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 800.

    As a governor having been through a recent OFSTED, I found the experience to be positive and constructive. As did our headteacher and senior colleagues. And as a school travelling currently through the academisation process, the best thing that can happen is to lose the dead hand of local authority control. They have been useless. Roll on Academy status. Headteachers at this conference: Get real

  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    I'm a teacher - it's great. Good pay, long holidays, and easy exams which require no work. I'm off down the pub - I'll probably pull a sicky next week until half term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 798.

    What Teachers' need is more support from the families of pupils, instead of getting in their faces' when a teacher dares to tell their precious child off. More parents should also be doing what they can to help their children with homework etc. It's about encouragement!

  • rate this

    Comment number 797.

    @243 LuckyAngel3003

    I have sympathy with your predicament. But teachers are not the only ones who work pretty damn hard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 796.

    243. LuckyAngel3003
    Being a teacher for a few years now, I can tell you that teachers work damn hard for their salaries......

    Many do, but my experience from my own education, my children's and my grandchildren's it is the minority that do. The one's that do are worth their weight in gold, but in my opinion the majority just coast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 795.

    My daughter is an NQT in a local primary school, and I'm sure that if Mr Gove put in the hours that she does, for the salary she earns, he may change his mind about his incessant, misguided meddling with our education system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 794.

    All I am going to say to people like @Swing Lowe;

    You think teachers are doing a bad job? Why not ask to go into a local secondary school? You'll soon change your mind when you see that we, like most other occupations, work 10 hour days for no extra money. We support each child, know how to cater for them, engage, challenge & encourage. Yet we get criticised in the press nearly every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 793.

    All this talk of making children work harder and saying exams not good enough worries me because at no point is childrens self worth talked about. Children should be encouraged to be well rounded individuals who can find their own skills to become great adults. Where is that in all these changes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 792.

    Try to remember that schools have another workforce and that is the essential support staff that prop up the teaching staff.

    All to easy to forget and unions should remember this, as a member of the NAHT and not a teacher.

    Raising standards is essential, poor teaching should not be rewarded, the changes in September will go somewhere to actually rewarding hard work and sort out the coasters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 791.

    Stressed and over-worked head teachers who are seemingly ready and able to leave the schools for which they are responsible in order to inspect others schools under their proposed 'Instead' inspection system! Something doesn't quite ring true, does it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 790.

    I taught mathematics for 26 years as HOD and AST. I loved being in the classroom, loved teaching mathematics. I left teaching last year. Why? I became disillusioned by how teachers were portrayed by politicians and because schools seemed to be judged on exam results alone. Education is about far more than exam results. It saddens me greatly to say that I cannot see myself returning to teaching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 789.

    Teachers used to be highly regarded in society but swapped all that by allowing their unions to turn them into social engineering campaingers. That move has allowed Education to become a political football.

    It almost seems that our childrens education has become a peripheral issue. They've lost the high ground and its difficult to see how the profession in its current state will recover it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 788.

    777. paulmerhaba
    760. stevember
    Arrogance at the highest level.
    By who?

    Micheal Gove

  • rate this

    Comment number 787.

    your comments are being downrated because they are wrong, not because they suggest improvement. Every public sector organisation is asked to produce improvements and efficiency savings every single year. Then every single year the measurement is changed, and "failure" implied. and you fall for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 786.

    @758.i am gooner

    "All of my involvement with unions has PROVEN to me how fanatical they are..."

    All of my involvement with discussion forums has proven to me that anyone who has thinks an argument is strengthened by using capital letters is usually intellectually feeble and ill informed.

    It's the equivalent of shouting in an argument when you are wrong.

    Unlucky gooner.

  • Comment number 785.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 784.

    Head teachers have, by definition, gone along so that they could get along. Head teachers have, over the years, subjected teachers to the cod-scientific processes of OFSTED. Head teachers only have themselves to blame when government ministers ride roughshod over British education. Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 783.

    749.Brentford Activist

    sorry matey, I work in education, rather than bang on with 1960s old labour ideals I see the world we live in as a whole where we have to compete and deliver year on year improvement, alas too many in our country, usually on a state salary and fat pension, dislike the concept of change and improvement! You are one that people like me pay for I suspect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 782.

    Teachers, who pays your wages? We, the taxpayers does and we want higher standards, similar to the private sector, in the education of our children.
    If that's a problem, then you should not be in your job. Leave it to someone who does want to raise standards.
    What is your problem, why not take some lessons form the private education sector and not Lenin or Trotsky

  • rate this

    Comment number 781.

    I thought the point of an education secretary was to represent the best interests of teachers and children. Punishing teachers and children is not the name of the game, but he seems to be taking lessons from his tory predecessors.


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