Gove stands up to the ‘Blob’

There are so many problems with Michael Gove’s recent article in the Daily Mail that I am not sure where to start.  I am also not sure whether I have the inclination to engage with something that I consider to be diatribe.  But here goes:

After opening with an invocation of Cyril Connolly, Gove appeals to fear:

“Because there are millions of talented young people being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies Of Promise.”

Gove is trying to claim that he is concerned about the educational prospects of our young people.  Perhaps he is only concerned about those who he deems as talented, and therefore deserving of success?  Nevertheless, he is concerned about them.  Yet, Daily Mail readers should be warned, there are people out there, these  ‘Enemies Of Promise’ who threaten to stand in the way of these opportunities to success.

So, who are these ‘Enemies Of Promise’? They are:

“a set of politically motivated individuals”

These individuals do not agree with Gove, therefore they are enemies, and, moreover they are politically motivated, and worst of all, they are ‘Marxist’.  Helpfully, the Daily Mail has included a picture of the bearded man himself.  Presumably, in describing his enemies as “politically motivated,  Gove is suggesting that he is not similarly motivated.  This is clearly nonsense.

Gove goes on to outline what he believes is evidence of the poor standards of education in our schools with this rhetological fallacy:

“Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance”

His appeal to authority conveniently fails to identify which surveys uncovered this ignorance.

These poor educational standards, according to Gove are concentrated in our most disadvantaged communities, such as East Durham. (you may remember that this is a place where Gove claims to be able smell defeat).  Given this observation of differences in educational achievement, Marxists may point out that in capitalism there are winners and losers, and that within this system lies the explanation for differential education attainment.  However, Marxists are the subject of this attack, so anything they have to say is subject to further opprobrium in the remainder of the article.

Of course capitalism is not to blame! Gove much prefers to point the finger at the ‘Enemies Of Promise’. One hundred of these apparent enemies are signatories to a letter in The Independent in which they warn of the potential dangers of Gove’s new National Curriculum  (which explains why Gove doesn’t like them).  Some of these enemies, according to Gove, inhabit a “Red Planet” (they are Marxists after all!).  This, according to Gove is proven by their research interests:

“One of the letter’s principal signatories claims to write ‘from a classical Marxist perspective’, another studies ‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice’, a third makes their life work an ‘intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance’.”

This is nothing more than an ignorant attack on the social sciences, and one which, presumably Gove hopes the readers of his derision will agree with.

Gove then goes on to describe ‘enemies’ as a ‘Blob’ consisting of “ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes”. This choice of language purposefully ignores the reality that unions are made up of their members, in this case teachers who have collectively chosen to withdraw their labour in summer of strike action.

In short, a fine example of Govian ad hominem reasoning.  No wonder the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) has recorded no confidence in him.


“These people run a school!”

This was the exclamation of Vic Goddard, head teacher of PassmoresAcademy during the first episode of Channel 4’s fly on the wall documentary, Educating Essex.

This was his imagined response of some viewers to the antics of himself and his senior management team  (e.g. hiding behind doors, and comic secret santa). His imagination that some would seize upon such behaviour as evidence of unsuitable school leadership qualities was realised, at least by the Daily Mail.  It was nothing, if not predictable in its disapproval of Vic Goddard’s and his team’s conduct.

In its review, the Daily Mail  describes the teachers of Passmores Academy  as “foul-mouthed” (they occasionally swore in conversation with one another) who “liberally use four-letter words”  (though, significantly the article offers no explanation as to why words with four letters are objectionable) . It goes on to claims that the programme paints a “grim picture of life in a comprehensive”.

‘Grim’ is one interpretation, but ‘real’ is another. Mr. Drew, the deputy head teacher,  “evil overlord”, “legend”, and focus of the first episode is far from grim.  As he says to his students:

“You have no idea how much I like teaching you”

He is determined no student leaves a failure, even, as he says that means sleeping all through August to recover from the effort entailed in ensuring students successfully complete their exams. The first episode of Educating Essex reveals Passmores Academy to be a school which deals with the rough and the smooth, where teachers and pupils can have fun, and where Mr. Drew, even after a day dealing with the problematic behaviour of some students is able to put this aside and grumble at the theft of his smoothie from the staff fridge.

Stressed out teachers, fact and fiction

Recently, in an episode of Waterloo Road, Grantly Budgen feigned depression in order to avoid escorting a group of sixth formers on a trip to London.

The cheerful Grantly

It is a wonder that Kim, Waterloo Road’s Head of Pastoral Care hadn’t previously suspected that Grantly may be depressed.  After all, as she read out a list of  symptoms of depression, Grantly responded: “they’re symptoms of being a teacher“.  Grantly is hardly renowned for his cheerfulness, but suddenly Kim decided that he was, in fact, depressed.  So convinced was she of this, that she shared this with Jo Lipsett, despite earlier assurances of confidentiality.  Does not the LEA have a counselling service for its staff?

Grantlty may have found a friend in the Daily Mail,  if their recent coverage of the trial of Peter Harvey, the science teacher recently acquitted of attempted murder is anything to go by.  Usually, in the Daily Mail you can find evidence of a ‘discourse of derision’ of teachers[1].  However, recently they have become the teacher’s friend.  Take for example this article, it describes “lawless classrooms”  and the chaos and the insubordination, which, apparently are the characteristics of an “average classroom of an average comprehensive” .  The article then features a photograph of the author of the article, Frances Childs, who, it adds, is considering sending her children to a private school.  The popular construction of the comprehensive school as a dangerous place (as well as working class) is found right here in the Daily Mail,  even though reality is somewhat different. 

Amanda Platell, also in the Daily Mail, implicitly holds the Labour Government responsible,  blaming the parents of disruptive pupils,  in particular, single mothers, for driving stressed out teachers to commit acts of violence.  These parents, were, presumably raised and educated under a Conservative Government, though Platell, naturally, misses out this connection when she claims that only the Conservatives can remedy this “wretched state of affairs”.

The behaviour of pupils is a concern for  teachers.  Robert Klasen and Colin Anderson in their 2007 research on teachers’ job satisfaction found that teachers were much more concerned about pupil behaviour and attitude than in the 1960’s[2].  Patrick Barmby also found that pupil behaviour was cited by some teachers as contributing to their decision to leave teaching[3].  Other factors contribute to teacher dissatisfaction and stress, for example the changing nature of teacher’s work. 

The Teacher Support Network reports that stress is a major cause of concern for teachers.  Its figures reveal that 9% of calls to its Support Line were in regard to health and well-being issues.  This does not however mean that the 9% of calls came from teachers who were stressed.  The network also carried out a wellbeing survey in which 87% of teachers reported experiencing stress over the last two years.  However, very few of these teachers will become stressed to the point of attacking a pupil, in the way that Peter Harvey did.  The Daily Mail likes to over dramatise.

To lay the blame with the recently departed Labour Government, is also, to oversimplify the issue.  As Troman, in his article on teacher stress states:  “stress is a pervasive feature of contemporary life” (1990: 331)[4] associated with social changes in later modernity.  Surveillance and a low trust of teachers contributes to low motivation.  The surveillance of teachers and holding them accountable is hardly going to go away with a change in government.  Bad behaviour among pupils isn’t actually the typical behaviour found in the average classroom in the average comprehensive school as the Daily  Mail would have us believe.  The Steer Report[5] concluded that  behaviour amongst the majority of pupils was good, and had actually  improved in recent years.   We will see how the Conservatives remedy this not so wretched state of affairs.

Continue reading “Stressed out teachers, fact and fiction”

Pupils revolt on facebook

The Daily Mail must have loved this story. Pupils from a girls Grammar School in Buckinghamshire used facebook to voice their displeasure  about the appointment of their new head.  The newly appointed head then withdrew from the post, before she actually took the post up.


The pupils had been involved in the selection process,  (a form of ‘pupil voice’) and preferred the acting Head over the one who was actually appointed.    So, according to the Daily Mail, the disgruntled girls starting a bullying campaign on facebook. The appointed Head felt unable to take up the position amidst all this hatred, and the acting Head is still th acting Head.  A case of pupils rejecting authority, it may seem.  What makes it worse is the fact that this is, according to the Daily Mail, sanctioned by the new Labour Government (though readers of the Daily Mail may be more familiar with the phrase ‘Nu Liebour’).  Its political correctness gone mad!

A previous post here referred to the NASUWT’s response to ‘pupil voice’.  The Daily Mail suddenly finds itself on the side of a teaching union, highlighting how its members are concerned over government sanctioned ‘pupil voice’. 

Of course, this post is hardly going accept the Daily Mail’s version of events without question.

The School in question had involved the pupils in the recruitment process.  The use of pupils in this way is encouraged under a wider policy of ‘pupil voice’, though recruitment is not the only way in which ‘pupil voice’ is manifested.

The girls did favour the acting Head, not the eventual successful candidate.  It is the governing body which has ultimate responsibility for making the decision, so it could be a simple case of the pupils preferring one candidate and the governing body preferring another.  In such case disgruntled expressions from pupils, or anyone else are really out of place.  However, it could also be the case that ‘pupil voice’ didn’t really take place.  The Daily Mail glosses over a meeting called by the governing body.  Here, a representative of the staff claimed that the views of staff and pupils had been overlooked in the appointment process.  This is not just a case of disagreeing over the choice of candidate, it is an indication that the process in which pupils are staff and pupils are consulted may not have worked as well as it could.  Also, this does not suggest a ‘crisis of adult authority’, the pupils are not taking over.

Then, there is the successful candidate herself. Mrs Jarrett  decided not to take up the post for personal and professional reasons.  We know no other details.  Is it reasonable to guess that she was scared by a pupil ‘facebook revolt’?  Has she never encountered disgruntled pupils, and dealt with this?  Presumably she has, and, if not, and she has run as fast as she could from these facebooking pupils, then maybe the governing body did make the wrong choice.

There is also facebook itself.  This is really what the Daily Mail is concerned with, though it does seem to be incidental to the case. It is possibly the case that some of the comments made by some pupils were unacceptable. The page has been removed so it is impossible to tell.  In one way, the presence of such comments on such a site is hardly surprising as it provided an unofficial and online context for disgruntled pupils to express their frustration.  However, concern about the process of the appointment was heard, not only in an online space, but in an offline, and official context, namely the special meeting arranged by the governing body. Again, concern was also voiced by staff.

The Daily Mail article can be found here.  It is worth scrolling down to the readers’ comments.  You will find a couple from the pupils, you will be able to spot them, they are reasoned and articulate, and, consequently have downrated by fellow Daily Mail readers.