Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Michael Gove, OFSTED, and Present Realities

There is currently (as everybody knows) a good deal of controversy around the recent public statements made by the Education Minister, Michael Gove. While cronyism in politics is a serious matter, I do not wish to comment upon Mr Gove's replacement (aka sacking) of the Chief of OFSTED, Baroness Sally Morgan of Huyton. Like many teachers, retired teachers and Fascinating Aida, I have little sympathy for OFSTED employees; as far as I (and many others) am concerned, Gove can abolish OFSTED altogether.
Instead, I wish to comment upon Mr Gove's proposals to lengthen the school day, and improve school discipline by re-introducing good old-fashioned punishments, such as lines, detentions and picking up litter in the playground.
I have no real objection to lengthening the school day, provided it does not make the workload of teachers and teaching assistants even more onerous than it is now. If extra staff are to be recruited in order to provide children with more extra-curricular activities, then that is no bad thing. What is questionable is the fact that Mr Gove appears to want to make the extra hours compulsory. Understandably, many pupils have spoken of their disapproval of this measure - especially older pupils, who have lives of their own to lead after school. I don't think that all parents will be in agreement, either, especially if they feel that they see little enough of their children. Besides this, many schools already have voluntary after-school clubs (and I should know - I've run a few), and even provide after-school snacks. The clubs which presently supply food - breakfast or evening meal - have to be paid for by parents. If staying on after school is to be compulsory, these meals should be free.
As for Mr Gove's disciplinary measures, I do not believe that Gove is aware of present realities. It is all very well to talk of turning the clock back to what are, essentially, 1950s punishments. The trouble is, we are not dealing with 1950s children or parents. I foresee problems with older children, who might simply refuse to abide by these punitive measures, which they will regard as demeaning. Not only this, but weekend detentions could very well cause problems with angry parents, who will not accept that their children have to give up part of their weekends. On "This Morning" today, Mr Gove said that violent pupils should be excluded from schools. In this matter, Gove shows his ignorance of OFSTED procedures. Schools which exclude too many troublesome pupils face being commented upon adversely by OFSTED, which helps to make Heads of schools unwilling to exclude if they can avoid it.
All in all, then, Mr Gove's proposals are not as original as he seems to think, nor are they as wide-ranging enough to deal with classroom indiscipline as his admirers in the press seem to believe. He is not even providing teachers with extra powers to implement these unoriginal sanctions of his. As so often on previous occasions, Mr Gove "could do better".
Besides all this, there is the question of funding, which has been raised by no-one, least of all Mr Gove.
 The funding needs to be quantified and a matter of public record in school budgets this year by Easter, for use in September. As budgets have already been set for 2014 - 2015 this will need at least a year before any school can make proposals. For implementation in Sept 2015, this would have to be sorted and in the school budgets by Easter 2015. Schools will not even consider  employing additional staff for 2015 -2016 unless the cash is there.
Government funding will have to be approved and - very important - there is an election approaching. Unless the Conservative Party wins an outright majority at the next election, I predict that Mr Gove's ideas will go down as yet another failed initiative in education.