Michael Gove heckled at head teachers' conference in Birmingham


Michael Gove: "If Ofsted is a cause of fear then I'm grateful for your candour, but I'm afraid we are going have to part company"

Related Stories

The education secretary faced one of the angriest receptions of his three years in office when he appeared before head teachers in Birmingham.

Michael Gove was heckled and jeered at the National Association of Head Teachers conference.

The union passed a no confidence motion in his policies, while president Bernadette Hunter said teachers and pupils had "never had it so bad".

But Mr Gove said he was striving for higher standards in schools.

The education secretary appeared taken aback by the frosty reception as he appeared for the question and answer session on Saturday.

He was told by delegates that head teachers were suffering from stress caused by his policies, by Sats tests and by the prospect of facing tough Ofsted inspections.

In response to the latter, Mr Gove said: "If you think Ofsted is causing you fear I am grateful for your candour, but we are going to have to part company."

At which point, a delegate shouted: "Are you leaving then?"

'Dissolved into tears'

Mr Gove looked visibly ruffled during the session which was repeatedly punctuated by ironic laughter and groans at his responses.

Start Quote

They're bombarded by a flood of what they see as very poorly thought through initiatives”

End Quote Russell Hobby NAHT general secretary

One head teacher, Denise Wells, from Field House Infants school in Derbyshire, said colleagues felt they were living under a culture of "bullying and fear" as they waited for Ofsted inspectors to arrive.

Another, Lesley Wells, from Burton on Trent in Staffordshire, described how one of her school governors with 20 years experience had "dissolved into tears" after a week in which her school dealt with both Sats and an Ofsted visit.

She said as a head teacher she expected to face pressure but she did not think it was right that someone who had given 20 years of voluntary service should.

Mr Gove told delegates he had been "delighted with the warmth and enthusiasm" that had greeted some of the government's education policies.

He admitted that he may have not communicated his vision of the education system well enough, but said that while he had been "chastened by criticism" in the past, there would be no change of course.

"If people find it stressful that I'm demanding higher standards," the education secretary said to audible groans from the hall, "then I'm not going to stop demanding higher standards."

At the end of the session he said: "What I have heard is repeated statements that the profession faces stress, and insufficient evidence about what can be done about it...

"What I haven't heard over the last hour is a determination to be constructive, critical yes, but not constructive."

'Forced academisation'

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, told the BBC afterwards it had been "a fairly bruising session".

"It's not because it is a hard job - the job of a head teacher should be tough - but what I think he's failed to pick up on is the short termism of the targets and the constant change, [which] means that people no longer feel that they're doing the job that they came to do, which is to teach children.

Bernadette Hunter, NAHT president: "We do not have a failing system"

"Instead, they're bombarded by a flood of what they see as very poorly thought through initiatives and I think that is where the unhappiness comes from."

Earlier, the NAHT joined the three biggest teaching unions in England and Wales in formally opposing government education policy. It is the first head teachers' union to pass a no confidence motion.

It is critical because it is head teachers who will have to implement the government's school plans.

The stance represents a stepping up of their conflict with ministers and follows on from test boycotts and industrial action.

The union is particularly critical of what it describes as "forced academisation" in which struggling schools are encouraged to convert to become state-funded independent schools instead of remaining part of their local education authority.

The Department for Education argues this is the best way forward for an underperforming school.

But heads say that academy "brokers" employed by the Department for Education (DfE) are using unsavoury methods to push primary schools into opting out of their links with local authorities.

'Damaging schools'

A DfE spokeswoman said: "Academy brokers help us to identify the best possible sponsor to turn around failing schools and ensure pupils are given every chance to fulfil their potential.

"We expect the highest levels of professional conduct from academy brokers and any allegations of misconduct are fully investigated."

The NAHT is the biggest union for head teachers, representing 85% of primary heads and 40% of secondary heads in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Stephen Twigg, Labour's shadow education secretary, said: "David Cameron and Michael Gove need to change course. They are damaging school standards by undermining teachers.

"It's no wonder given they are allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms, teacher morale is at an all time low and 6,000 qualified teachers have left the profession on their watch."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Most teachers work hard to educate and support the children in their care. Gove works very hard to systematically destroy education with little regard to the well being of the pupils. The previous government were just as bad. Stop using education as a political football and allow educators to do what they do best - Educate!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    My boys are taking A2 and GCSEs right now and I am a Chemistry teacher. As such, I am experiencing the damage 1st hand of Mr Gove's draconian ideology. The kids I know are lacking confidence because there is too much change too quickly. Our school struggles to get the support from the Exam Boards to prepare the students and we have been BULLIED, mid year, to become an Academy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    This is the man some would like to see as the leader of the Conservative party - what a joke.

    If he can't get the education system right what hope would there be for him leading the country. Children need a safe and secure education to enable them to make their way in the world without negotiating the minefield that education has become.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    The main problem that myself and fellow teachers seem to have with Michael Gove is his woeful lack of experience of the education system. He has never worked in education, taught or worked with young people. Mr Gove's experience of education is that of a public school and he seems to feel that it is appropriate to educate every student in that manner. ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    How long do we have to put up with amateur meddlers like Gove messing around with our education system.
    Current teaching (when its is working properly) is fantastic compared to the 70s schooling I enjoyed
    Perhaps it would be better to stick with the current systems and spend the money saved on making good education available to all

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I thought Cameron's bad enough, this guy surpasses all

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I'm sorry Michael, but after considered scrutiny of your performance we have to give you a grade 4, unsatisfactory.
    You will be placed in special measures for two years until the next election, when you and the rest of your team will be dismissed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    It's strange how Mr Gove a Journalist by Trade Knows so much about Teaching. Just like Tom Winsor the Corporate Lawyer knows about Policing....

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.


    I don't know do turkeys toe for Christmas?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    We find Gove pompous, arrogant, "fanatical" and worse, quite stupid.


    Over 2 decades, instead of bringing existing schools up to standard, we set one against the other causing major problems eg: long distance schooling and congestion, increasing travel and pollution, need for breakfast clubs, weary children, house price hot spots, explosion in costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    People who never went to school and university have educated themselves. People have never had so much access to information or education and if an individual works hard the opportunities will present themselves. Spinoza wrote under candlelight, Darwin observed and Wilde delighted all because they loved their work, children do not need to be told HOW to think but HOW they can think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Gove's position as education secretary is now clearly untenable, please do the decent thing and step down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I went through school as a 'guinea pig' when the last Tory Govt changed the education system to suit themselves.
    I feel sorry for the children currently studying and soon to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I have no Confidence in Michael Gove or David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne , William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith, Teresa May, Vince Cable et al........

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Do turkeys. Toe for Christmas? The issue today is that head teachers care only for themselves and not for the education of the children.
    How many times do you see them mention children? It's all about heads and the teaching staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Many kids leave the school systems these days without even the basic skills. Basic spelling, grammar, numeracy. Whatever the pro/anti views re Gove, one thing is clear; standards have been slipping for years.

    We do our kids a great disservice if we do not properly arm them to compete in an increasingly harsh & competitive world where other nations are preparing their youth with more intensity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Interesting that some correspondents believe headteachers are left-wing. When I was a teacher we were always frustrated that heads were too reluctant to criticise Government policies; now they have the self-confidence to denounce publicly a politician who, with no evidence, utters pronouncements designed to ingratiate himself with the party rather than study the best methods for children to learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    "As a Nurse I am sick to death of the teachers moaning about pay and conditions, including education policy, us nurses are more qualified ... , yet we get paid less"

    Every sympathy with nurses, but what makes you think you are better qualifed? Not so, and misses the point about idealogically-driven government policies.
    Clearly grammar was not included in your qualifications ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @15 dependabledennis-606_must_stay

    "....as more condensing......"

    Ummm - I think that's back to school for you then......


Page 88 of 90


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.