Michael Gove labels academy opponents 'Trots'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Media caption,
Questions tweeted to Michael Gove

Education Secretary Michael Gove has labelled campaigners against turning a school into an academy as "Trots".

The forthright views of the education secretary were delivered to MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee.

This was at a session in which MPs' questions were informed by 5,000 Twitter messages from the public.

Mr Gove also said he wanted to press ahead with a new performance measure showing the destinations of pupils after leaving school.

Academy battle

The education secretary said that he expected a majority of secondary schools in England to become academies in the course of this Parliament.

These schools have greater flexibility over their finances and curriculum - and operate outside of the local education authority.

But when Mr Gove was asked about a campaign against turning Downhills Primary School in north London into an academy, he accused the protesters of being linked to the Socialist Workers Party - and described them as the "enemies of promise".

Image caption,
MPs pressed the education secretary on how league tables influenced schools' decisions

This committee session had been heralded as a step into a hi-tech future - with the public being invited to send in their questions by Twitter.

But when #AskGove responded, it was in the old-fashioned language of right and left, haranguing the Haringey campaigners.

"It's a pity that the Labour party hasn't spoken out against this Trot campaign," said Mr Gove, prompting the response from the committee that Mr Gove was nothing if not controversial.

Joining the exchange, the Save Downhills campaign sent a Twitter reply saying: "We are parents! Listen to us!"

Campaigners at the school, including governors, have argued that they should not be forced to adopt academy status.

After the committee session, Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, said Mr Gove's comment "exemplifies the combination of arrogance and ignorance which drives the Coalition's education policy.

"It is unacceptable for the genuine concerns of parents, local communities and the workforce to be dismissed and derided in this way."

Many of the questions from MPs on the committee focused on how the expansion of academies would change local education services - and whether a reduction of the role of local authorities would leave a "vacuum".

If academies were failing, Mr Gove said the sponsor would be replaced by another.

And he argued that local authorities would be improved rather than diminished - as they needed to be competitive about the quality of services they offered to schools.

Pupil destination

In terms of accountability, Mr Gove also indicated that he wanted to press ahead with "destination measures" - in which parents could see the paths of pupils after they had left the school.

This could show how many former pupils went on to university or further studying - and also might indicate how many were under the category of Neet - not in education, employment or training.

Mr Gove said he wanted such a measure to be part of school performance tables before the end of this Parliament.

The chair of the committee, Graham Stuart, said that such a measure of a school's output seemed a fairly "fundamental" way of assessing its success.

Mr Stuart also pressed Mr Gove on the impact on schools of the existing incentives created by league tables and accountability measures.

He challenged Mr Gove on whether the goal of closing the gap between rich and poor pupils was served by league tables putting such an emphasis on five good GCSEs.

Favourite Bond villain?

Mr Stuart suggested that this could mean schools focused on pupils capable of reaching the grade C benchmark, rather than supporting the lowest-achieving pupils who were often also from the poorest backgrounds.

He accused Mr Gove of being "naive" in failing to recognise that a framework of incentives would become a "driver of behaviour".

He gave the example of a school manipulating its subject options to increase its English Baccalaureate score.

"If you create the framework, you create the incentives, don't blame the people in the system if they follow the incentives," Mr Stuart told the education secretary.

But Mr Gove argued there must not be assumptions that poorer children could not achieve high results - or that they should not have access to a full range of academic subjects.

In terms of maintaining standards in schools, he said there was a principle of "intervention in inverse proportion to success".

Asked via Twitter whether he would want children to behave like MPs in the House of Commons, Mr Gove defended the idea of red-blooded argument.

He said he was against the "namby pamby tendency to anaesthetise public debate" and that he liked a "raucous and rumbunctious House of Commons".

Straying further from usual parliamentary territory, Mr Gove was asked to name his favourite Bond villain.

He opted for Hugo Drax, from the Moonraker movie, whose evil credentials included plans to destroy the human race. What he didn't want to be, he said, was Dr No.

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