Why Michael Gove must start giving to charity

31 July, 2013

If Michael Gove wants charities to support schools, he needs to put his money where his mouth is.

Michael Gove
If Michael Gove really wants a Big Society, his government must start supporting the voluntary sector properly
(Image by Paul Clarke; licence: CC BY 3.0)

I work for a charity. It is not a cuddly charity though: you won’t find people gladly emptying their purses because we’ve shown them a picture of a cute animal or a starving child. For the people we work with, our work is important; but to most it’s mundane, and mundane doesn’t pull at heartstrings.

The Government also says our work is important. So important, in fact, that it sees us as a crucial provider of support to schools.

Lord Nash – one of Mr Gove’s education ministers – recently told the House of Lords that the Government is committed to the area of the curriculum that we deal with. Defending that commitment, he pointed to us and other organisations that already ‘offer a range of support to teachers’.

We do. But it costs money.

Charities are also spending a lot of unpaid time and energy advising government departments in the absence of experienced civil servants (government cuts, remember). The Big Society idea appears to have been not much more than Government washing its hands of huge chunks of responsibility and culling its experts. The expertise that Mr Gove’s education system needs now lies outside of government.

But the Government can’t let go. Politicians are meddling with the system more than ever. The new National Curriculum, for example, has been widely criticised for the lack of professional input to its design. As ASCL leader Brian Lightman put it:

‘Drafting a curriculum is a highly specialised and professional task. Unlike previous versions of the national curriculum, which were drafted with a heavy involvement of teachers and school leaders, these proposals have been driven and closely directed by politicians without that professional input.’

The Government can’t have it both ways. It’s still under the delusion that people can do more with less, but we can’t. If it really wants us to fill the holes it’s created, it needs to give us the proper support to do so. Mr Gove and his ilk must stop believing that struggling charities can support their flagship public services for nothing.

Michael Gove and his dangerous crusade to subdue our children

27 July, 2013

While young people in Europe rise up in the wake of economic crises, in Britain they seem to have swallowed the rhetoric that someone else is to blame. They have no stake in the systems that govern them and Michael Gove wants to keep it that way.

[This article was first published on the New Statesman website.]

Wax heads that all look very similar.
Image: Conformity, by Bryan Nixon (licence: CC BY-NC 2.0)

You’ve heard about The Economic Crisis, right? How could you not, everyone’s worrying about it. Open a newspaper, turn on the television, tune in to the radio or zone in on social media, and there they are, worrying. The Economic Crisis is always lurking nearby, threatening to breathe fire on us at a moment’s notice. Governments have boldly tried and failed to slay it, losing limbs and public confidence along the way.

Our current government ministers set themselves up as bold knights guarding the people, keeping them at arms length from operations lest they get their own ideas and jeopardise the mission to calm everything down. They tell us The Economic Crisis was spawned by previous, incompetent knights and fed by the lazy and feckless, and we believe them. But the new crop of knights is better and bolder, they tell us.

And Gove the Barbarian is one of the boldest. He will smash down everything that gets in his way. He will use his might to protect the delicate workings of the State from the coarse and lowly masses. Teaching them too much about how it works is at best a distraction from the important business of moulding the compliant workforce that the government’s economic plan requires, and at worst – well, I suspect he shudders to think.

So, in spite of vigorous lobbying behind the scenes, he has taken economics out of the citizenship curriculum and replaced it with personal finance. In itself, personal finance is a very welcome addition to the National Curriculum: I wish I had left school with some understanding of banks and budgeting. But, for Mr Gove, that’s as far as it goes. He wants people to be responsible with their own money (after all, personal debt is no help to the economic situation), but he doesn’t want to let people anywhere near the economy itself. Keep the plebs in the dark about politics, a little knowledge will only lead to trouble.

How irritating it must be, then, that trained teachers have their own ideas about teaching. Mr Gove is giving schools more freedom because he wants to free up the market, not because he trusts teachers. (I doubt he wants to ‘let a thousand William Tyndales bloom’, as Fred Jarvis pondered in the Independent.) It’s time someone stamped out such subversive tendencies. It’s time someone whipped schools into glorious mirrors of business that turn out neat, fragmented packages of knowledge and manners with ruthless efficiency. Little packages that expect nothing from the State; little packages that are eager for the System to gobble them up and fart them into the only bedroom of the last remaining council house. And Gove the Barbarian is the man for the job.

But what happens if the slaying fails? Or if our knightly overlords lose their remaining credibility? So far, this government has only proved that politics can be pretty hopeless against such beasts as The Economic Crisis, which will likely turn on the people with vigour in the end. The failed attempts of politicians are simply evidence that mainstream politics does not hold the answers. So, people will look elsewhere to protect their own interests, as we have seen with the rise of the far right in Greece and rioting on the streets of Spain. Britain, so far, has got off lightly; we are kept in our place effectively. But for how long? And when our politicians lose their grip completely, do we really want an uprising of people who have been kept alien from political life?

So, put the economy back on the curriculum, Mr Gove. Fulfil your promise to ensure citizenship ‘is even better taught’ in schools. Prepare our young people properly for economic and democratic life. Otherwise, it will be each for themselves when the fire gets too hot, and your government’s precious economic plan will be toast.

This article was first published on the New Statesman website, as Teaching economics teaches young people who to blame for their problems.

Ministerial priorities at the Department for Education

7 March, 2013

If you’re at all interested, Michael Gove recently set out his education ministers’ priorities (listed below), in response to interest from the Education Select Committee.

Michael Gove MP, David Laws MP, Matthew Hancock MP, Lord Nash, Edward Timpson MP and Liz Truss MP.
Michael Gove MP, David Laws MP, Matthew Hancock MP, Lord Nash, Edward Timpson MP and Liz Truss MP.

Here they are:

David Laws MP

  • Capital (including school places)
  • Pupil Premium
  • School accountability
  • School funding
  • Teachers, teaching and teacher training

More about David Laws

Matthew Hancock MP

  • Apprenticeships and Traineeships
  • 16-19 provision including vocational qualifications

More about Matthew Hancock

Lord Nash

  • Academies
  • Free Schools
  • Governance (linked to school accountability)

More about Lord Nash

Edward Timpson MP

  • Adoption
  • Children in care
  • SEN and disability
  • Social work and child protection

More about Edward Timpson

Liz Truss MP

  • Behaviour
  • Curriculum and qualifications
  • Early education and childcare

More about Liz Truss

Hat-tip to Liz Moorse for the list and to Andy Thornton for spotting Michael Gove’s startling resemblance to Alfred E Neuman.

MPs have behaved atrociously, but would we have been any better?

13 May, 2009

Recent revelations that British Members of Parliament have abused their expenses are pretty appalling. But maybe it’s society that needs to change its attitude, and not simply the MPs.

Yesterday Lord Foulkes challenged BBC presenter Carrie Gracie to reveal her salary. When she did, he lambasted her for daring to cross-examine him when her own salary of £92,000 is almost twice as much his.

I’m sorry, but that’s hardly the issue. Gracie replied that she uses her own phone rather than the BBC’s because she’s aware of spending public money. That may sound a little lame considering the size of her salary, but she’s absolutely right: it’s the attitude that’s the issue here, not the amount of money.

Lord Foulkes may be earning a lot less than Carrie Gracie, but he’s still earning a lot more than I do: and I consider myself well-paid. I work for a charity, which is funded in part by public money. I work from home, and I don’t claim for phone calls, electricity, or heating. (Maybe I should, in order to give the organisation a better picture of its financial position; but that’s for another post.)

Certainly I don’t expect people not to claim for expenses incurred in the performance of their job, but some moral integrity wouldn’t go amiss.

Which begs the question: would we be any different?

How many of those who have been so eager to criticise MPs’ use of expenses wouldn’t have done exactly the same given the chance? It would be interesting, for example, to see a freedom of information response on this from the Telegraph.

If such a request did show a similarity of behaviour, the defence – I should imagine – would be that it isn’t public money that they’re spending. True, but if someone takes advantage of expenses in the private sector, they’re unlikely to change their spots if they then move to the public sector.

It’s our attitude to money and to our behaviour in business and society that is important. If we don’t see ourselves as having a duty to behave responsibly with others, and within the society and communities in which we operate, then nothing will change; MPs will always act selfishly – even if they do it within the rules – because that’s what people do.

If we change the attitudes of people – of us – maybe we’ll have a greater chance of cleaning up parliamentary politics.