Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Education after Gove

I wasn't expecting to be writing this post today. There has been a rumour going round for months that Michael Gove would be moved to an election role - though as Party Chair rather than Chief Whip. But in recent weeks all the noises were that he would be staying in post until the election.

Tim Montgomerie said earlier on twitter that: "I understand Osborne opposed Gove move but dire opinion polling presented by Lynton Crosby of MG's standing with teachers forced change." Another possibility is that he's simply got fed up with being blocked on any further policy by the Lib Dems. If holding the fort until the election is all that's left then he's happy for someone else to do it.

Whatever the reason what does his departure mean for education? Here are a few initial thoughts:

1) There are unlikely to be any major policy reversals. No. 10 have very deliberately ensured the new Secretary of State Nicky Morgan is surrounded by Govites - Nick Boles, Nick Gibb and John Nash. Moreover Gove himself will still be in No. 10 and will be in the PM's daily meeting - he is still in a position to prevent anything he thinks would significantly undermine his legacy. What's more the election is only 10 months away - it's not a time for big U-turns.

2) I don't know Nicky Morgan and she doesn't have a track record in education but I'm sure, like all ministers, she will want some specific policies that are identified as hers. Briefing around her appointment suggests her thing will be early years and the Conservatives certainly see this as a key election battleground. Labour already have some big and expensive policies in this space.

3) Some officials will see the appointment of a new Secretary as an opportunity to tweak various policies they are worried about. The slew of upcoming exam changes is an obvious area where they may try to use her appointment to lengthen the timelines of reform. There is also an on-going review of ITT which may not now go as far as might have been expected.

4) There won't be much time for the new Secretary to learn her brief. Her first crisis might come as soon as next month. Ofqual recently wrote to schools saying they expected greater than normal turbulence in exam results this summer as a result of earlier reforms (including linearity and the end of vocational equivalences). Last time there was greater than normal turbulence - in English results in 2012 - there was a firestorm of complaints from schools than ended in a judicial review. Even if results' week passes without incident, in September we have the launch of a new curriculum; new rules on assessment; the introduction of free school meals in key stage one; compulsory English and Maths post-16 for those without GCSE "C" grades; and about a dozen other things. While the Govian reform phase may be over the implementation phase is at a critical moment.

5) Gove's enemies may be celebrating prematurely. Though policy is unlikely to change much it will be significantly harder to demonise Nicky Morgan than it has been to attack Gove. He was something of a unifying factor for the teacher unions - the last NUT strike was effectively an anti-Gove demonstration. They may find their campaigns lose some momentum now.

Now is not the time for a proper retrospective of Michael Gove's time at the DfE. But - as Andrew Old says - perhaps his greatest achievement has been to normalise comprehensive education for the Conservative party; to shift the argument from "saving" a few bright poor kids through grammar schools or assisted places to creating a genuinely world class system for all. In time I suspect that will be more widely recognised than it is now.