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 700.

    Mr. Gove wishes to appear intelligent. He acts geeky instead.

    He keeps coming up with bright ideas that are not, and speaks rhetorically.

    If lengthy school time benefits schoolchildren, how is it that nomatter how long one tries to teach a dog or a chimpanzee history, they do not come up with an answer?

    Children are not all equal. Some do not learn easily + for a minority, it is near impossible

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    if Teaching is so tress join the chefing

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    Gove is a liability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    Almost every problem afflicting almost every public service is as a result of governmental intervention (interference).

    Government is the problem, not the solution.

    Control of public services should be taken out of government hands. They only abuse them.

    But that would render all those MPs rather unnecessary, wouldn't it?


  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    Guess the voting on this thread suggests it is mostly teachers who are rating. Any criticism at all and they complain. Saw one the other year who was moaning about her pension and saying that it was making her question her decision to enter the profession. Erm..weren't you all supposed to go into it as a vocation and have the children's best interests at heart? Obviously not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    Gove has clearly shown that he hasn't got a clue. He has clearly lost the respect of the head teachers, something he needs if he is to be effective. It's time for him to go, and the sooner David Cameron realises this and replaces him, the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    Many seem to view teachers as obligatory servants and pupils as clients (shouldn't that be the tax payers?), well then, what if teachers decided to withhold their service indefinitely? Perhaps they should, since they are clearly not respected, thanks to negative press and government rhetoric. Receiving a service, even when paid for, does not entitle one to slaves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    @675.Weary Willy
    "Worked in industry for over 25 years. First degree and PhD. Then trained as a teacher and taught for 3 years. Never worked so hard."

    Thank you for saying like it is! People have no idea how demanding teaching is. When I ask those who have left if they miss the holidays they always say no, they don't need them outside of education!

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    I have speed-read (you see I was taught properly by real teachers decades ago) many of these contributions. Frightening: teachers self-satisfied, can't handle pressure (join the private sector and you'll know what pressure is), fearful of being held to account, and responsible for a dreadful world ranking for literacy and numeracy. Oh, by the way, as a CEO for 20 years, I've also been a teacher!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    The only people who think teachers have it easy are the one who have never been in a classroom since they pupils. I challenge anyone to try it for just one month and then tell me it's a walk in the park. This country is just full of ignorant big mouth know all know nowts who rewrite the facts to suit their prejudices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    Good to see a politician taking on the left-wing propaganda machine that is state education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    Most people whining about teachers and schools left school a long time ago. The huge majority of teachers work very hard and want the best for their students. Gove's reforms are ideologically driven and ill thought through. He would win some credibility of he started to work with the profession. Its better to be right eventually than wrong forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    Mr Gove is a classic example of a "pure" academic education, he is articulate, well read and undoubtedly academically intelligent.
    However he lack imagination, wisdom and common sense.

    "Pure" education models that Mr Give appears to think is the be all and end all. Don't foster imagination which is why the likes of China and India only copy and don't innovate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    Sorry 656.anneque2 but it's the other way round! Most 'experts' don't last a week in a classroom. I know. I taught for many years then left for industry. Better pay, shorter hours and free evenings. Bliss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    The divide & rule theory is alive & well in the Tory party. Guess what? The majority fall for it time after time. How can we expect the political class to take the us seriously when we seem to be so easily manipulated & without any realisation of the fact that it's being done to us. Divide & rule, was always thus & probably always will be whilst we can be led by the nose. Gullible morons all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    Are Tories being paid by Labour to lose next general election? Or are they just so arrogantly inept at their jobs they do not realise the depth of their unpopularity?
    The outgoing government spent all the money, leaving the incoming government with the real possibility of being electoral history.
    Meanwhile the rest of us try to get on, ducking and diving the high powered political games.

  • Comment number 684.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    LOL, if you think Gove is bad, look a bit closer at Fartage, he is more right wing than Nick Griffin, & more dangerous

    Ukrapp would bring back caning in schools, as well as obnoxious backward policys from early 70s.

    People who vote for Ukrap need to understand that what UKrap stands for is more right wing & dictatorial than Gove, across the whole spectrum of society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    You would hope that Michael Gove may have learned his lesson by now that upsetting the staff of the schools he is in charge of is not the way forward. He got his homework wrong before when reading the BSF list wrong several times, and he is still not learning from his mistakes. If he were a child there would be letters going home by now to say improvement must be made.

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    I must admit, I do feel sorry for teachers. Having to work 30 hours per week for only two-thirds of the year is a terribly stressful burden...


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