2 Sep '13

News Dear Mr Gove: Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent

This summer I've had that nagging feeling that your job in education is becoming a little too humdrum for you

Many of us have thought for some time that a man of your talents was making a mistake to confine himself too long to the unglamorous world of education. Indeed, I've heard many teachers and parents expressing a wish that you would take these talents with you. But no, you've stuck to your task.

I only have to reflect on the success you've pulled off this summer with the GCSE and A-level results: you have made sure that fewer students succeed. You will have seen the figures published earlier in the year by the Office for National Statistics showing that real wages have been falling. Your colleagues are trying to build a low-wage economy as a means of getting out of the mess the casino capitalists created. Your contribution to this effort has been to increase the number of students with lower qualifications. These students are people who will think (you hope) that they have no right to higher earnings.

This has nothing to do with education and everything to do with the government's unfair and cruel vision of how to run the economy. You know how to dress this up as "raising standards" and introducing "rigour" and you must be hoping your leaders will reward you for putting on such a fine display of smoke and mirrors. Some of your admirers have even begun to believe the best way to get children to jump higher is to raise the bar while not noticing that what results is an increase in the number of children who can't clear the new height.

Another of your summer achievements which may have slipped by unnoticed is your apparent willingness to bail out a private school that had gone bust. It seems that an independent school in North Tyneside owed over £1m with a further £4m debt looming on the near horizon. The deal your department reached was to turn the school, and a local state school, into an academy. Then your department (that's us) pays off the debt, for which we get a 125-year lease on buildings held by the school's private owner. I'm not very genned up on property matters, but surely if it's a lease, we don't come out of this transaction owning anything at all. What a precedent!

Not only have you lost £1bn of our money in the great academy con, you have now found ways of using our money to give handouts to broke private schools via a bit of property shuffling. More smoke and mirrors. I can't wait for St Trinian's and St Custard's to come knocking on your door for more. And like the tax gift to high earners and the mortgage gift in the last budget, there's a real gain for the well-off: no fees!

And yet, this summer I had that nagging feeling that all this is a bit humdrum for you. Then, even as this thought crossed my mind, you spent valuable summer holiday time taking on the task of Miliband-goading and union-bashing. Here was statesman Gove leaving his little post at Education and strutting the national stage. I'm not sure many people either noticed or cared but you can only hope that anti-Labour, anti-trade-union burble is better than nothing. If only you could have tied it in to this summer's lower-qualifications achievement: the 30-year war against trade unions has borne fruit. The proportion of national income earned in wages has declined in relation to the proportion taken as profits.

Then came the Syria debate. With this great moment in national and international history, you could at long last emerge from the glooms of the DfE, piled high with its percentiles and regressions to the mean, its corridors crammed with Marxists trying to sabotage your plans.

As every ambitious politician knows, you have to get yourself lined up on the right side at the right time. And you went for a dead cert: wholehearted support of your leader. Aye, Michael, there's the rub, or as Homer would say, "D'oh!" As the vote came in, observers were posting on Twitter the troubling news that you had "lost it". Not only did you find that you were on the wrong side, but you were heard squealing that the Tory MPs who did not want to bomb Syria were a "disgrace".

I am worried. Will this indiscretion hold you back from the high office you deserve? Does it now follow that for those of us with a stake in education, we have the prospect of you remaining as secretary of state for education until the next election? I fear we can all talk of hopes dashed now.

Yours, Michael Rosen

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