By Jade Azim
Michael Gove is perhaps one of the most contentious ministers in the cabinet. And that is saying something, considering, well, this cabinet.But it is true; Michael Gove has pretty much become a figure of deep contempt for teachers and students alike.
Subsequently, certain demographics are far less likely to vote Conservative. It is little wonder that young people often look on at the Department for Education as a source of indifference and out-of-touch, elite policy makers, feeling their voices are suppressed and their attempts of political participation futile.
The Department for Education is perhaps a vital factor in the fact only 1 in 4 young people are registered to vote; students feel alienated when faced with headline after headline of Gove insisting that, “yes, [insert obscene policy here] is good for you!”
It seems that these newspaper headlines on the Department for Education and Gove’s new endeavours come once a fortnight, and recent stories have told of the huge slashes to sixth forms in favour of the controversial free schools set up with the Education Act in 2011, causing quite a stir, particularly when coupled with Gove calling for longer school days of 8 hours.
The decentralisation and, as perhaps hyperbole entails, privatisation of the school system with the introduction of Free Schools has been enough to cause contention in prior months, but the recent data on the allocation of funding is so staggering that this new cycle of anger seems to be a loud, and frankly, justified one.
Free schools now have just 1,557 pupils enrolled but – and here’s the provocative part – get £39,616 spent on them per head, contrasting with the £4,000 spent on sixth form students, of whom there are more than 150,000 enrolled across 93 sixth form colleges.
There is a long history of division in British education, particularly with regards to the differences between the state and private sector, but this recent statistic heralds another chasm in the machinery of education in this country.
Michael Gove went and exacerbated it even further by defending his reforms with the statement, “When you visit a school in England standards are so high all round that you should not be able to tell whether it’s in the state sector or a fee-paying independent.”
It is an odd and pretty jaw-dropping statement to make, particularly after describing a ‘Berlin wall’ between the two sectors. It also highlights just how removed from reality this group of ministers seems to be.
State schools, according to people that actually attend them – be it teachers or pupils alike – have faced major implications under austerity measures. This has been amidst a major shuffle in the academic agendas regarding the curriculum.
Along with ideological reforms to A-Levels and GCSEs to induce a more exam-based working environment, in what Gove seems to believe, unfoundedly, is a policy that will help Britain compete with the wider world, his call for longer working days, and huge slashes in funding – recent cuts have led to the shelving of vital English and Maths A-Level courses – have fuelled many questions concerning whether schools should be pushed to perform harder and under more arbitrary, ideological measures when conditions have become so austere.
The mention of Michael Gove triggers hostility for teachers and pupils who are over-worked, under-funded, subsequently under-performing, and without a voice.
If Michael Gove sees this Berlin wall dividing education in this country, he is certainly not Reagan yelling to “tear down this wall”, he is Khrushchev building it higher.
Photograph: Policy Exchange