Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Preparing for a schools revolution

I’m at a seminar with David Cameron and Michael Gove on education reform, a favourite subject of ours here in Coffee House. Cameron’s pledge was unequivocal: “A great education reform bill will be a very big part of the first months of a Conservative government”. There are about two dozen people here to discuss what that will mean, a few Swedes, and many good points. Cameron stayed for about half an hour, yet even in that time some fascinating views were expressed. Two main themes: what Cameron is planning, and why it may not work.  Here are some of the points I’ve jotted down:

1. Gove says that in countries that do well, teaching is a high prestige job. In Singapore, only the top 30pc of graduates qualify as teachers he says. We need the same in teachers, so “greater flexibility in pay and awards”. Such an innocent phrase but what he means, if I have understood it right, is abolishing collective bargaining which would likely mean taking on the teachers unions.

2. We were all issued with a Gove speech where he frames this as a spat with Matthew Parris. Yet none of it was used. Gove ignored his speech, and spoke verbatim. I do like that in a politician: with enough confidence in what you say and your mission, you don’t need a script. I wonder if his words will be quoted as if he had said them, though – one of the stranger aspects to political reporting. So often, politicians never say the words attributed to them.

3. Cameron asks for opinions. The first one is from a teacher, who tells him that in many schools equity is more important than excellence. They are in hock to the unions – and it’s a cultural thing, a collective mentality.

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