10% of spending, they can.

    What school you go to determines your future


    Agreed. If you end up at one of those average schools, where 76% scrape 5 GCSEs, run by the state, [Are you one of them?} you are pretty much screwed for life.


    Ah, the evil teaching unions. Because it’s so easy to negotiate pay and conditions with corporate private sector bosses ON YOUR OWN, isn’t it


    And where are the kids in that? Where are the people who have to pay for it all? Not on the radar.

    You need to face up to the damage that schools do to the life chances of kids. These are state schools, and its state schools that are screwing their pupils over.

    5 GCSEs for only 76% means 24% are condemned to low skilled low paid work. That’s the evil.


    Most state school teachers are interested (sadly) in IKEA furniture, football and cookery programmes on telly.


    That’s one of the causes.

  8. blarg1987

    Have you considered part of the problem is learning styles, if I give you a maths paper written in latin on a different base level of maths say 8 would that mean you are a failure if you do not complete it?

    The answer is no, the touble is the system is to set up around final papers, when not every student is academically bright, but bright in other ways and skill sets suchh as hands on etc, these skills are something that are hard to measure and something we should try to include in the education system.

  9. blarg1987

    Yet you have not said what percentage of children fail under other systems?Acadamies exclude troubled kids (automatic failure) and decides which peoples they have reducing the chances of children with learning difficulties getting a good education (another failure).

  10. OldLb

    Ah that old chestnut.

    Lets wait until the end, and then test. By which time, its too late. Kids have been failed, because they are functionally illiterate without getting passed the extremely low ‘aspiration’ of 5 GCSEs.

    There needs to be annual testing at a minimum, in a way that excludes the teacher. It’s needs to be objective and not subjective. It needs to be standardized between one cohort, and between successive cohorts. Exams are the best system for this.

    For technical subjects, art, music, technology, then clearly you have also to include project work. However, even music is exam based, so you can test those too.

    Now I expect that to be heresy to teachers at the schools that are failing their pupils. However it does give kids the experience of exams, and it gives early warning as to the kids being failed.

    What is needed is for the teaching profession to wake up. They have failed lots of kids awfully. Since they haven’t changed, change needs to be forced on them,

    What I also suggest is that Gove changes the ranking of schools. In particular the triage system of teaching to exams where the good are ignored, the complete failures are ignored and all the effort expended in the marginal.

    By changing to a points based, where an A scores more than a B, than a C, … and averaging the points per child, its in the schools interest to expend effort on all children, and its hard to fudge the numbers.

  11. blarg1987

    All this requires investment though into more resources, where would you get these resources from taxation?

  12. OldLb

    No it doesn’t.

    10% comes from the spending by Local authorities. That’s a major increase.

    Next, if you pay 50% of the spending (3K out of 6k) to parents as a voucher, if they take their child out of the state education system. So what does this do for the state system. For each child taken out, that is 3K extra for the other children. For those taken out, they will get a better education – pay more tax etc.

    So there is lots of money available.

    However, the left constantly fight against it. The reason is that jobs for those in LA will go. They would rather have the money for themselves, than for children’s education.

  13. Andy H

    I’ve been on the finance committee for a local school for a while, and from my experience the money that the LA keeps covers a bunch of non value add stuff (HR, Legal etc) and some useful things like mandatory training for teachers and governors. Could we save money by doing it ourselves? Maybe, but we’d save very little and it would add a bunch of headaches.

    From what I’ve seen (I’m now chair of governors and we’ve just had a Good OFSTED rating) the negatives would outweigh the positives for our school if we broke with the LA.

  14. OldLb

    Then under the new system, you get the cash, and you pay the LA if you think its worth it.

    However, lots of schools will decide that the money is better spent on teaching, rather than administration.

    So under the new system, you still get the cash, you still spend on the admin not teaching as you do now.

    For other schools, the result is more cash on teaching.

    Then if my other proposal, of 50% of the cost of educating a child goes in education vouchers to the parents removing their children from your school, to go private, means you get the other 50% to spend as you see fit – admin or teaching.

    So 10% from the LA, plus lots of 50%s from anyone deciding they can get a better education elsewhere.

    [Pick your own number for the 50%. Could be 90% and you still get money for not teaching a child]

  15. OldLb

    You don’t say if you are primary or secondary.

    If you’re secondary, how many pupils fail to get passed the 5 GCSE hurdle?

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