Unions blast Michael Gove's education reforms

(Originally published by Equal Times)
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Head teachers, parents and union leaders blasted education secretary Michael Gove’s education reforms on Saturday at rallies held in Liverpool and Manchester by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), ahead of strikes this summer.

The events attracted an audience in excess of 1000 members, and heard from several speakers including Chris Keates, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT).  Speaking in Manchester Keates accused Gove of spreading  “misinformation” about education professionals in order to further his political agenda.

“Today is our chance to tell Michael Gove that we’ve had enough of the myths, the misinformation, the distortions and the downright lies that are peddled every day by him and his coalition ministers about our education service.”

The Conservative minister has been fiercely criticised in recent months over his ‘traditional values’ reforms to the national curriculum, with a heavy focus on rote learning and the memorisation of facts from the age of 5. A further point of controversy has been the introduction of academies - state funded schools which are independently run and can appoint teachers without a formal qualification, a move some regard as an attack on the teaching profession.  

“What would the reaction be if people were told that doctors no longer needed a qualification?”, asked Keates, before receiving a rapturous standing ovation.

The rally also heard the testimony of mother of three and Labour party activist, Angela Rayner, who told the audience she feared Gove’s focus on rigorous academic assessment would cause vulnerable children like her five-year-old partially blind son, Charlie, to be left behind.

“Throughout all his life Charlie has had special support but I’m worried all that is going to go now. He’s not going to be the type of child who puts you up at the top of the league table but he’s a true inspiration to all of us because despite all the odds he continues to fight every day.”

Tension between Gove and his critics has been building for months.  In March 100 academics and education experts signed an open letter in the Independent warning that the new curriculum “could severely erode educational standards.” The sentiment was echoed this month by Britain’s largest teachers’ union, the NUT, who gave the education secretary a vote of no confidence for the first time in their 143 year history. However, Gove has refused to backtrack, further incensing his detractors by dismissing them as “enemies of promise” and “Marxists”.

In response the NUT and NASAWT - which boast a combined membership of over 400,000 - have announced rolling strikes starting in the North-West in June. However, Keates called for Michael Gove to meet with unions to try and resolve the dispute and avoid more strikes. “We have no wish to be moving to escalation to strike action. No teacher wants to be put in that position,” she told the rally.

A spokesperson for the department of education said the speakers at the rally did not represent a majority of parents who back the reforms:

“For too long other countries have been outpacing us. Our reforms are giving teachers more freedom, increasing choice for parents so every child can go to a good local school, and ensuring we have an education system that matches the world's best.

“We have met frequently with the NUT and NASUWT to discuss their concerns and will continue to do so.”