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 240.

    I have no confidence in the integrity of people choosing to become teachers, it appears they do it for an easy ride and long holidays and if they have to do any over time or anything that the rest of the working community would just accept as necessary to protect their jobs, employers and futures teachers will go on strike.

    Start thinking about the kids and not your selves!

    Their attitude stinks

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Gove was always a busted flush. Far too high an opinion of his own value and of course, with his ridiculous, opaque leadership campaign we have this week seen that he is more than a little short of values generally. Education will be well rid of him come 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    214. seront

    Actually - this so called 'dumbing down' started in 1986 with grade inflation and the relaxation of examination boards regulation to compete with each other to make the exams easier so their participants increased.

    I wonder how many more Thatcherite blunders need to emerge b4 people realize that maybe she wasn't such good leader after all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    I would like to see where the evidence is to back up this myth about our education standards falling. A myth that the arrogant layman has now started quoting, despite having no clue about what goes on in schools. Yes you went to school, as did we all. The fact that several decades ago you underwent an education has led you to falsely believe you are an expert on the matter. You are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Teachers have no confidence in this idiot. They were rebuked by gove. Head teachers now have no confidence in the idiot. The country has no confidence in the bunch of idiots that call themselves a coalition government. the voters will be rebuked as not having a clue, as 'we are all this together,' 'and 'We are on the right track'.The country is saying no confidence, lets get them out .

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Gove is simply offering up schools for investment by businessmen and passing it off as an improvement for education? Does anyone else see the hole in the logic here? Surely the way to improve education is for the government to actually increase involvement and impose stricter guidelines, not simply sell off schools and wash their hands of them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    @172.CTDavies:"I passed a vote of no confidence in most of my teachers ...underqualified ...We need ...true professionals and genuine scholars...Not a bunch of overpaid headteachers."

    As I have a better degree than Mr Gove (and you) in History from Oxford, and know that GR Elton and Carlyle are not the way to model your curriculum, will I be allowed to ignore his idiocy and teach it properly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    How extraordinary! My comment 31 expressing the view that it might be a good idea if pupils learnt something at school rather than being just taught how to pass exams has been met with a barrage of derision and negative ratings. This is why Mr Gove’s root and branch reform is so essential.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Unfortunately, I have an equal lack of confidence in Head Teachers !

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    It was Labour who single handedly destroyed education. Most children leaving school now were educated under Labour. Many of the kids are unemployable, illiterate and innumerate. Teachers have always had a left wing agenda. They should be ashamed of themselves. It's almost as if the teachers want the kids to fail under the Tories to simply justify the teachers' political loyalty to the left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    @ Chris Lenton
    I have seen standards consistently fall and we owe to our children to ensure that this trend is reversed. Govt should interfere less and listen more, seek to serve and not dictate

    But this is what the agenda is all about, taking land off people, denying a proper education, (dumbing down) placing them in high rise apartments! This is all part of AGENDA 21, http://t.co/5sObvRxQjw

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    You have to give Lord Charles credit for finding a way to carry on following the sad death of Ray Alan.
    Unfortunately though, there's a world of difference between entertainment and education.
    He's out of his depth and he's certainly not funny any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    213.SearingTruth - ".......the Guardian amits 13 weeks off...."

    Once again you have to misrepresent what someone says in order to try & make your point.....thus proving you have no argument.....that article merely reports what the DofE says in its recruitment campaigns.....

    ...the reality is teachers work most of their "holidays" which are actual just non contact with the kids time......

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    @90. Matthew. Check your facts. NQTs do not get £27k unless you are band A, inner London, its £21.5.

    Gove has done nothing to suggest he knows a way to progress the British education system. Even worse it that the current generation are disillusioned and believe that the people in power don't care for their futures. Ask the teachers and kids, seeing as they have to deal with the changes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    @181.Proud Welshman

    The people who slag off the teaching profession are usually tories, with the johhny come lately ukippers joining in. The libertarians don't want to fund schools at all, unless the parents pay directly. Hmmmmm, how does it feel to be voting alongside those who view your former profession with contempt?

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Schools become academies then we see huge salary hikes for heads and "managers appointed" which reduces the amount of money they can spend on education. One so called academy that I recently surveyed had kitchens not fit for purpose and has health notices served on it from the council, it could afford to spend £30,000 on a new Staff Room and new Office.
    Yet Kids being fed out of a salmonella trap

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Riff - totally agree. We hear much of entitlement culture, but strangely enough, never in the context of the expectations of private sector employers.
    As the tories dismantle our country the private sector will have to learn to stand on it's own two feet. That means training staff and taking on apprentices as opposed to relying on highly trained/experienced staff to fall into their laps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    I am not aware that our Minister for Education has any hands-on experience of teaching. His notion of accreditation is too institutional. Moreover, he appears not to understand that certificated qualifications have their limitations. For example, a first-class honours degree does not necessarily indicate a person's suitability for research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    The answer is simple close all schools. Split the education budget per pupil make parents get on with it. Teachers would have to work self employed. Individualised education for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    187. "Long live private school" in Greek, Latin and French.

    Most people here don't have a clue what you've said because they went to (unreformed) state schools.


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