Gove’s ‘Dead Philosophers Society’ article designed to show off his erudition but lacks evidence. Talking of Marxists, are bursaries for the few fair?
In what might be described as his ‘Dead Philosophers Society’ article in The Guardian, the Education Secretary claims that: “My education reforms are based on evidence, not ideology” and “the truth, of course, is that there is nothing ‘ideological’ about free schools”.
This is the classic politicians’ trick of claiming that their own policies – “the truth, of course” – are not “ideology”, or even policies at all, while the policies of those with a different view are “ideology” or “dogma”.
“Ideology” is defined as “beliefs”, “principles”, “vision”, “set of system of ideas and ideals, basis of policy”. It would be surprising if any minister’s policies didn’t meet these criteria.
The use of statistics in the article is also classic spin.
“Ofsted has just completed its independent inspections of the first 24 free schools, which opened in September 2011. The results are in – and these schools are outperforming the rest of the country. The proportion that are good or outstanding outstrips other state schools. Although a handful of schools required some improvement when judged against Ofsted’s tough new inspection framework, the leaders of those schools are already taking action to ensure they improve – or are ex-private schools that need a little more time to adjust to the disciplines of state school inspection.”
However, elsewhere in The Guardian: “Three-quarters of the free schools are rated by Ofsted as outstanding or good, compared with two-thirds of maintained state schools” – hardly “outstripping” – while the BBC reports that: “Inspections of England’s first 24 free schools show they are performing in line with other state schools…19% required improvement and 3% were inadequate.”
If these weren’t free schools or academies, Mr Gove’s rhetoric and the media headlines would follow the usual “standards are falling”, glass-is-quarter-empty-rather-than-three-quarters-full line, focusing on the “handful” that were inadequate, while ‘excuses’ like “when judged against Ofsted’s tough new inspection framework” and “leaders of those schools are already taking action to ensure they improve” or a “need a little more time to adjust” would be given short shrift.
Mr Gove talks proudly of his much-criticised “draft national curriculum” but this is the curriculum that free schools don’t have to follow!
“Classical Marxists support free schools because they embody the ideal of the soviet, a self-managing institution run by workers in the wider public interest.”
How many free schools are actually run in this way and why are they in the “wider public interest” – surely they are in the “interest” of those who own/run them or have children who attend them?
If we’re dragging John Stuart Mill into this, how “sovereign” are the individuals who operate or work in free schools when there are questions about how ‘free’ free schools really are.
Mill also believed in preventing “harm to others”. Voice has challenged the Government’s educational doublethink on free schools on a number of occasions. Voice has expressed numerous reservations about free schools, including:
- the motives of those setting them up;
- the impact of free schools in terms of their long-term funding and viability and their potential effects on other schools;
- their cost to the public purse;
- the risks of a “buffet approach” to education provision causing chaos and confusion for parents, admissions policies, infrastructure planning, employers, and staff recruitment and retention;
- the risks of conducting an ideological experiment on children’s education; and free schools employing unqualified teachers.
Mr Gove boasts that free schools can “hire the best people to teach”, yet, according to The Sunday Mirror and The Observer “One in ten teachers working in free schools are not formally qualified to do so, according to official figures.”
As we have pointed out before, how do you raise teaching standards while encouraging the employment of unqualified teachers? If QTS “will remain the highly-respected professional status for teachers and one that all teachers training in the state sector must continue to meet” why allow some to teach without it?
While promoting ‘freedom’ from QTS with one hand, the Government is promoting QTS through its School Direct training programme and introducing tougher English and maths tests for trainee teachers striving for QTS with the other.
Where is the “evidence” that Mr Gove claims?
Earlier this year, Dr Ben Goldacre produced a paper on how education could become an evidenced-based profession. Building Evidence into Education describes how teachers could establish professional independence using evidenced-based practice. A coherent ‘information architecture’ is required in conjunction with a culture where evidence is routinely collected and used to improve and promote teaching, learning and outcomes for children.
It was generally well received by members of the DfE Education Forum, which Voice attends. However, it was disappointing that the DfE did not appear to have an immediate expectation to develop the concept. We hope that the report will not be buried because it dares to proffer a way for teachers to take education back where it belongs – away from politicians’ stranglehold.
The lack of evidence in Mr Gove’s article suggests that ministerial policy making is an evidence-free or evidence-lite zone.
What would the Marxists make of bursaries for the few?
Bursaries of up to £20,000 are to be offered to teach maths, English or Special Educational Needs (SEN) in England’s further education colleges, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced.
What does this say about the state of FE teaching that incentives are required?
While welcome for those who want to teach these subjects, is this divisive and unfair on those who would like to teach other subjects?