The House of Commons is in recess after business on 17 July and will sit again on Monday 3 September. The House of Lords continued to sit until the end of business on 25 July and returns on Monday 8 October. The government machine continues through the summer although ministerial teams will organise and take holidays.
In my view, it has to be Michael Gove. He has presided over radical reform of the school system. There are almost 2,000 academies in England and more on the way. What is breathtaking is:
- the pace at which the reforms are being taken forward;
- the fact that academies originated in the Labour government;
- that they have been achieved in the teeth of teacher union opposition; and
- that this could so easily have been portrayed by the opposition as “privatisation of our schools” if it had not grown out of a Labour initiative.
There is no doubt that our state education system has failed generations of children under Conservative and Labour governments for far too long. Too many children leave primary school without adequate reading skills. Too many children leave secondary school without good passes in Maths and English and with few fundamental work skills.
When the Opposition carp that the coalition is not going for growth, they demonstrate their thirst to spend, spend, spend but have no real understanding of the supply side reforms our country so desperately needs. Gove’s purge of our school system and his systemic and cultural reforms should lay the ground for long term increased productivity and economic competitiveness if we can increase the skills base of future generations and inculcate life skills and a work ethic where they have been missing. It is a long term strategy
Gove has promoted more than academies. He has demanded the use of synthetic phonics in teaching reading skills and raised the bar in demanding more from coasting schools. More recently, he has introduced the English Baccalaureate, attacked persistent grade inflation in both A levels and GCSEs and announced that academies can employ as teachers people who have no formal teaching qualification.
How has he managed so well where Lansley’s health reforms have proved so troublesome and Osborne’s recent budget has become a millstone round the coalition’s neck? One might think he was good at developing a consensual style with widespread consultation but I suspect the reverse is the case. His recent spat with Nick Clegg when he announced thoughts about scrapping GCSEs and returning to a two-tier system of GCEs and CSEs show a style that is far from consensual. I doubt it is the support of his civil servants either. They have a reputation for plowing their own furrows, regardless of their political masters’ intentions.
Perhaps he is lucky? Perhaps schools are less of a sacred cow in the public’s mind than the NHS? Perhaps he prepares well, thinking through both the strategy and the tactics of securing change and then demonstrating determination in moving forward.
Whatever it may be, he seems to have an unassailable position and to have strong support among many Conservative backbenchers although he also has his enemies behind him as well as before him.