Sebastian Payne

Michael Gove’s schools ultimatum pushes up standards

Michael Gove's schools ultimatum pushes up standards
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Michael Gove’s reformation of the education system from top to bottom has so far been unstoppable. Often though, the Education Secretary's detractors bellow there is a lack of proof that his reforms are doing any good.

Today's news (£) that hundreds of primary schools have benefited from Gove's tougher approach to internal management adds credence to the view that his freeing up of our education system is working. This year, the number of schools below the government’s baseline target dropped by more than half:

‘League tables of this year’s primary school test results showed that 521 were beneath his minimum threshold. Of these, 37 have since been replaced by academies with new sponsors or governance, and seven have closed. This compares with 1,310 primary schools whose results were below target a year ago.’

The sudden change can be attributed to the threat — from the Prime Minister no less — of management takeovers and conversion to academies if targets are not met. Gove’s self-determined goal for primary schools is for 60 per cent of pupils to reach expected levels for maths and English by the end of primary school. Gove raised this from 55 per cent under Labour, and the Times suggests the rapid rise may push the level up again to 65 per cent.

Focusing on subjects, 84 per cent of 11 year olds now reach the expected government levels for maths (up four percent) and 87 per cent at English (up 3 per cents). The number of schools meeting the required level for English and maths combined is 86 per cent for academies, compared to 79 per cent for other schools.

With these improvements, it is hard to deny that giving schools freedom is having a positive effect on pupil's education. But the teaching unions try to deny it anyway. The National Association of Headteachers grudgingly accepts the rise is a good thing, but claim leadership and determination are the key, as opposed to the school itself.

This is rather ironic, given Gove’s plans for 2013. Fraser interviewed the minister for our Christmas issue, where he reflects on his achievements so far and looks to the Education Secretary’s battle next year over teachers’ pay. Setting him for another collision course with the teaching unions, Gove is taking the drastic step of shifting from pay-by-time served to pay on merit. Attacking the unions’ power on pay bargaining and empowering headteachers is a bold move, one that could result in a nationwide teaching strike.

But Gove has consistently proven throughout this parliament the Department of Education is the one place where radical thoughts can actually be turned into radical actions. If there is a minister who can take on the full collected might of the unions and win, it’s Michael Gove.