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 820.

    Given the attitudes of government, media and society, I honestly don't know why anyone bothers to be a school or college teacher. I know the job has rewards, but there surely comes a point when the negatives outweigh the positives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    What are the best two things about being a teacher?

    July & August.

    Seriously, I work in a Secondary School. There are some very dedicated staff, but there are also some real buffoons that would be sacked in a trice in the private sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    The government is systematically replacing fully trained, highly skilled and dedicated teachers with cheaper unqualified alternatives. Further, they are placing a squeeze on the training provision to the point where it is all but impossible to actually get on a course. Assuming, as I do, that Mr Gove is actually doing his best to alientate teachers, I wonder if we should consider him a success?

  • rate this

    Comment number 817.

    764. chinkinthearmour


    In 1978, we exchanged with France. It was apparent that the French taught maths/science to a higher level than the UK. We, however, both understood and could apply what we were taught. The French students much less so.

    Singapore has also placed emphasis on material taught to a high level. It is now moving over to a creative education based system like ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    Not many people have confidence in head teachers so you are bosom buddies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.

    @804 Teachers take a huge amoiunt of work home. I also do a huge amount of work on a computer. Yes, I own one, and can use it to connect to the school computer. Idiot you are. We only need to be on premises when the kids are there. Think if you have a brain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    People are comparing education to private sector companies which deliver improvements year upon year. Firstly the companies that do this, do this for 10 years then go bust, hedge funds etc. or have no morals; out source all jobs abroad. Teachers are limited by what they are given, a child's brain, for education standards to improve each year genetic engineering needs to improve year on year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 813.

    Being a teacher for a few years now, I can tell you that teachers work damn hard for their salaries. I run sessions before and after school to help students get through their exams,

    what you're really saying here is that you're so inept at your job you need to get in early and stay late to get the work done.
    which is generally about right in my experiences with teachers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

    You don't get the best out of ANY employee by constantly standing over them, telling them you'll be checking up on them shortly, and changing the method you want them to use as often as you change your socks. Mr Gove's management skills are sadly lacking if his agenda is to improve performance.
    -However, I doubt if that is actually his aim. He wants to rubbish until he can privatise cheaply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    @CTDavies I think you probably need to re-evaluate the skewed child’s perspective you’d dragged with you into adulthood. Teachers are degree level educated in their subject and post degree level in teaching.

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.

    I don't believe that teachers are the only people with a valid view on what children need. Why do they as a group( but not as individuals so often in my experience at least) behave as if they're the only people worth listening to. Maybe they need telling that their job is to deliver the education not necessarily to design it all by themselves. Telling teachers what to do is not a crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    I am a paid maths teacher.......I am an unpaid social worker, family liaison worker, a care worker, a nutritionist, and an accountant and that's all before I start to plan tomorrows lessons and mark students work.

    Michael Gove has as much idea about education as Jeremy Hunt knows about Health which, as we all know is absolutely nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    Too many people on here feel they are qualified to comment on this. They form their opinions from the same ignorance as Michael Gove. Having gone to school does not make you an expert!

    I went from the private sector to secondary. I am working harder now and with more stress! Nobody sees the 50+ hours a week they put in during evenings and weekends on top of the classroom work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    Listening to all this and having watched the deterioration in the education system and the confidence trickery on exam results over the last 40 years and having as a business watched young people struggling work through weaknesses in the educational standard my solution is this
    If we are struggling to find head teachers replace those who leave with commercially experienced chief executives

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    When Gove said he was going to have to part company with the teachers, dare one hope he intends to resign as Eduction Secretary shortly?
    I am not a teacher, I work in industry but those who think politicians are best placed or even interested in improving the lot of those being educated or those receiving treatment in the NHS are deluded. Politicians are out for themselves, first and last.

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    Education Policy:

    If it needs changing then change it.
    If it doesnt need changing, just change it anyway.
    But under no circumstances must we adopt the teaching method used over the last 200 years that worked perfectly well.

    Gove is a tinkerer with a personal agenda, like all the rest of our political operators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    @772 you may do but as I live next to a school I can only say that if teachers here are working all holiday they are walking to school because the staff car parks are empty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    I would love to be a teacher, massive holidays, salaries above the minimum wage and no accountability.

    Oh sorry, you dont like the fact you will have to work to standards like the rest of us.

    Grow up, we live in an accountable society which even teacher have to demonstrate they are worth their salt.

    I think it is the inadequate people who know they are not suitable who are running scared!

  • rate this

    Comment number 802.

    The fact is, he's in a room full of the nation's headteachers; older, professional people who by nature are not radical, not troublemakers. The very people tasked with carrying out his policies.
    His response to their concerns? They're lying, or being moaning minnies.
    Whatever happened to paying professional people a little respect?
    This individual clearly doesn't know the meaning of the word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 801.

    How can rjc1978 say they need a dose of reality in business you get it wrong you are gone not in British industry if you get it wrong you get a massive pay off a huge pension and then you get another job where if you fail you get it all again


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