Would you trust Michael Gove with your child?

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Mathew Hulbert

Other than national security and health, there is nothing more important than the education of our people.

It is the area of policy with which I care most about.

Why?

Because, at its best, a good education can open up a whole world of opportunities.

It can be the great leveller.

It can enable young people who, in terms of their background, have not had many chances or opportunities to shine and show that they are just as capable of great achievements as those born with rather more privilege, sometimes even more so.

That was the laudable aim of comprehensive education, when it was created under the excellent leadership of Shirley Williams (then Labour Secretary of State for Education, now, of course, a leading Liberal Democrat Peer).

So, why is this Government seemingly in favour of turning this all on its head?

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Is the future of our education system now only in the hands of the right-wing ideologue Michael Gove?

And where is the Lib Dem influence in it all?

These are the fundamental questions with which those of us who care deeply about the future of our education system must now wrestle.

Now, I should first acknowledge where I feel this Coalition Government is doing the right thing.

The Pupil Premium is an excellent scheme and, indeed, a real Lib Dem win.

This month, it extends to cover 1.77million disadvantaged children, with each child set to benefit from £600 following an announcement late last year from the Department of Education that the Pupil Premium rises by £112 per pupil from this year.

I agree with my Leader, Nick Clegg, in his passion for early years education and for ensuring that quality early years education must be available to all our children.

For this my Party and this Coalition Government do, indeed, deserve great credit.

But here is the problem I and many others have with the present direction of travel.

From what I’m told, the Government isn’t really giving schools a proper choice in terms of whether or not they become Academies.

I’m led to believe that schools are being told: ‘You can go it alone if you want, but there’ll be very little money and support available from local authorities to help you.’

If schools were being given a genuine choice then I might be able to just about accept – if not actually support – the agenda being pursued.

But for many schools, which want to stay under the umbrella of the Local Education Authority, which just don’t fit the Academy model, they are akin to people lost on a desert island whose supplies are fast diminishing.

My concern is that Michael Gove is ideologically opposed to comprehensive education and has, at best, a rather Victorian view of how the education of children should be conducted.

Of course the comprehensive system isn’t perfect; no model is.

But, I believe with all my heart that we need to be improving all of our schools, not leaving some to potentially flounder because they won’t sign up to Gove’s “vision.”

As for so-called Free Schools, Lib Dems made our views clear on them a few Conferences back.

We are opposed to them.

Why?

Well, for a whole host of reasons, including the following (In no particular order):

  1. They are run for profit.
  2. There are concerns over what rights their staff will have.
  3. There’s a lack of democratic accountability.
  4. They harm, not help, social integration.

Choice is all well and good but, sometimes, parents just really want to know that their local schools are performing well.

Those who can afford it will always be able to ensure their children get a good education.

My concern is for those who don’t have that option.

We need to make sure that all of our children get a good start in life.

You don’t do that by giving head teachers and governing bodies a false and largely ephemeral choice about the future of their schools.

You do that by funding State schools properly, re-building those that our crumbling, and building new ones.

You also do it by ensuring the best teachers want to stay in the State sector and are properly paid for the excellent work they do.

Liberal Democrats must be pushing for this, not agreeing to Gove’s ideological whims.

I trust my fellow Party members will be keeping the pressure on them till they do exactly that.

For the good of all of our children.

  • Mathew Hulbert is a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Leicestershire, Chairman of The East Midlands Social Liberal Forum, A member of the Advisory Group of Liberal Left, and a Primary School Governor.

He writes here in an Independent capacity.

Follow him on Twitter via: @hulbertmathew.

 

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