I’ve been a bit unkind to Michael Gove in a previous blog (or two), but he turned up a few surprises in his first major speech since becoming Education Secretary. Addressing the National College for Leadership of School, his message of greater school autonomy and more power for the top bods was well-designed to win over his audience (others were impressed too, such as Conor Ryan, former adviser to David Blunkett).
It was a substantial speech and there’s much to pick over (and – gulp – a fair bit to agree with). His words were well-crafted and pleasantly lacking in endless criticism of what went before (Gove seems to do ‘new politics’ much better than his Lib-Dem colleagues – he could teach Clegg and Alexander a thing or two).
No mention of ‘free schools’ (two reasons for this: one, he was keeping his powder dry for today’s announcements; and, two, businesses setting up schools is completely at odds with his message that ‘Headteachers know best’, so he must have wisely decided to keep schtum).
But the biggest surprise was the complete absence of the word ‘cut’ (or ‘deficit’) from his speech. It seems his reforms are taking place in a vacuum, shielded from the grim fiscal realities every other Con-Dem Minister is trotting out to justify wince-making cuts.
Refreshing stuff, in many ways. But odd.
This lack of economic context places Gove out of step with his Con-Dem colleagues. And David Willetts, in particular, who has earnestly begun his task of cost-cutting, with some painful cuts to higher education and talk not of the benefits but the ‘burden’ of providing university places.
So while Willetts is busily pruning expectations, Gove seems to be doing exactly the reverse.
He (Gove that is) says that difficult economic times are no reason to ‘scale down ambitions’; he draws attention to the ‘brain-boom’ emerging from Chinese and India universities, and suggests we need to match them; he waxes lyrical about US Charter schools where children from the ghetto are getting to elite universities; and he wants ‘more teachers’ to get masters and doctorates.
All this suggests more university places – and therefore (significantly) more investment, not less.
This is a bit of a mystery. If I was Danny Alexander I would be straight on the phone to ask Gove: what gives? And if he can’t get through, I expect it’ll be because David Willetts got there first.