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Primary Education News
News Michael Gove's education policies are like a bad buffet
The education secretary would do better to focus on making his current policies successful instead of putting another platter of proposals on the table, writes Mike Britland
A friend of mine who is currently undertaking his PGCE, yesterday described our education system as akin to that of a buffet restaurant. For those of you who are unlucky enough to not have experienced this culinary delight, allow me to explain. The USP for these establishments is that they have taken the most popular cuisines of the world and brought them together for us to enjoy under one roof. Gove is doing for educational policy as they have with food. Buffet table policy making. I'm sorry Michael, but it isn't working.
Gove has kept a low profile in the months since his 'u-turn' on GCSE reform, but this week has seen the man arrive back on the political stage with a loud thud. This week alone has seen guidelines on performance related pay, the possibility of teaching assistants being reduced and the relaxation of the restrictions that govern clerical work for teachers. Not satisfied with this, yesterday Gove announced in his speech at a conference for The Spectator that teachers and students in Britain don't work hard or long enough.
Let's glance at some of the policies that Gove has been successful in implementing or wishes to implement should he be given carte blanche to do so;
• Charter schools - USA
• Free schools – Sweden
• Performance related pay - Asia
• Extended working hours and shortened holidays – Asia
Gove would have us believe that he has seen how successful these policies are in their respective countries, so why shouldn't we use them here. What he is doing is taking a slice of a system in Asia and placing it on the table next to a nugget from Sweden. He's placing Thai Green Curry next to Pickled Herring and hoping that it works. It doesn't take Ken Baker or Ken Hom to understand that this simply won't work.
Like a good meal, the sum of its parts come together in a blend of flavours and spices on the tongue. Each element of the dish compliments each other in a taste sensation. As we all know and understand, sometimes we need to stop adding ingredients or the dish gets ruined. Throwing things together and seeing how they work may be acceptable in your kitchen Mr Gove, but it isn't when applying this experimentation to our classrooms.
What Gove seems to forget when he poaches (I'm bleeding this cooking analogy dry, I know) ideas from other systems is that they may be successful because they blend with another area of policy that he wishes to ignore. For instance, longer working hours and shorter holidays might be successful in Asia because teachers spend, on average, 10 to 15 hours a week in the classroom. In Britain, we teach 20 to 30 hours a week. This means that teachers in say South Korea have more time to plan lessons, prepare work, assess learning and tailor the curriculum around the individual needs of their students.
Furthermore, schools in South Korea allow teachers more time to do their jobs properly – and, presumably, employ enough of them to cover the hours that the students are in school adequately; the same cannot be said here. So if Gove wants to force us to work longer days he need only increase the schools budget so school leaders have more money to spend on employing more teachers.
If we look at the free school model brought over from Scandinavia, then he did the same thing. He found something he liked, that fitted his free-market ideology and borrowed the recipe. However, once again he let out key elements that made it work. What Gove won't tell you and what he won't borrow from Scandinavia are their policies of league tables and school inspectors. They don't have league tables and they don't have Ofsted. It would be nice if when Gove was selling the principles of free schools that he informed the electorate of the whole picture. Actually, he would do well to look at the whole picture himself. However, this would probably require him speaking to an expert and we all know his ambivalence towards them, unless they agree with him, of course.
Quite simply this type of buffet table policy-making doesn't work. Gove needs to invest more of his time into looking into why these policies work in their countries of origin. However, his dogmatic approach to his brief won't allow him the scope to do this. He is like the worst type of MasterChef contestant. He believes that because he can follow a successful recipe he has the skill to alter it and still make it work. He has little respect for the time and expertise it must have taken to reach that point.
Once again Gove has taken the opportunity to talk down our already overworked and stressed profession. More dangerously than that, he is talking down the hard work of our students at a time when coursework deadlines are dropping like anchors and exams are arriving at speed. Gove would do better to focus on making his current policies successful instead of putting another platter of policies on the table.
Mike Britland is head of ICT at a comprehensive school in Bournemouth. He tweets as @mikematthewscdn.