Michael Gove pledges longer school days amid Ofsted row

Feb 3, 2014

As Tory donor is tipped to replace Labour Ofsted chair, talk grows of 'full-blown' conflict in government

LONGER school days and more tests for pupils were among the plans laid out by the Education Secretary today. In a speech at the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford, east London, Michael Gove called for state schools to become more like private schools, with greater powers for head teachers and staff.

The speech comes amid an ongoing row about the leadership of Ofsted, which some commentators have suggested could lead to a "full-blown coalition war".

What did Gove announce today?

The Education Secretary said he wants to break down the "Berlin Wall" between state and independent schools. He called for:

  • Longer school days: State schools are to introduce nine or ten hour school days to incorporate more time for extra-curricular activities and study sessions.
  • More testing: For example, state schools should try out the Common Entrance exams used by private schools to ensure 13-year-old students are on track for later success.
  • More powers for teachers: Head teachers are to be given more powers to search pupils and to give same-day detentions without giving parents notice.
What sparked the row over Ofsted?

The Education Secretary has been accused of undermining the independence of Ofsted by removing its chairwoman, Baroness Sally Morgan, a Labour peer. Her contract will not be renewed after the autumn, despite a glowing performance review. Gove himself has said Morgan has done a "fantastic job" but claims the position needs a "fresh perspective".

Who will replace Baroness Morgan?

Gove has refused to rule out a former Tory donor, the private equity boss Theodore Agnew, as her replacement. Agnew, who gave £144,000 to the Tories between 2007 and 2009, is chairman of the academies board of the Department for Education and is a strong supporter of Gove's free schools and academies initiatives through the Inspiration Trust which runs several schools in Norfolk. Baroness Morgan has told the BBC she is a victim of a "determined effort from No 10" to appoint more Tories to bodies including Ofsted and the Arts Council and the Charities Commission.

What was Sir David Bell's response?

Writing on The Conversation website (and posted here), Bell warned Gove not "to believe his own hype". The Education Secretary should not dismiss all critics of his policies but should engage with those offering an "intelligent critique", said Bell, who is now the vice chancellor of the University of Reading. "The row over Ofsted's leadership shows the importance of retaining, and being seen to retain, independent voices near the top – not simply 'yes men'," he wrote.

What are the political implications?

Tensions between the Tories and the Lib Dems over education policy have been simmering for months, says the Sunday Times, with Gove's unbending approach and repeated attacks on teachers alienating Lib Dem ministers. The newspaper describes it as a row that is "threatening to escalate into a full-blown coalition war". Gove's Lib Dem deputy, David Laws, has made little secret to colleagues of his anger. A source close to the minister told the Sunday Times: "David is absolutely furious at the blatant attempts by the Tories to politicise Ofsted. The decision to get rid of Sally Morgan had absolutely nothing to do with her abilities, or even education policy, and everything to do with Michael's desire to get his own people on board." Nick Clegg is believed to have since intervened, insisting that Laws should be responsible for finding a replacement.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

Will Gove's Ofsted coup provoke a coalition war? No, just a
war with everybody. Netherlands to impose restrictions on the jobs that ministers and MPs can take or impose to prevent corruption. As states the European Commission today in its first anti-corruption report.

...All this brouhaha is entirely predictable. We should look beyond "who is in office?" or "who is to replace Baroness Morgan?" and concentrate on Gove's desired outcomes in terms of academic recovery in our State sector schools.

If anything, Gove is to be commended for his resolute pursuit of excellence in education for ALL schoolchildren, thus eliminating the unearned privileges and disproportionate influence in society of those "privately educated" children.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the demise of the Grammar Schools - at a stroke Gove could go a long way towards achieving his desired outcomes by encouraging the return to academic selection (anathema to the Left leaning teachers' unions and to Labour and the Lib Dems!).

Academic selection should NOT necessarily mean the dumping of those less academically inclined children - proper, meaningful and effective education and vocational training should be a part and parcel of ANY new approach to the vital recovery of a balanced education policy, including the pursuit of academic excellence.

For those more academically inclined/able children who would, clearly, benefit from more rigorous teaching standards the expansion of the Grammar School system is the obvious way to go.

For those children who would, instead, benefit more from vocational, technical and practical education, the return to "Technical Colleges" would be a good starting point for this debate. The fact remains that ALL children should receive the education to which they are BEST suited.

Gove's longer-term goal of, effectively, removing the raison d'etre of private education can only be applauded and supported, surely?