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"

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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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    State education will always be a political football, whereas private schools are just left to get on with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Maybe if the system gave the schools more lenancy on how they should educate the children we wouldn't be having such a big problem in education. I hated every minute of school when I was a child. Education should be interesting and fun and there is too much pressure now on schools to make the grades this is not what it should be about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Now I know what they mean by 'national interest'.

    This lot is not running the country for national interest, they are running it on their own ideology agenda... sidling up to the rich, 45p tax, privatization all rings a bell now.

    Thanks Mr Gove you've just woken my senses, teachers knows best not ministers they just get things wrong and then does U turns.

    What does Mr Gove know about teaching?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Gormless Gove strikes again!
    Will someone at Tory HQ please shut this stupid little man up.

    The problem is that there appears to be more people in the Tory party with what can be best described with Gove syndrome ( interference for the sake of it) than there are with anything which could be described as common sense.

    If brains were gunpowder Gormless would not have enough to blow his hat off!

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Any policy labeled as 'Reforms' means aggressively saving money.

    The first to suffer are to people for whom the system is supposed to work.

    Any politician that needs to 'Robustly' defend anything they are doing has clearly missed the point by a country mile.

    If I had to create a cartoon character of a prat, Gove is a life model !

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I do hope Gove replaces Cameron because he is utterly unelectable. In fact the Tory party as a whole is probably now unelectable, I can't think of a single competent minister.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    This is not good. Whether Gove’s approach is right or not, something has gone wrong with education in the UK.
    Yes, consecutive interfering Governments trying to make their mark by reforming education is what's gone wrong with education in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    great, more union rhetoric, so what are the difficulties facing head teachers? what is the government doing wrong? there appears to be a blame culture on both sides but no real granular detail as to whats broken; reason? because no one knows. What we do now is that unionised teaching profession will ultimately fail our children. I agree Gove is an idiot, so major change is needed not more unions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Whatever the current educational situation, the complete failure of an entire team on "The Aprentice" last week, to solve a basic mathematical problem, shows that the current educational system simply doesn't work.

    Gove might not have the slick PR skills of his colleagues, but the real failures have existed ever since the introduction of GCSEs, and the introduction of league tables.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I should think Michael Gove will be tableing a motion of no confidence in the teaching profession. My company had to run remedial courses in literacy and numeracy for graduate staff. I despair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    No confidence in any of the big three political parties on any subject , schools have been messed around with since the 70`s when the pc started to get in on the act , in the house all they do is scream and shout at each other ! The country is in a huge mess and they just sling insults , it makes you want to cry but worse you lose faith in voting , may as well let the hordes in and Brussels rule .

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    @34 agree totally, imagine however where we would be if to quote a conservative insider the "mad, swivel-eyed loons" have a gretaer say on ploicy! Remember this shower are the moderates!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Everything appears to be so ill thought out or without any true depth of analysis.

    A soundbite government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    55 Jacheser, 54 bonnysdad etc You do yourselves a disservice. It's not about your political views but the education of he countries children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    The teachers ought to get their act together. The standard of teaching is absolutely appalling. Many kids leave school unemployable, illiterate and innumerate. It is the teachers who have to accept responsibility and it's up to the government to make sure teachers do the job they are employed to do. It appears the teachers are hiding behind political dogma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Glad to see Mr Gove got a degree, then had a minimum of a year training how to teach children, followed by decades of educating children, dealt with parents/guardians, managed a school, dealt with budgets impacting staff/pupil ratios, and now knows just how to educate the young people of our nation. No? Then how does he know best?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Teachers' union get political. What a surprise...

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    According the Guardian, around 470,000 15-year-olds across the world sat a numeracy, literacy and science test. The UK is ranked 25th for reading, 28th for maths and 16th for science against the other members of the OECD.

    This is not good. Whether Gove’s approach is right or not, something has gone wrong with education in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Of course a left-wing luddite organisation has no confidence in a Conservative education minister who is trying to make changes that might make teachers work a little longer and harder for their excellent salaries. What do you expect?

    This isn't news, it's just another blatant drip drip drip attempt by the rabid left-wing BBC to bring down the government.

    Now get marking me down...

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    isnt nothing sacred for this government, they did the same things with the NHS and welfare reforms.. post a few stories that show that someones taking advantage of the system, then sell it off to the highest bidder.


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