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 720.

    Guppy Gove. This man is a contender for the Tory leadership when Cameron falls. Be afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    Head teachers ask for respect but they fail to show any respect. That is modern education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    I support Gove. Anything that can be done to raise the pathetic standards of education deserves support. Not surprised teachers don't like it. They've been turning out students who can't read or write for years. If Ofsted puts the fear of God in them - good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    can you imagine BP or the Ford Corporation being run by someone with no background in oil production or car manufacturing? So what is Michael Gove's knowledge of teaching/education, is he a qualified teacher? No. Has he ever worked a single day in a school? No. Gove's work experience before joining the ranks of the under employed (Parliament) was 14 years as a journalist. No life, no experience

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Apparently we have the worst social mobility in EU. Gove is a prime example. Many counties can get their brightest up there whatever their background. Here it's the privileged public school bankers' pals who dumb down education with stifling bureaucracy so we won't learn joined up thinking.
    And- most countries listen to professional opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    My dearest BBC ( yes, you are mine, and everyone else who pays for you )

    Feel free to explain exactly when a better example of why the so called ' representative ' politics we suffer is shown up to be a complete and utter farce ?

    If it makes you feel better I could call the ideas this Gove person espouses as farcical, but that would be sidestepping the real issue now, wouldn't it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    I was a pupil in a few schools, headteachers were ignorant, self-satisfied, political & useless.

    Then I was a teacher in a few schools, apart from one, the head teachers were ignorant, self-satisfied, political & useless.

    Head teachers today have not improved since.


    Your public display of ignorance overwhelmed your sympathies for teacher's workload.

    Ever tried the job? No? then shut up.

  • Comment number 713.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    The only reason that these Academies are being forced upon us is because no political party was prepared to stand up for Grammar Schools. These were state schools and performed very well. Ironically there is a disproportionate number that survive in the south east of England, the most affluent part of the country: guess which part of the country has the most people going to the top universities?

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Gove is ill informed and poorly advised, all the time. He also has no sense of balance. I also wish someone would tell the CBI if they want a supine workforce they should train our young people themselves. As for my own children I expect them to be educated to the point that they can see through the capitalist agenda that would make slaves of us all.
    Hey Gove, Leave those kids alone ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    We have an Education Secretary who has no background in education apart from having attended school (haven't the majority of us!?). For one particular year group I have rewritten a scheme of work 4 times on the basis of his whims. Scrap modular exams, back to O-levels, scrap O-levels, Ebacc, no Ebacc, let's do end of course linear exams. Final answer Mr Gove?

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    In what way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    I pass no judgement on it, but it is interesting that any post that suggests education in the UK needs to improve gets negative ratings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    Philaterly @680
    Of course you that choice already, It's called PRIVATE EDUCATION, so you pay for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    Surely if all teachers plan great lessons well, keep good records of this, deliver great lessons to their pupils and ultimately get good results then they should be well prepared for an inspection.
    I was "fortunate" to be educated when the school had advanced notification and over this period there was a miraculous improvement in lesson quality, followed by a rapid return to "same old same old"

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    Who do these head teachers think they are answerable to?
    Heads/teachers are very well remunerated, good pensions and great salaries, yet they seem arrogant and reluctant to be challenged to improve. They should try working in the REAL world where audits and competition from across the world mean change in non stop! Many teachers and heads have never held a roper commercial world job and it shows!

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    Gove's objectives are: to be in control and to allow his pals to make as much as possible from state money. He trumpets freedom and yet schools are directly answerable to him. His ideas about teaching and learning would be laughable if he were not in charge of education. He takes pride in annoying the very people he should work with He pays no attention to proper evidence. What a fool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    The more I see of Michael Gove the more I like him. I tend to agree with rjc1978. The present day teachers have presided over a watered down education system, focusing on exam results from dumbed down boards and sending students off to so called universities, many of which used to be swimming pools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    If he's being heckled he must be doing something right. It's just a shame in Scotland we don't have someone with similar convictions, instead we're stuck with the complacent Mike Russell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    @672 Daveuk
    "Like others I say if they worked in the private sector this is the reality, perform or there are problems"
    Financial sector caused meltdown, energy sector price fixing and environmental chaos, pharmacy guilty of cartel pricing, retailing & tech manufacture in asian sweatshops, transport sector floating in govt. subsidy. Nobody sacked, nobody jailed, just golden goodbyes,


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