Education in the UK: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

© copyright Derek Gillard 2018
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Chapter 19 : 2010-2015

Gove v The Blob


David Cameron

David Cameron (1966- ) was born into an upper-middle-class family in London: his father was a stockbroker; his mother a retired Justice of the Peace. He was privately educated, attending a preparatory school in Berkshire and then Eton College.

After a gap year, he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Brasenose College Oxford, where his tutor, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, described him as having 'moderate and sensible' Conservative political views (BBC News 6 December 2005). Less sensibly, he joined the Bullingdon Club, a student society whose members had a reputation for heavy drinking and antisocial behaviour.

On leaving Oxford in 1988, Cameron worked in the Conservative Research Department for five years and then left politics to become Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications.

He married Samantha Sheffield in 1996. The couple's first child, a son, was born with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy and died at the age of six. They have two daughters.

Returning to politics in 2001, he entered Parliament as MP for Witney. He served briefly as shadow education secretary before being elected Conservative Party leader on 6 December 2005.

Following the inconclusive election on 6 May 2010 and Gordon Brown's resignation five days later, Cameron was invited by the Queen to form a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (1967- ) (pictured) was appointed Deputy Prime Minister, and George Osborne (1971- ) (Conservative) Chancellor of the Exchequer.

David Cameron went on to lead the Conservatives to a narrow victory in the general election held on 7 May 2015. However, his attempt to placate the right wing of his party by holding a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union - which unexpectedly produced a small majority in favour of leaving - led to his resignation on 13 July 2016.

In January 2017, he was appointed President of Alzheimer's Research UK.

Political background


At home, the coalition's priority was to plan for drastic cuts in public expenditure. Major changes were made in the fields of welfare, immigration policy, education and healthcare, and the Royal Mail was privatised. Two referendums were held - on reform of the voting system and on Scottish independence - both of which were rejected, as the government had hoped. And same-sex marriage was legalised, despite opposition from most Conservative MPs.

Abroad, the government authorised controversial military interventions in Libya, Iraq and Syria.


Following Gordon Brown's resignation and a lengthy leadership contest, Ed Miliband (1969- ) became Labour leader on 25 September 2010.


The Department

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) was renamed the Department for Education (DfE). Michael Gove (Conservative) was appointed Secretary of State for Education, with Sarah Teather (Liberal Democrat) and Nick Gibb (Conservative) as Ministers of State. Teather and Gibb served until September 2012 when David Laws (Liberal Democrat) became Minister of State for Schools.

Jonathan Hill (1960- ) was created a life peer and, as Lord Hill, became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools. He held the post until January 2013, when he was replaced by John (Lord) Nash (1949- ).

David Willetts (Conservative) was appointed Minister of State for Universities and Science; Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat) headed a separate Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Michael Gove

Michael Gove (1967- ) (pictured) was brought up by his adoptive parents, a Labour-supporting couple, in Edinburgh. He attended a local state school, won a scholarship to Robert Gordon's College, an independent school, and then read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, becoming President of the Oxford Union.

He began his career in journalism on a local paper in Aberdeen, joined The Times in 1996, and worked on various BBC, Scottish Television and Channel 4 programmes.

In May 2005, Gove entered Parliament as MP for Surrey Heath, becoming shadow housing spokesman later that year, and shadow children's secretary on 2 July 2007.

He served as Secretary of State for Education in the coalition government from 12 May 2010 until 15 July 2014, when he was replaced by Nicky Morgan (of whom more below).

Following the Conservative victory in the 2015 election, Gove became Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. Two years later, on 11 June 2017, Theresa May (David Cameron's successor as Prime Minister) appointed him Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

David Willetts

David Willetts (1956- ) (pictured) attended King Edward's School in Birmingham and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Christ Church, Oxford.

He worked as a policy researcher in the 1980s and entered Parliament in 1992 as MP for Havant, becoming a Cabinet Office minister and then Paymaster General. He was forced to resign in 1996 following an investigation by the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Two years later, he returned to the shadow cabinet, becoming shadow education secretary on 8 December 2005 and then shadow innovation, universities and skills secretary on 2 July 2007.

He was Minister of State for Universities and Science in the coalition government until July 2014, and entered the House of Lords in 2015. In February 2018 it was announced that he was to be installed as Chancellor of the University of Leicester.

Vince Cable

Vince Cable (1943- ) (pictured) studied Economics at Cambridge and Glasgow, worked as an economic adviser to several organisations, and became Chief Economist for Shell in 1995.

In the 1970s he joined the Labour Party but, in 1982, defected to the newly-formed Social Democratic Party (SDP), which later merged with the Liberal Party.

He entered Parliament in 1997 as Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, became the party's Treasury Spokesman in June 2003, and was elected Deputy Leader in March 2006. He resigned from both positions in May 2010 when he was appointed Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in the coalition government.

Shadow education secretaries

During the period of the coalition government, the shadow education secretaries (pictured left to right) were:

11 May 2010Ed Balls (1967- )
8 October 2010Andy Burnham (1970- )
7 October 2011Stephen Twigg (1966- )
7 October 2013Tristram Hunt (1974- )

2010-11 Getting started

The coalition's programme

On 20 May 2010, the Cabinet Office published the coalition's Programme for Government.

The section on schools began:

The Government believes that we need to reform our school system to tackle educational inequality, which has widened in recent years, and to give greater powers to parents and pupils to choose a good school. We want to ensure high standards of discipline in the classroom, robust standards and the highest quality teaching. We also believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools.
Among the coalition's aims were: The section on universities and further education declared that:
The Government believes that our universities are essential for building a strong and innovative economy. We will take action to create more college and university places, as well as help to foster stronger links between universities, colleges and industries.
The coalition aimed:

The schools


The New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had opened 203 academies and planned to increase that number to 400. Michael Gove was determined to go much further. In his first month as education secretary, he wrote to all primary and secondary schools in England inviting them to become academies. Furthermore, he declared that he had 'no ideological objection' to businesses making profits from the new generation of academies and free schools (The Guardian 31 May 2010).

Gove's Academies Bill was created in haste. Published on 26 May, just two weeks after Gove had become education secretary, it removed local authorities' power to veto a school becoming an academy, dispensed with parents' and teachers' legal right to oppose such plans, and allowed 'outstanding' schools to 'fast-track' the process of becoming academies.

These proposals, and the lack of debate, caused widespread concern. Education barrister David Wolfe commented: 'It is hard to escape the conclusion that this bill is undemocratic. What this does is remove the public process' (The Guardian 6 June 2010).

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said that local communities were being 'completely disempowered' from having a say in the establishment of a new form of school. He went on:

This is astonishing: it is more centralised than anything that Labour ever considered. There is no requirement to consult parents, staff or anyone locally when an academy gets set up.

For all that we have heard from the new government about devolving power, this is actually a much more highly centralised system of control (quoted in The Guardian 6 June 2010).

Presenting the Bill for its second on 19 July, Michael Gove told MPs that
It grants greater autonomy to individual schools, it gives more freedom to teachers and it injects a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for all children and for the disadvantaged most of all (Hansard House of Commons 19 July 2010 Col 24).
He claimed that the country was falling behind the rest of the world in science, literacy and maths and he insisted that his plan to transform England's schools would improve the education of the poorest children. Figures published by his department, he said, showed that more than 1,900 schools had expressed an interest in converting to academy status and that more than a thousand had already applied to do so (The Guardian 19 July 2010).

For Labour, shadow education secretary Ed Balls said that 'the rushed and flawed provisions in the Bill will make things much worse for our schools and our children' (Hansard House of Commons 19 July 2010 Col 35). He went on:

the Bill will create unfair and two-tier education in this country. There will be gross unfairness in funding, standards will not rise but fall, and fairness and social cohesion will be undermined. The Bill will mean that funding is diverted to the strongest schools to convert to academy status, and to fund hundreds of new free-market schools, and that the role for the local authority in planning places, allocating capital or guaranteeing fairness or social cohesion is entirely removed. The weakest schools, children from the poorest communities, and children with a special need and those with a disability, will be left to pick up the pieces with old buildings, fewer teachers and larger class sizes. The fact is that the Bill will rip apart the community-based comprehensive education system that we have built in the past 60 years, which has delivered record rising standards in the last decade (Hansard House of Commons 19 July 2010 Cols 35-36).
Despite his protests, the Bill was passed by 317 votes to 225, a government majority of 92. Six Liberal Democrat MPs voted for an amendment calling for more consultation with parents, but this was defeated by 77 votes. One of the rebels, John Pugh, said: 'To change the status of a school without allowing the parents at the school a decisive voice is extraordinarily hard to justify' (The Guardian 27 July 2010).

There was disappointment at Liberal Democrat support for the Bill. At the party's spring conference in March 2009, delegates had agreed an education policy document, Equity and Excellence, which said that a Liberal Democrat government would replace academies with sponsor-managed schools 'under the strategic oversight of local authorities and not Ministers in Whitehall' (Liberal Democrat Party 2009:26).

Now, Liberal Democrats found themselves part of a government which was massively expanding academies and which was determined to reduce the role of local authorities to the point where they were 'out of the picture' altogether, according to a Whitehall source quoted in The Guardian (14 May 2010).

The 2010 Academies Act received the Royal Assent on 27 July.

It then emerged that the number of schools which had actually applied for academy status was not a thousand, as Gove had claimed, but only 153 (The Guardian 29 July 2010). Of these, just 32 opened as academies in September (The Independent 2 September 2010).

Meanwhile, the problems with academies - and the widespread hostility to them - showed no signs of abating:

Free schools

Michael Gove had first proposed the creation of 'free schools' in September 2008. They were to be modelled on those in Sweden where, he claimed, they had been highly successful. However, he chose to ignore warnings from Per Thulberg, Director General of the Swedish National Agency for Education, that the schools had 'not led to better results' (The Guardian 9 February 2010), and research by Susanne Wiborg which showed that the schools had increased social segregation, that their pupils did no better than other children in Sweden's version of A Levels, and that they were no more likely to participate in higher education (Wiborg 2010:282-3).

In September 2010 Gove announced that the first sixteen free schools had been approved and would open in 2011 (The Guardian 6 September 2010); and in January 2011 he told local authorities that they would be forced to support free school or academy proposals whenever a new school was needed (The Guardian 28 January 2011).

By February 2011 there had been 258 applications to open free schools, forty of which had been given initial approval. Writing in The Guardian (22 February 2011), Warwick Mansell noted that there were proposals for ten free schools in Waltham Forest alone, seven of them from Christian or Muslim groups.

A number of private schools applied to become free schools in the hope of gaining access to government funds. They included the Maharishi School in Lancashire, Moorlands Preparatory School in Luton, Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, Priors School in Warwickshire and St Michael's Catholic Secondary School in Truro (The Guardian 12 April, 10 October 2011).

The Adam Smith Institute, a neoliberal think-tank, urged the government to allow companies to run free schools for profit (The Guardian 20 April 2011).

In their 2010 election manifesto, the Conservatives had promised 'Decentralisation, accountability and transparency' (Conservative Party 2010:27). Despite this, the Department for Education (DfE) would not say what it was spending on free schools and refused a freedom of information request to identify groups applying to open them (The Guardian 30 August 2011).

Faith schools

In an article for the Catholic Herald, Michael Gove praised Catholic schools for their strong academic performance which he attributed to their religious ethos. Faith schools, he said, should become academies to avoid 'unsympathetic meddling' from secularists, who were 'active in the teachers' unions and in other parts of the educational establishment' (The Guardian 17 February 2011).

Research by Bristol University's Centre for Market and Public Organisation found that little had changed in Oldham since the riots in 2001. The town's schools were still 'the most ethnically polarised in England', not helped by the fact that Church of England and Roman Catholic schools accounted for more than a third of the primaries and almost half of the secondaries (The Guardian 31 May 2011).

Meanwhile, the Church of England sought to benefit from the expansion of the academies programme. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who had previously accused the coalition government of pursuing education policies 'for which no one voted', told a heads' conference that 'the Church of England will be quite conceivably the largest sponsor and provider of secondary education in this country, which is a rather startling and breathtaking proposal' (TES 30 September 2011).

Admissions Code

In February 2011 the chief schools adjudicator, Dr Ian Craig, told the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) that government plans to simplify the admissions code could weaken it. He had three particular concerns:

Two months later, Michael Gove said he wanted to see 'more fairness' in the system, and to give the schools adjudicator 'more teeth'. He told The Guardian:
We hope the new admissions code allows the possibility of increasing planned admissions numbers so good schools can expand, and there will be underperforming schools that have fewer and fewer numbers (The Guardian 22 May 2011).
A draft version of the new admissions code was published at the end of May. It prohibited local authorities from using lotteries as the main way of allocating school places, allowed classes to contain more than thirty pupils in some circumstances, and required that priority be given to children of parents in the armed forces and children in care. Academies and free schools - but not maintained (ie local authority) schools - would be allowed to reserve places for children entitled to free meals: this provision would benefit academies and free schools as they would be entitled to the 'pupil premium' - an additional £430 - for each of these pupils.

Budget cuts

School buildings

A month after coming to power ministers announced a reduction of £359m in education spending, but by the beginning of July they were talking about cuts of up to £3.5bn as part of the most drastic public spending squeeze since the Second World War (The Guardian 5 July 2010).

The biggest cuts affected the schools' rebuilding programme. New Labour's ambitious £55bn Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, which included plans for the rebuilding or refurbishment of hundreds of secondary schools, was suspended. The DfE insisted that no long-term decisions had been made, but it was clear that there would be a concerted drive to make savings from the £8.5bn annual budget for new schools, and that some of the money would be used to fund new free schools (The Guardian (14 May 2010).

A few weeks later Gove cancelled BSF altogether, telling the Commons that the scheme had been 'characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy' (Hansard House of Commons 5 July 2010 Col 48).

He went on:

In order to ensure that we do not waste any more money on a dysfunctional process, I am today taking action to get the best possible value for the taxpayer. I will take account of the contractual commitments already entered into, but I cannot allow more money to be spent until we have ensured a more efficient use of resources. Where financial close has been reached in a local education partnership [LEP], the projects agreed under that LEP will go ahead. I will continue to look at the scope for savings in all these projects. Where financial close has not been reached, future projects procured under BSF will not go ahead. This decision will not affect the other capital funding in those areas; schools will still receive their devolved capital allowance for necessary repairs. The efficiencies that we make now will ensure better targeting of future commitments on areas of greatest need (Hansard House of Commons 5 July 2010 Col 49).
The suspension of plans for 715 new schools caused consternation.

Conservative MP Philip Davies asked why a new school would not now be built in his West Yorkshire constituency (The Guardian 5 July 2010).

In Sandwell, one of the most deprived parts of the country, nine schemes were cancelled. The deputy leader of the Council warned of a 'two-tier system', with some children attending schools in desperate need of renovation. DfE officials confessed they could not explain how a series of errors had been made which had resulted in parents being wrongly told that their school projects would go ahead. 'We don't have an answer on that', a spokesman said (The Guardian 8 July 2010).

Hundreds of parents and teachers gathered outside Parliament to protest (The Guardian 19 July 2010), and Michael Gove was forced to apologise in the Commons for the erroneous list of cancelled building projects which his department had published (The Guardian 29 July 2010).

In October it became clear that even those building projects which were going ahead - affecting 600 schools - were facing budget cuts of forty per cent (The Guardian 22 October 2010).

Six local authorities challenged the government in the High Court and, in February 2011, Mr Justice Holman ruled in their favour, saying that Michael Gove's action in scrapping building programmes had been 'so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power'. The education secretary, he said, had acted unlawfully in not consulting local authorities and by failing to give 'due regard' to equality legislation (The Guardian 11 February 2011).

In July 2011 Gove told MPs that he recognised 'the deep disappointment that was provoked in communities where hopes had been raised' but, he said, 'we had to ensure money was spent efficiently, and the design of the old BSF scheme was not as efficient as it could have been' (Hansard House of Commons 19 July 2011 Col 792).

He announced £800m of additional spending to enable local authorities to meet the demand for school places, and a further £500m to fund new school places in the areas of greatest need. He went on:

Overall, we are spending more on school buildings in every year of this Parliament cumulatively than the previous Government spent in every year of their first two Parliaments. But I want to do more, which is why today I am launching a new privately financed school building programme to address the schools in the worst condition, wherever they are in the country (Hansard House of Commons 19 July 2011 Col 793).
School meals

New Labour had planned to provide free school lunches for half a million children from low-income families, but Gove announced that the extension of the pilot schemes would be abandoned. Just three of the existing schemes would be allowed to continue to assess the case for increasing eligibility (The Guardian 7 June 2010).

Doctors, teaching unions and child poverty campaigners urged him to rethink his decision. They pointed out that healthier school meals had been shown to improve classroom behaviour and academic attainment (The Guardian 29 June 2010).

In April 2011 the government abolished the protection of subsidies for school meals, allowing schools and local authorities to divert the money to other uses. As a result, the price of school lunches rose by around 17 per cent and experts warned that thousands of poorer pupils would be denied healthy meals (The Guardian 2 April 2011).

Education Maintenance Allowance

Another casualty of the coalition government's cuts was the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which Labour had introduced to encourage poorer students to stay on in education. It paid between £10 and £30 a week to 16- to 19-year-olds in households earning less than £30,800 a year.

Before the election, Michael Gove had denied that he would scrap EMA. He told The Guardian: 'Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't' (quoted in The Guardian 25 October 2010).

In the autumn spending review, however, that promise was broken. In response, students from across the country demonstrated in London, and Andy Burnham, who had replaced Ed Balls as shadow education secretary on 8 October 2010, urged the government to think again (The Guardian 19 January 2011).

Responding to the concerns, in March 2011 Gove announced that the £560m Education Maintenance Allowance would be replaced with a £180m bursaries scheme (The Guardian 1 April 2011). Boris Johnson, then Conservative Mayor of London, said he feared young Londoners from low-income backgrounds could see their life chances 'radically diminished' as a result (The Guardian 1 April 2011); college principals pointed out that this was a reduction of almost 60 per cent (The Guardian 5 April 2011); and a report by the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC), Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training, published on 19 July 2011, said the government should have

done more to acknowledge the combined impact on students' participation, attainment and retention, particularly amongst disadvantaged sub-groups, before determining how to restructure financial support, and we would have welcomed a more measured and public analysis by the Government before it took the decision to abolish the EMA (CESC 2011b:3).
More cuts

School buildings, meals and the Education Maintenance Allowance were not the only areas in which the coalition government announced cuts during the school year 2010-11:

Concerned that the extent of the cuts was damaging his party's reputation, Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced a £7bn pupil premium scheme to provide extra funding for children from disadvantaged homes. He insisted that this would be new money, but a week later Michael Gove admitted that he had had to make cuts elsewhere in the education budget to fund the premium (The Guardian 16, 24 October 2010).

White Paper: The Importance of Teaching

Michael Gove's first White Paper The Importance of Teaching was published on 24 November 2010.

It declared that:

what is needed most of all is decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority, raise the standards set by our curriculum and qualifications to match the best in the world and, having freed schools from external control, hold them effectively to account for the results they achieve (DfE 2010:8).
It was a wide-ranging document containing sections on: It argued that the National Curriculum had been too prescriptive. The new curriculum would be 'slim, clear and authoritative' and, while academies and free schools would keep the freedom to set aside parts of the curriculum, they would be required to teach a 'broad and balanced' curriculum (DfE 2010:42).

All schools, including special schools and pupil referral units, would be allowed to become academies. To address unfair variations in funding between schools, the long-term goal was a 'national funding formula' under which money would go directly from Whitehall to schools, rather than through the local authorities (DfE 2010:82).

The government would expect head teachers to take a strong stand against bullying - 'particularly prejudice-based racist, sexist and homophobic bullying' (DfE 2010:32). Teachers would be given the right to search pupils for harmful items, and allegations against teachers would not automatically result in their suspension (DfE 2010:34). Heads would have the right to exclude disruptive children 'and to be confident that their authority in taking these difficult decisions will not be undermined' (DfE 2010:32).

The Teach First programme would be expanded, with members of other professions and former members of the armed forces encouraged to become teachers (DfE 2010:22).

Pupils would be prevented from taking large numbers of A Level resits, and the focus of the GCSE would be on the final exam. An 'English Baccalaureate' would 'encourage schools to offer a broad set of academic subjects to age 16' (DfE 2010:44).

Interestingly, Finland was named nine times in the White Paper as one of the countries which had been the government's 'inspiration' (DfE 2010:7). There was, however, no mention of the fact that Finland's schools were almost entirely comprehensive and unstreamed.

Much of the 2011 Education Bill, tabled in the Commons on 26 January 2011, was concerned with proposals to abolish bodies which had come into being under New Labour: the General Teaching Council for England, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the School Support Staff Negotiating Body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, and the Young People's Learning Agency for England.

Other proposals concerned the rights of staff to search students and the powers of the education secretary in relation to under-performing schools.

Michael Gove said the new powers would mean the government could 'intervene whenever a school is not providing the kind of education children deserve'. For National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) General Secretary Chris Keates, however, the new provisions had 'all the hallmarks of a power junkie'. Among the fifty new powers given to the Secretary of State, she said, he would be able to 'seize land to set up new schools, revise local authority budgets, close schools on a whim and make up his own definition of what early education means' (quoted in The Guardian 27 January 2011).

Thirty-six Conservative MPs, together with Labour MPs Gisela Stuart and Eric Joyce, signed an amendment to the Bill which would have allowed private schools converting to academy status to continue to select their pupils on the basis of ability. The government refused to support the amendment and it was withdrawn (The Guardian 11 May 2011).

Curriculum and qualifications

Alongside his proposed changes to the structure and governance of schools, Michael Gove was also determined to reform all aspects of the curriculum and examinations.

Within a month of becoming education secretary, he announced that the new primary curriculum, proposed by Sir Jim Rose and due to be taught from September 2011, would not be implemented, and that planned initiatives in personal, social and health education (PSHE), citizenship and religious education (RE) were to be abandoned. The government reckoned these decisions would save £7m (The Guardian 7 June 2010).


A quarter of all primary schools boycotted the Key Stage 2 SATs tests in the summer term 2010, but schools minister Nick Gibb defended the tests and confirmed that they would stay. 'Externally-validated tests give parents and professionals valuable information to gauge the standards of our primary schools and their pupils and play a vital role in accountability', he said (The Guardian 3 August 2010).

In June, Paul (Lord) Bew and his panel published their Independent Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability.

In commissioning the Review, Michael Gove had asked the panel to adhere to 'two broad positions': that 'external accountability is a key driver of improvement in education and particularly important for the least advantaged', and that schools and teachers should be 'free to set their own direction, trusted to exercise their professional discretion and accountable for the progress of the children in their care' (Bew 2011:4). School autonomy, said Bew, must be accompanied by 'robust accountability' (Bew 2011:4).

In his Foreword, Paul Bew said he and his panel had been

particularly impressed by the outstanding commitment of teachers and head teachers across the country about whom we have heard during the Review. We understand how hard they are working, often in very challenging contexts, to give children in their care the best possible education (Bew 2011:6).
The panel argued that: They set out the purposes of statutory assessment data, called for a greater focus on progress and broader accountability measures, and recommended that the statutory assessment system should include both external testing and teacher assessment.

Meanwhile, many heads reported problems with the 'appalling marking' of the writing test - a test which Bew said should be subject to 'significant change' (Bew 2011:62) - and were preparing to lodge appeals. The test required children to write in a range of genres and for different audiences, but heads said markers had put too much emphasis on handwriting and spelling and not enough on composition, sentence structure and use of punctuation (The Guardian 11 July 2011).


The compulsory use of 'synthetic phonics' as the only method of teaching reading continued to cause concern. Dylan Wiliam, professor of educational assessment at the University of London Institute of Education, became one of a long line of experts to condemn the policy:

Phonics is important in learning to read, but no skilled reader uses phonics. An overemphasis on phonics will not address the problem. We are just beginning to discover that reading is one of the most complex skills. It also requires knowledge of language, speaking and listening skills (The Guardian 3 August 2010).
Further concerns were expressed when, in March 2011, schools minister Nick Gibb announced that a 'synthetic phonics check' for six-year-olds in England would go ahead. In June, the President of the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA), David Reedy, wrote an open letter to Michael Gove, which was endorsed by the leaders of seventeen educational organisations including the National Association for Primary Education (NAPE), the Cambridge Primary Review (CPR), the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE), and all the major teacher unions. He wrote:
Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced in March 2011 that the proposed 'synthetic phonics check' for six year olds in England will go ahead despite widespread opposition from respondents to the Department's consultation.

All the organisations whose leaders have joined me in signing this letter know that the teaching of phonics, used in conjunction with other well-established and proven strategies, plays an important role in supporting children's development as early readers, yet we are seriously concerned that the test, and the offer to schools of additional funding only if a government-approved phonics scheme is purchased, represent a clear attempt to impose a particular method of teaching. This directly contradicts the pledge given in the 2010 White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, that 'teachers not bureaucrats or Ministers know best how to teach' (para 4.8).

We call upon the government to honour its pledge and abandon both this unnecessary test and the use of public money to ensure compliance with a particular teaching method.

As leaders of organisations embodying considerable expertise and experience in the matters in question, we would be happy to meet you to discuss ways that the government's concerns and ours can be reconciled (The Guardian 30 June 2011).

In July 2011 the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education, published its Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy. It argued that:
We need to accept that children do not 'learn in a straight line'. There are different ways to learn and different learning preferences; this is why a focus on only synthetic phonics is not appropriate (APPGE 2011:14).
And it warned that government plans to test six-year-olds on their reading ability would put children off reading for pleasure.

The DfE ignored the advice of professionals and MPs and announced it would go ahead with the phonics test in 2012.


In September 2010, Michael Gove said an 'English Baccalaureate' (EBacc) would be awarded to students gaining GCSEs in English, maths, one science, one foreign language and one humanity (The Guardian 6 September 2010). Heads were furious when the EBacc was used as a GCSE performance measure in school league tables published in February 2011. Ron Munson, head of Taverham High School in Norwich, said:

I really do not understand what the government is doing. And why is it doing it retrospectively, without having carried out any consultation, and without having published detailed plans beforehand? (quoted in The Guardian 11 January 2011).
In March 2011 The Guardian reported that Gove was considering plans to allow the brightest pupils to skip GCSEs and start studying for A Levels at 14 (The Guardian 18 March 2011).

Three months later he announced tougher exam targets for England's worst-performing schools. By 2015 he expected every secondary school in England to be achieving the current national average of at least 50 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths (The Guardian 14 June 2011). He also wanted to see a return to traditional exams and less coursework (The Guardian 18 June 2011), with final year exams replacing modules for GCSE students from 2012 (The Guardian 26 June 2011).

In their report on The English Baccalaureate, published on 28 July 2011, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) noted that there was 'significant support for the principles of a broad and balanced curriculum', but that 'the majority of the evidence we received was striking in its lack of support for the EBacc as it currently stands' (CESC 2011c:37).

National Curriculum Review

With the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority (QCDA) about to be abolished, Michael Gove's National Curriculum Review, launched in January 2011, was conducted by the DfE itself. A panel chaired by Tim Oates, who had been Head of Research and Statistics at the Qualifications and Curriculum Agency, was appointed, and advice was sought from controversial historian Niall Ferguson and TV presenters Carol Vorderman and Simon Schama. Few were surprised at these choices, given that the government had invited McDonald's and PepsiCo to help develop its public health policy (The Guardian 15 November 2010).

Gove declared that an academic education was the best preparation for the future, so history and geography lessons should be about facts; mathematics and science about knowledge (The Guardian 20 January 2011).

In their report Behaviour and Discipline in Schools, published on 3 February 2011, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) urged ministers to

bear in mind, when developing proposals for the new National Curriculum, that if the future curriculum is to have a beneficial effect on standards of behaviour in the classroom, it will need to meet the needs of all pupils and contain a mix of academic and vocational subjects, while being differentiated and enjoyable. We heard in evidence that pupils who are positively engaged in learning are less likely to have behaviour problems. Therefore we encourage the Government to revisit the issue of vocational and practical learning to ensure a balanced approach. We view this as a matter of considerable importance and plan to address it in future inquiries (CESC 2011a:18).
With regard to the teaching of reading, the Committee noted the view of several witnesses that 'use of the synthetic phonics approach was an important ingredient in preventing reading failure' (CESC 2011a:19), but argued that
development in both word recognition and comprehension is essential for success as a fluent reader, which can in turn promote good behaviour. Therefore, we encourage the Government to promote language comprehension as well as word recognition and phonics skills throughout the infant curriculum (CESC 2011a:19).
Henley Review: music

In September 2010, Michael Gove invited Darren Henley to conduct an independent review of music education in England.

Henley, Managing Director of Classic fm and author of many books on music, had chaired the Music Manifesto Partnership and Advocacy Group, a government-backed campaign to improve young people's music education.

His review of Music Education in England was published on 7 February 2011. Commissioned by the DfE and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it made 36 recommendations, the first three of which were that:

The government published its Response to the review, followed, on 25 November 2011, by The Importance of Music: a National Plan for Music Education.

Tickell Review: Early Years Foundation Stage

In July 2010, Michael Gove invited Clare Tickell (1958- ), Chief Executive of the charity Action for Children, to chair a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

Her report, The Early Years: Foundations for life, health and learning, published in March 2011, noted that the EYFS, which had been introduced by the previous Labour government in 2008, was intended

to provide a framework which could deliver consistent and high quality environments for all children in pre-school settings, recognising the importance of this period in a child's life (Tickell 2011:2).
She continued:
Two years on, there is much to be proud of. The emphasis in the EYFS on children's learning and development in the early years has played a crucial part in contributing to a system that has indeed received international recognition and plaudits. More importantly, there is clear and unambiguous evidence that outcomes for young children are improving. Notwithstanding this, less than half of children (44%) are still not considered to have reached a good level of development by the end of the year in which they turn 5 (Tickell 2011:2).
Tickell made a number of recommendations to improve the EYFS (summarised on pages 5 to 7 of her report), including the slimming down of the formal assessment of children's level of development at age 5 - the EYFS Profile:
I am recommending this is radically simplified, and reduced in size from 117 pieces of information to 20 pieces of information that capture a child's level of development in a much less burdensome way (Tickell 2011:6).
Experts welcomed Tickell's recommendations but were concerned at the DfE's response (of which more below).

Green Paper: special educational needs

The government's Green Paper on special educational needs (SEN), Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability, published in March 2011, proposed the abolition of statementing and SEN registers and advocated personal budgets.

In their Foreword, Michael Gove and Sarah Teather suggested that, in the existing system,

parents feel they have to battle for the support they need, where they are passed from pillar to post, and where bureaucracy and frustration face them at every step (DfE 2011a:2).
They wanted
to give children the best chance to succeed by spotting any problems early, extending early education and childcare, and bringing together the services they need into a single assessment and a single plan covering education, health and care (DfE 2011a:2).
In particular, they sought
to give parents more control by offering every family with a single plan the right to a personal budget by 2014, making a wider range of short breaks available in all areas, and ensuring more choice by allowing parents to name in their child's plan, a preference for any state-funded school (DfE 2011a:3).
The 'practice of over-identification' would be tackled by
replacing the current SEN identification levels of School Action and School Action Plus with a new single school-based SEN category for children whose needs exceed what is normally available in schools; revising statutory guidance on SEN identification to make it clearer for professionals; and supporting the best schools to share their practices (DfE 2011a:10).
Parents and members of local communities would be able to establish new special Free Schools (DfE 2011a:10).

Wolf Review: Vocational education

In September 2010, Michael Gove invited Alison Wolf (1949- ), Professor of Public Sector Management at King's College London and Director of the King's Policy Institute's International Centre for University Policy Research, to review and advise on the provision of vocational education.

In her Review of Vocational Education, published in March 2011, Alison Wolf noted that

full-time education or training to age 18 is now the dominant pattern. In England, virtually everyone stays on post-GCSE, and an overwhelming majority participate to age 18.This change has knock-on effects for the labour market and is also in part a response to (and not just the mirror image of) the implosion of the youth labour market (Wolf 2011:9).
At least 350,000 young people in a given 16-19 cohort, she said, were poorly served by current arrangements:
Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way (Wolf 2011:21).
She proposed some major changes: In addition, Wolf urged that 'major efforts should be made to provide greater access to the workplace for 16-18 year olds' (Wolf 2011:12):
Apprenticeship offers great opportunities to young people, and this government is, like its predecessor, committed to increasing apprenticeship numbers. However, current trends underline the difficulty of doing so rapidly for those under 19. The Review therefore recommends subsidies to employers when they are involved in general education rather than specific skill training. It calls for apprenticeship contracting arrangements to be aligned with international best practice, through joint activity by DfE and BIS. It also recommends, as a matter of urgency, that more 16-19 year olds be given opportunities to spend substantial periods in the workplace, undertaking genuine workplace activities, in order to develop the general skills which the labour market demonstrably values (Wolf 2011:12).

National Strategies

In March 2011 the DfE published its assessment of the impact and effectiveness of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies which had been introduced by Tony Blair's new Labour government. The National Strategies 1997-2011 said:

The National Strategies represent one of the most ambitious change management programmes in education. They leave behind a legacy of high quality training materials, teaching and learning frameworks and well-trained teaching professionals and leaders of learning in schools, ... and more widely in the education sector (DfE 2011b:2).
It noted that the National Strategies' programme was intended to be 'a fixed-term intervention programme to secure improvements in standards' (DfE 2011b:3) and suggested that:
Given the progress made during the lifetime of the National Strategies it is appropriate to take stock of the English 'school system improvement journey' and to acknowledge that the time is right for central government to step back from much of the central provision and initiatives that have been developed over recent years and to consolidate resources and decision-making at school level, allowing schools to determine their own needs and to commission appropriate support (DfE 2011b:3).


Pay and conditions

Relations between the teacher unions and the coalition government began to deteriorate in the autumn of 2010, when the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) asked schools which were considering academy status to guarantee that their teachers would continue to work under national pay and conditions. Academies minister Jonathan (Lord) Hill advised the schools to ignore the NASUWT's demands (The Guardian 19 April 2011).

In January 2011 the government announced it would raise teachers' retirement age, replace the final-salary scheme with career averages, and increase employee contributions. Several teacher unions - including the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) - started to discuss strike action (The Guardian 23 April, 1 May, 14 June 2011).

In April, Michael Gove declared that teaching was a craft which could be learned simply by watching others, and that teacher training would therefore be moved out of universities and into schools (The Guardian 17 April 2011).

In May, he announced that, from September 2011, new rules would make it easier for poorly performing teachers to be speedily sacked. He said:

For far too long, schools have been trapped in complex red tape. We must deal with this problem in order to protect the interests of children, who suffer when struggling teachers are neither helped nor removed. Schools must be given the responsibility to deal with this fairly and quickly (quoted in The Guardian 24 May 2011).
Teacher training

Training our next generation of outstanding teachers, a discussion document published by the DfE in June 2011, called for more rigorous selection of teacher trainees and the expansion of the Teach First programme. It proposed the introduction of 'targeted bursaries' to 'make training to teach more attractive to the most talented graduates, especially in shortage subjects' (DfE 2011c:9). Funding of the Graduate Teacher Programme would be reviewed, and it would be made easier for schools to lead teacher training.

The proposals in the discussion document formed the basis of the DfE's implementation plan for initial teacher training (ITT). In his Foreword to Training our next generation of outstanding teachers, published in November 2011, Michael Gove wrote:

This ITT strategy implementation plan reaffirms our commitment to recruiting the very best graduates into teaching, securing better value from the public investment in ITT, and reforming training so that more ITT is led by schools and there is a focus on the most important elements of being a teacher (DfE 2011d:3).

Higher education


Labour had promised 20,000 additional university places for 2010. The coalition cut this number to 8,000 and threatened to fine universities if it was exceeded. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) estimated that 170,000 applicants would fail to get places (The Guardian 16 July 2010).

State-school pupils from poor backgrounds faced another hurdle with the introduction of the A* grade at A Level. The Office for Fair Access warned that the new grade could strengthen private schools' grip on elite universities, and this was confirmed when it was revealed that 18 per cent of entries from independent schools had been awarded an A* compared with a national average of 8 per cent (The Guardian 2, 28 August 2010).

Tuition fees

The most serious issue, however - for both students and the Liberal Democrat party - was that of tuition fees. Before the election, Liberal Democrat candidates had toured universities promising that the party would abolish tuition fees; all Liberal Democrat MPs had signed a public declaration pledging themselves to vote against any rise; and Nick Clegg had appeared in an election broadcast lambasting the other two parties for their 'broken promises'.

At first, it seemed that the Liberal Democrats would keep their word. In his first major speech on higher education, Vince Cable outlined plans to replace the fees with a graduate tax which students would pay when they left university. He acknowledged that the plan - which he insisted was only an option - would inevitably result in some students paying more (The Guardian 15 July 2010).

Meanwhile, the Browne review of higher education funding and student finance, which had been commissioned by the previous Labour government, was published on 12 October 2010. In his report, Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education, John (Lord) Browne (1948- ), Chief Executive of the energy company BP, made the following proposals:

When the issue of tuition fees was debated in the Commons on 9 December 2010, Cable told MPs:

When I became Secretary of State, I invited Lord Browne to make two adaptations to the terms of reference that he had undertaken under the previous Government. The first thing that I asked him to do was to see how we could make the existing system of graduate payments more progressive and more related to future graduates' ability to pay. ...

The second request that I made of Lord Browne was to ask him to look thoroughly at the alternatives, and particularly at the alternative of a graduate tax. Like many people coming fresh to the issue, I thought that the graduate tax was a potentially good and interesting idea, and I wanted it to be properly explored. ... The conclusion was that the pure graduate tax has many disadvantages: it undermines the independence of universities and, most seriously, it is, in the words of Lord Browne, simply unworkable (Hansard House of Commons 9 Dec 2010 Col 540-541).

He went on:
For the funding of universities, Lord Browne recommended ... that there should be no cap on university fees and a specific proposal for a clawback mechanism that gave universities an incentive to introduce fees of up to a level of £15,000 a year. That was the report given to the Government. We have rejected those recommendations and proposed instead ... the introduction of a fee cap of £6,000, rising to £9,000 in exceptional circumstances (Hansard House of Commons 9 Dec 2010 Col 542).
The Liberal Democrat party - which had promised to abolish fees but was now part of a government proposing to triple them - was torn apart by the issue. Some Liberal Democrat MPs (including Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Sarah Teather) voted for the increase, some voted against, others abstained. The measure was approved by just 21 votes.

University students and school pupils around the country took to the streets to protest at the massive rise in fees and at the failure of the Liberal Democrats to keep their promise. Support for the party fell to 8 per cent, its worst showing for decades (The Observer 12 December 2010).

White Paper: Higher education

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) published its White Paper Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System in June 2011. It applied only to England, because higher education was now the responsibility of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In their Foreword, Vince Cable and David Willetts wrote that

Our student finance reforms will deliver savings to help address the large Budget deficit we were left, without cutting the quality of higher education or student numbers and bringing more cash into universities (DBIS 2011:2).
They went on:
But our reforms are not just financial. We want there to be a renewed focus on high-quality teaching in universities so that it has the same prestige as research (DBIS 2011:2).
The White Paper proposed removing 'the tight number controls that constrain individual higher education institutions' in order to create 'a more dynamic sector in which popular institutions can grow and where all universities must offer a good student experience to remain competitive' (DBIS 2011:5). It would be made easier for new providers to enter the sector (DBIS 2011:5), and there would be 'a new regulatory system that protects standards and quality, gives power to students to trigger quality reviews where there are grounds for concern' (DBIS 2011:6). Maintenance grants and loans would be increased 'for nearly all students' (DBIS 2011:7).

The reforms, declared the White Paper, were

designed to deliver a more responsive higher education sector in which funding follows the decisions of learners and successful institutions are freed to thrive; in which there is a new focus on the student experience and the quality of teaching and in which further education colleges and other alternative providers are encouraged to offer a diverse range of higher education provision.

The overall goal is higher education that is more responsive to student choice, that provides a better student experience and that helps improve social mobility (DBIS 2011:8).

Peter Scott, Emeritus Professor of Higher Educational Studies at the University of London Institute of Education, argued that the real purpose of the White Paper was 'to cut higher education's coat to the Treasury's tight cloth'. He said:
At least the Browne report offered a coherent package, however objectionable its treatment of higher education as a commodity. It could have worked. The white paper is just a mess. It won't (quoted in The Guardian 4 July 2011).

2011-12 Acceleration

The schools


As Michael Gove's second year as education secretary began, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) reported a four-fold increase in employee disputes involving academies during the previous year (TES 16 September 2011).

And, as the number of academies increased, so did the problems:

Undaunted, Michael Gove announced that his next target for academisation would be 'underperforming' pupil referral units (PRUs), and that from September he would be able to direct 'obstructive councils' to cooperate with 'alternative providers' (TES 27 April 2012).

By the summer of 2012 more than half of England's secondary schools were academies.

Free schools

The first free schools opened in September 2011. Three of them were Christian, two Jewish, one Hindu and one Sikh. The private Maharishi School in Lancashire, where children were taught meditation, converted to free-school status (The Guardian 30 August 2011). An analysis of the catchment areas of the schools showed them to be predominantly middle-class (The Guardian 31 August 2011).

The opening of free schools in areas which already had surplus places caused widespread concern. Critics pointed out that the DfE had earmarked half its £1.2bn school building budget to free schools, so there was not enough left to provide the 2,000 extra primary schools which rising pupil numbers indicated would soon be required (The Guardian 21 January, 19 March 2012).

Gove refused a freedom of information request to disclose assessments of the impact of free-school proposals on nearby schools, but National Union of Teachers (NUT) leader Christine Blower told the union's annual conference in Torquay that

In Suffolk, where the DfE approved four free schools despite the fact that the county already had 10,600 empty school places, a newly-converted academy was promised a building for its expansion, only to find that the premises had been given to Beccles Free School, approved by the DfE in the face of almost total hostility from local parents. By the end of June, the new free school had had just 37 applications for places (The Guardian 28 June 2012).

Two free schools - Newham Free Academy and the 'One in a Million' secondary school in Bradford - closed before they even opened because they received so few applications for places. Figures showed that at least £2.3m had been spent on schools which had either failed to open or lacked local support (The Guardian 18 July, 28 August 2012).

Religious fundamentalists were keen to open free schools. The Everyday Champions Church, which believed in the power of speaking in tongues, applied to open a school in which creationism would be taught across the curriculum. The DfE rejected the proposal and told the church that 'the teaching of creationist views as a potentially valid alternative theory is not acceptable in a 21st-century state-funded school' (TES 21 October 2011).

Meanwhile, DfE figures showed that 18 of the 24 free schools which opened in 2011 were taking a lower proportion of children on free school meals than neighbouring schools. St Luke's free school in Camden was taking none at all, while the Camden average was almost 40 per cent. Bristol free secondary school had 8.8 per cent, while at Bristol's maintained secondary schools almost a quarter of children were on free school meals (The Guardian 23 April 2012).

None of this appeared to worry the Secretary of State. He announced that 79 free schools would open in September 2012, even though by April only half of these had found suitable premises (TES 13 April 2012). And he had several meetings with executives from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to discuss 'education reform' and the possibility of setting up a free school and sponsoring an academy (The Guardian 25 April 2012).

Admissions Code

Following a twelve-week consultation period, proposals for the revised School Admissions Code were announced on 2 November 2011. In a DfE Press release, Nick Gibb said the new Code would be 'fairer and simpler for all parents', and would 'give greater freedom to good, successful schools so they can increase the number of places they offer to children in their area'. Furthermore, it would 'allow anyone to object to admissions arrangements'.

However, when the new School Admissions Code was published, on 1 February 2012, it was clear that it effectively stripped parents of the right to object to the expansion of grammar schools:

The following types of objections cannot be brought:
(a) objections that seek to remove selective arrangements at a maintained school ... or a selective Academy ... (DfE 2012a:24).
Within weeks of the new Code coming into force, Kent County Council announced that it would be opening a grammar-school annexe in Sevenoaks (The Guardian 31 March 2012).


Michael Gove said he wanted to 'restore adult authority'. He announced new rules to make it easier for schools to exclude unruly pupils. His behaviour adviser Charlie Taylor called for increased fines on parents for truancy, and for pupil referral units to be funded according to the results they achieved (The Guardian 1 September 2011, 16 April 2012, TES 13 July 2012).

Budget cuts

School buildings

Michael Gove's Priority School Building Programme, which had replaced Labour's much more ambitious Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, ran into trouble and by March 2012 it had ground to a halt. It was not until late May that 261 out of the 587 schools which had applied were told their bids had been successful. In addition to scrapping BSF, the government had cut schools' capital spending by 80 per cent, and local authority capital spending by 60 per cent. Meanwhile, a survey by The Observer found that 40 per cent of heads believed their school buildings were not 'fit for purpose' (TES 9 March 2012; The Guardian 30 April, 24 May 2012).

Camden and Liverpool, which had expected to benefit from BSF, were forced to sell public assets to raise cash for school refurbishment. Camden was hoping to raise £117 million to improve 57 schools and children's centres and build a new primary school; while Liverpool was planning three new schools as part of its £100 million rescue package (TES 30 March 2012).

In July 2010, Michael Gove had told the Commons that Labour's BSF scheme had been characterised by 'massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy' and that there was 'no firm evidence' of improved results as a result of school rebuilding (Hansard House of Commons 5 July 2010 Col 48). However, in July 2012 a report by the Partnerships for Schools quango showed that GCSE results were improving faster than the national average at 62 per cent of the rebuilt schools, and that attendance had improved in 73 per cent of them. The report was not published; the DfE carried out no further research; and Gove scrapped Partnerships for Schools (The Guardian 5 July 2012).

Meanwhile, the Priority School Building Programme had 'yet to lay a brick' (The Guardian 13 August 2012).

School meals

More than 3,000 breakfast clubs closed in 2011, and the Children's Society warned that over half of all children living in poverty - 1.2m - were not receiving free school meals, and that another 350,000 would lose their free school meals from October 2013 under the government's welfare reforms (TES 2 March 2012, The Guardian 19 April 2012).

Other budget cuts

More budget cuts were announced:

At a meeting organised by the Ark academy chain, Michael Gove told head teachers and local authorities to stop 'whingeing' about diminishing budgets (The Guardian 31 October 2011).

2011 Education Act

Gove had hoped to relieve schools of their duty to cooperate with local authorities and other children's services - which had been a key feature of Labour's Every Child Matters programme - so as to liberate them from what he regarded as 'bureaucratic burdens'. However, the proposal was defeated in the House of Lords (TES 28 October 2011).

Based on the White Paper The Importance of Teaching (see above), the 2011 Education Act (15 November) was a wide-ranging Act which abolished:

Its other provisions related to:


Christine Gilbert resigned as head of Ofsted in June 2011 and was replaced by Michael Wilshaw (1946- ) (pictured), who had been executive principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney since 2003.

In his first major speech following his appointment, Wilshaw set out a raft of controversial policies, including plans to condemn schools which gave teachers automatic pay rises, to comment on teachers' 'dress and demeanour', to abolish the 'satisfactory' rating for schools, and to check heads' judgements on individual teachers (TES 2 December 2011).

Wilshaw took up his post as head of Ofsted on 1 January 2012 and warned schools in England that from September they would face no-notice inspections (The Guardian 10 January 2012). A week later he criticised 'coasting schools' and announced that the 'satisfactory' rating - which Ofsted had given 28 per cent of schools at their last inspection - would be replaced with 'requires improvement' (The Guardian 17 January 2012; TES 20 January 2012). Unions discussed launching a campaign of 'non-cooperation' with Ofsted, and Christine Gilbert warned that teacher morale was at 'rock bottom' (The Guardian 10 May 2012; The Observer 12 May 2012).

Curriculum and qualifications

National Curriculum Review

In December 2011, the advisory panel chaired by Tim Oates published its report The Framework for the National Curriculum.

Michael Gove had originally intended that new curricula for English, maths, science and PE would be introduced from 2013, with other subjects following a year later. But in December 2011 he was forced to admit that his planned timetable was too ambitious.

The proposed curriculum - which appeared to be based on the 'cultural literacy' ideas of American educationist ED Hirsch - was attacked by three of the four members of the advisory panel for being too prescriptive. Andrew Pollard commented:

It is overly prescriptive in two ways. One is that it is extremely detailed, and the other is the emphasis on linearity - it implies that children learn 'first this, then that'. Actually, people learn in a variety of different ways, and for that you need flexibility - for teachers to pick up on that and vary things accordingly (The Guardian 12 June 2012).
Mary James and Dylan Wiliam criticised proposals for the teaching of primary maths, science and English. The only member of the panel who seemed happy with the proposed changes was the chair, Tim Oates, who described the fears of the others as 'premature and unwarranted' (The Guardian 12 June 2012, The Observer 17 June 2012).

Henley Review: cultural education

Having produced his review of music education in 2011, Darren Henley conducted a second review for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the DfE. His review of Cultural Education in England, published on 29 February 2012, made 24 recommendations, the first of which argued that

There should be a minimum level of Cultural Education that a child should expect to receive during his or her schooling as a whole. For children to leave full-time education without having engaged in the spectrum of Cultural Education outlined below would be a failure of a system which sets out to create young people who are not only academically able, but also have a fully-rounded appreciation of the world around them (Henley 2012:56).
In its Response to the review, the government endorsed all Henley's recommendations.

Ofsted report: English

According to Moving English forward, published by Ofsted in March 2012, attainment in English had risen in secondary schools since 2008, but there had been 'only limited improvement overall' in attainment in English in primary schools (Ofsted 2012:5).

Ofsted urged the DfE to:

All schools, it said, should 'develop policies to promote reading for enjoyment throughout the school' (Ofsted 2012:7).


A leaked DfE document revealed that the education secretary was planning to replace the GCSE with a 1950s-style two-tier system modelled on O Levels and CSEs. The plan was shelved when the Liberal Democrats refused to support it (The Guardian 21, 22 June 2012, TES 22 June 2012).

The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) exam board raised the threshold for C grade GCSE passes from 54 per cent in January 2012 to 66 per cent in June. There was widespread criticism: Labour urged Michael Gove to order an inquiry into the effect of the change; the Welsh government launched its own investigation; Conservative backbencher John Redwood described the change as 'unfair'; and John Townsley, a head teacher much admired by the education secretary, said that 'what has taken place in the AQA has been butchery' (The Guardian 23, 24 August 2012).

As the row grew, heads across the country demanded that all the English papers taken by their students should be re-marked, and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) threatened legal action (The Guardian 25 August 2012). Michael Wilshaw suggested that it was time to review whether the whole system was 'credible enough': GCSE exams should be 'thoroughly overhauled', he said, to tackle declining standards and the fall in England's ranking in global education league tables (The Guardian 2 September 2012).

Michael Gove denied that he had put pressure on the exam boards and blamed the problems on the system inherited from Labour. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I don't think the exam was designed in the most appropriate way ... Everyone who sat the exam was treated in a way that either wasn't fair or appropriate.' But he ruled out ministerial intervention: 'It would be absolutely wrong for me to give instructions to Ofqual,' he said. 'It would be a genuine scandal if ministers were to interfere to make exams easier or more difficult' (quoted in The Guardian 3 September 2012).

Ofqual reported on the issue in the autumn. Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey said the organisation had been 'shocked by what we found'. Teachers in some schools had over-marked work to boost results, she said, though she blamed the intense pressure on schools to meet targets (The Guardian 2 November 2012).

On 3 July 2012, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) published its own report on the subject. The administration of examinations for 15-19 year olds in England noted that

A recurring criticism of the current system of multiple exam boards is that they compete by lowering their standards, in order to increase market share, in the so-called 'race to the bottom' (CESC 2012b:31).
It recommended that exam boards should no longer be able to set their own syllabuses and that, instead, there should either be a single 'national' syllabus for each subject, accredited by Ofqual (CESC 2012b:33), or a system of 'franchising of subjects to exam boards' (CESC 2012b:34).

The Committee decided in favour of national syllabuses:

We believe that the current system incentivises downward competition on content standards and we recommend that the Government act immediately to change these incentives. We consider that national syllabuses would offer a way of addressing downward competition on content and provide reassurance on standards, without the risks, lost benefits and disruption involved in moving to a single board. The Government should begin by piloting a national syllabus in one large entry subject as part of the forthcoming A level reforms. Ofqual should review the effectiveness of the pilot, with a view to extending the approach across GCSE and A levels if appropriate. We believe that national syllabuses, coupled with a stronger Ofqual and greater involvement of subject communities in GCSEs and A levels, should help to maximise the benefits of having multiple competing exam boards while minimising the shortcomings (CESC 2012b:35-36).
By the end of the school year, schools were facing the introduction of new O Level-type exams in English, maths and science, redesigned GCSEs in other subjects, and tougher A Levels - all at the same time. Glenys Stacey warned the government that attempting to push through too many reforms at once risked 'failure' and a senior exam board official privately described the timescale as 'madness' (TES 6 July 2012).

The proportion of students getting good GCSE grades fell in 2012 - for the first time in the exam's twenty-four year history (The Observer 26 August 2012).

A Level

At an Ofqual conference, Michael Gove argued that the A* grade should be awarded to a fixed percentage of candidates, and that candidates might be ranked against others taking the same subject (The Guardian 13 October 2011; TES 14 October 2011).

Then, in a letter to Ofqual, he said he wanted universities to determine the content of A Level syllabuses and set the exam questions, as they had when A Levels had been introduced in the early 1950s. The new syllabuses would be taught from 2014, with students sitting the first exams two years later (The Guardian 2 April 2012).

Universities, heads and examiners expressed concern. Pam Tatlow, representing 26 of the newer universities, said academics had told ministers that the A Level system was 'not broken' at a meeting earlier in the year. 'Ministers appear to have ignored this advice', she said (The Guardian 3 April 2012).

Proposed changes to the funding of sixth forms were postponed for three years. Unions had warned that the new system - based on the number of students rather than on the number of exams taken - would effectively limit students to three A Level subjects (TES 6 July 2012).

The proportion of A and A* passes at A Level fell slightly for the first time in twenty years, though the overall pass rate rose for the thirtieth successive year, to 98 per cent (The Guardian 16 August 2012).

Early Years Foundation Stage

On 27 March the DfE published the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

The document set out:

The seven areas of learning and development were divided into three 'prime areas': and four 'specific areas': Though the Framework was based largely on Clare Tickell's recommendations (see above), some practitioners warned that the slimming-down process had been taken too far (TES 30 March 2012).

Other curriculum matters

The Welsh government had abolished school league tables in 2001. Following poor results in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, education minister Leighton Andrews launched an action plan to improve standards. This included a school standards unit, a national reading test and a school ranking system: schools would be rated in five bands as part of the new accountability regime. Rex Phillips, organiser of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in Wales, accused ministers of being 'preoccupied' with PISA, and said it would be a 'phenomenal error of judgement' to reorganise the education system around the test (TES 23 September 2011, 14 October 2011).

Having abandoned Jim Rose's proposals for more language teaching in primary schools as soon as it came to power, the coalition government now decided that such teaching was a good thing after all. In a letter to Michael Gove, language consultant John Connor wrote:

While I applaud your statement on teaching languages to children from the age of five, nonetheless I have some concerns. I believe that you fail to understand the level of damage you caused to the primary languages initiative when you summarily abandoned the Rose review of the primary curriculum. We made significant progress between 2002 (when compulsory languages in primaries was first mooted) and 2010, which hit the buffers when you dropped the Rose review. I don't think you understand how much more difficult it will be to regain the momentum that has been lost (TES 7 October 2011).
The Design and Technology Association warned that the subject was under threat from the English Baccalaureate and because it was not in the list of GCSE subjects used to compile league tables. The Association said it feared that design and technology might be made an optional part of the National Curriculum in the government's review (TES 28 October 2011).

Michael Gove announced that thousands of vocational qualifications were to be removed from school league tables. Schools would still be able to offer the courses, but only 70 would count towards the main performance measure of five A* to C grades at GCSE (The Guardian 31 January 2012).

Children's minister Sarah Teather launched a pilot project in which parents of children with special needs in 31 local authorities were given money to spend on the educational support of their choice. One academy head said parents were worried about the complexities of managing a personal budget, which would 'add to their stress and workload when just caring for their own child already exhausts them'. Opposition politicians argued that the initiative would favour middle-class parents and that those who chose not to become involved would be left with 'second-rate' services (TES 10 February 2012).

Teather later told heads that from September they would have to give precise details of how they spent the 'pupil premium', and the DfE announced that it was taking £50m from the pupil premium fund to pay for its summer-schools programme (TES 9 March 2012).

Department of Health figures showed that, despite claims by ministers, the coalition government had cut spending on drugs education by 80 per cent. Campaigners said a vital public service was being eroded at a time when it was sorely needed (The Guardian 25 March 2012).

The government remained determined that reading should be taught exclusively through phonics. Nick Gibb criticised schools and local authorities for not buying enough phonics schemes from a government-approved catalogue (TES 3 February 2012), and Michael Gove announced that teacher trainers would face Ofsted inspections if their students complained that they were not being adequately trained in the use of phonics (TES 16 March 2012).

A month before the 2012 Olympic Games were due to begin in London, David Cameron, whose government had abolished the School Sport Partnerships and allowed the sale of more than twenty school playing fields, complained that 'in so many schools sport has been squeezed out and facilities run down' (The Observer 8 July 2012, The Guardian 18 July 2012).



In March 2012, Michael Gove attended the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), where he heard that a survey of 1800 school leaders showed that more than a third were so disillusioned with what was happening that they were actively planning to resign. He told delegates: 'Lest anyone think we have reached a point where we should slacken the pace of reform, let me reassure them - we have to accelerate' (TES 30 March 2012).

General Teaching Council

Having decided to abolish the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), the government also proposed scrapping the national register of teachers. In October 2011, however, schools minister Jonathan (Lord) Hill announced that the DfE had conceded that a list of those with qualified teacher status (QTS) was necessary. From April 2012, a new register would be maintained by the Teaching Agency, which was due to replace the GTC and the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TES 28 October 2011).

Pay and conditions

Although the teachers' strike on 30 June 2011 had closed thousands of schools, the government was determined to make no concessions on teachers' pay and conditions. In October it was revealed that better-paid teachers would be expected to make larger pension contributions than previously estimated; and teachers' pay was frozen for two years (TES 14 October 2011).

In response, members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) voted overwhelmingly for strike action - the first time they had done so in the union's 114-year history. It was agreed to coordinate the strike action with the other teacher unions on the day of action organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on 30 November (The Guardian 9 November 2011).

Michael Gove warned that there was no more money to fund an improved pension deal, but said that there was 'no justification' for heads and teachers to strike while negotiations were still going on (TES 25 November 2011). The day before the strike, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that, when the teachers' pay freeze came to an end, there would be a one per cent cap on future rises. The strike went ahead, closing two-thirds of schools (TES 30 November 2011).

On top of the pay freeze, Osborne signalled his intention to impose regional pay (TES 23 March 2012) and Gove argued that national pay scales should be abolished altogether (The Guardian 16 May 2012).

In their report Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best, published on 1 May 2012, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC):

Delegates at union conferences voted to step up their campaign against 'concerted and ideologically driven attacks' on pensions, pay and workload issues, and against the serious threat to state schools from privatisation and 'predatory interests' (The Guardian 7, 8, 9 April 2012).

Teacher training

Michael Gove's policy of having teachers trained in schools, rather than in universities and colleges, benefited from the huge rise in tuition fees. A one-year Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course now cost students up to £9,000, so many were opting for the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), on which they could earn more than £20,000. Primary PGCE courses had attracted 14.8 per cent fewer candidates in 2011-12 compared with the previous year, and there were already more than 21,000 applicants for just 4,400 GTP places in 2012-13. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (replaced in April 2012 by the Teaching Agency) declared that more than 300 PGCE courses were 'potentially unviable' and should be closed. But in May the DfE reinstated most of the PGCE places it had previously said it would not fund, explaining that the Teacher Supply Model had been 'recalculated' (TES 13, 20 January, 24 February, 11 May 2012).

The new Teachers' Standards were published in July 2011, to be applied from September 2012. Teachers, the document said, should not undermine 'fundamental British values' and should not express personal beliefs to young people in ways that might lead them to break the law.

In July 2012, Michael Gove announced that, like private schools and free schools, academies would in future be allowed to employ people with no formal teaching qualifications. National Union of Teachers (NUT) General Secretary Christine Blower said the decision was a 'clear dereliction of duty' and a cost-cutting measure dressed up as flexibility. She pointed to a poll of parents in 2011, which had found that 89 per cent wanted their children taught by qualified teachers (The Guardian 27 July 2012).


New rules on the dismissal of teachers were published by the DfE in January 2012. From September, performance management and capability proceedings would be streamlined, the three-hour limit on heads' classroom observation time would be removed, and it would be possible to dismiss an incompetent teacher in a term, rather than a year. Heads generally welcomed the changes, but teachers' unions condemned them as 'unnecessary and draconian' and 'a bully's charter' (TES 13 January 2012; The Guardian 13 January 2012).

It later became clear that heads would be expected to impose progressively tougher minimum performance levels on staff. Unions representing both heads and teachers warned that the new standards lacked clarity. Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) General Secretary Brian Lightman said: 'It is regrettable that every single school will have to draw up their own interpretation. It could be quite problematic' (quoted in TES 2 March 2012).

Further education: Lingfield review

John Hayes, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, invited Robert (Lord) Lingfield to review the training of teachers in further education. Commissioned jointly by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education, the review panel produced an interim report Professionalism in Further Education on 27 March 2012, and a final report Professionalism in Further Education in October 2012.

In his Introduction to the interim report, Lingfield noted that:

Over the past decade, government has attempted to impose by statute a form of professionalism on the further education sector through the development of national occupational standards for teaching staff. As successive reports by Ofsted and academic research have shown, this endeavour has failed to achieve consistency in the diverse provision for acquiring vocational knowledge and skills. In comparison with arrangements in both schools and higher education, the initial training of lecturers and their continuous professional updating in further education are too often reported by those involved to be both haphazard and onerous.

The present administration is seeking a decisive change of course. Many state agencies have been abolished, including a number which were seen as instrumental in 'professionalising' further education. The new policy requires the rolling back of central controls and regulation, in favour of local decision-making and individual responsibility. The present economic crisis dictates that expenditure should be cut wherever there is evidence that it does not offer good value for money.

This Review will endeavour to offer comprehensive recommendations to government which will not only reflect circumstances which are very different from those of a decade ago, but which also pay greater attention to the particular virtues of further education, its unique place in our national life, and a conception of professionalism which suits a body of staff who often enter teaching following a successful career in business, a trade or another profession (Lingfield 2012:2).

Higher education

Vince Cable announced that Professor Les Ebdon (1947- ), Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, was to be appointed Director of the Office for Fair Access. The decision was controversial because Ebdon had said he wanted to impose large fines on universities which did not take enough disadvantaged students and forbid them from charging the maximum fee of £9,000 a year. Conservative MPs had tried to veto the appointment and Michael Gove was said to have lobbied against it, describing Ebdon as an advocate of social engineering rather than excellence (The Guardian 8, 13, 17, 20 February 2012).

2012-13 Growing concerns

The schools


Coventry City Council cancelled the building of two new primary schools after being told that the schools would have to be academies or free schools over which it would have no control. Kevin Maton, chair of Coventry's planning committee, said:

Planning education provision will be either non-existent or much more difficult. If you move to having a whole range of independent businesses that happen to be schools, controlled by the secretary of state for education, he cannot know from day to day what is going on. How can you possibly plan so that you are meeting all the needs of the local community? (quoted in The Guardian 16 October 2012).

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO), Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme, published on 20 November 2012, noted that by September 2012 the DfE had achieved 'a major expansion of the Programme, with 2,309 open academies compared to 203 in May 2010' (NAO 2012:8).

It warned, however, that the Department had overspent its academies budget by around £1bn in the previous two years:

In the two years from April 2010 to March 2012, the Department spent £8.3 billion - 10 per cent of its total revenue spend on schools - on the Programme. An estimated £1.0 billion of this was additional cost to the Department (NAO 2012:9).
As to whether this expenditure represented value for money for the taxpayer, the NAO noted that Ofsted had rated 49 per cent of sponsored academies as inadequate or satisfactory - the latter category now defined as 'requiring improvement'. It commented:
The Department has delivered a fundamental change in the nature of the Academies Programme, through a rapid ten-fold increase in the number of academies since May 2010. This is a significant achievement, although it is too early to conclude on whether this expansion will ultimately deliver value for money (NAO 2012:10).
The NAO urged the DfE to In January 2013 the self-styled Academies Commission published its report Unleashing Greatness: getting the best from an academised system. Chaired by Ofsted's former chief inspector Christine Gilbert, the Commission broadly backed the 'aspirational vision' of academies but said the evidence it had considered 'does not suggest that improvement across all academies has been strong enough to transform the life chances of children from the poorest families' (Academies Commission 2013:4), and it noted that 'International evidence of the impact of similar systems continues to present a mixed picture' (Academies Commission 2013:4).

Meanwhile, heads and governors of schools around the country were continuing to fight forced academisation. Nottingham-based lawyer Laura Hughes, of Browne Jacobson solicitors, told educational journalist and filmmaker Rhonda Evans that she had been receiving an average of three calls a week from primary schools under threat (The Guardian 11 February 2013). She said that 'brokers' (consultants employed by the DfE) were 'promoting the message that primaries had to academise if they were below the floor targets' (the government's minimum standards), 'irrespective of whether they were an improving school' (quoted in Evans 2013).

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), commented:

Each of the brokers has a target of a number they need to convert. Their job is to convert a school by hook or by crook. It's when they focus on schools that are improving under their own steam, or with the support of their local authority, that we get most angry. It's a shadowy and unaccountable process, which does not allow schools to defend themselves appropriately, and the wrong schools often get caught up in this (quoted in Evans 2013).
The DfE, noted Evans, had denied giving brokers quotas to meet.

Ofsted inspectors raised concerns that forced academisation was holding back the improvement of primary schools because headteachers and governors had had to spend a great deal of time in meetings with DfE academy brokers, staff and parents (The Guardian 25 March 2013).

In its report Department for Education: Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme (15 April), the Commons Public Accounts Committee (CPAC) said the £1bn overspend on the academies programme was partly a result of 'the excessively complex and inefficient academy funding system' (CPAC 2013:5). The Committee also said:

We remain sceptical that the Department has sufficient systems and resources to oversee the Programme as it continues to expand, especially given the wider reductions to central resources and headcount which the Department has recently announced (CPAC 2013:11).
Meanwhile, the problems continued: There were even concerns about the academies programme within the DfE itself. A leaked paper showed that a third of DfE staff were already working on academies and free schools, and with the number of the schools expected to rise dramatically, the risks included 'decreased ability to overcome resistance at local level' and 'more nasty surprises arising from not managing projects as closely as we have up to now' (The Guardian 15 July 2013).

Free schools

Of the 68 free schools due to open in September 2012, some were still without premises and were hoping to open in disused offices, a job centre, a business park and a shopping centre. The DfE began to put pressure on local authorities to make buildings available (The Guardian 8 October 2012).

£400,000 was spent on two free schools - Bradford and Rivendale - which never opened (The Guardian 3 September 2012).

Following challenges by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the Association of Colleges and The Guardian, a tribunal ruled that Michael Gove must reveal the names, location and religious affiliation, if any, of all organisations applying to join the government's free schools programme. The DfE had argued that 'premature' public knowledge could 'disrupt the conduct of public affairs' and that opposition would deter potential applicants (The Guardian 15 January 2013).

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, ruled that the DfE must publish the information. Gove reluctantly released details of 517 applications made for the first three waves of free schools. He claimed that parents and teachers trying to join the government's free school programme had been vilified by opponents and had even lost their jobs (The Guardian 20 February 2013).

Stephen Twigg, who had replaced Andy Burnham as shadow education secretary on 7 October 2011, said DfE figures showed that ten per cent of teachers in free schools were unqualified and that almost half the schools had at least one unqualified teacher. He announced that under a new Labour government the 5,300 untrained teachers working in academies and free schools would be sacked if they did not gain a formal qualification (The Observer 10 March, 15 June 2013).

Labour, said Twigg, would also give all schools the freedoms previously enjoyed only by academies and free schools: they would have greater financial control and would be allowed to opt out of the National Curriculum and vary the length of their working day. There would be no more free schools, and academies would become subject to local oversight. He added:

Contrary to the government's rhetoric, free schools and academies are not a panacea for school improvement. We are seeing that they can and do underperform, just like other schools (quoted in The Guardian 17 June 2013).
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) pointed out that 29 of the 145 free schools opened or due to open during 2013 were in areas where there were already spare places. Suffolk, for example, had a 28 per cent surplus of secondary places, yet three secondary free schools had opened in the county at a cost of £3.67m (The Guardian 1 April 2013).

These claims were reinforced by government documents which showed that, despite warnings of an unprecedented national shortage of 120,000 school places in September, free schools for primary-age pupils had been set up in parts of the country where there was 'no basic need'. The impact assessment on the Priors School in Warwickshire, for example, a former private school which became a state-funded free school in September 2011, warned of local concerns about 'surplus places, pupil numbers and sustainability, consultation, use of taxpayers' money, standards, premises and parental choice' (The Observer 7 July 2013).

One of the first free schools to open - the Discovery Free School, in Crawley, West Sussex - was rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted and was placed in special measures (The Guardian 19 June 2013).

The DfE spent £1.1m refurbishing an office block to serve as a temporary site for Parkfield free school in Bournemouth for two years (The Guardian 19 August 2013).

As the school year ended, Michael Gove declared that free schools were now 'an integral part of the growing success story of state education in England' (The Guardian 31 July 2013).

Faith schools

In a letter to the education secretary, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) expressed alarm that a homophobic booklet by an American preacher had been distributed in Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire. The TUC urged that the provisions of the 2010 Equality Act, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, should be extended to the school curriculum. No action was forthcoming (The Guardian 18 February 2012).

The British Humanist Association (BHA) pointed out that, between May 2007 and February 2012, ministers had approved sixteen new faith schools - including Church of England, Catholic and Muslim schools - without considering bids from non-religious organisations, while only six out of 39 new non-religious schools had been granted the same exemption. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

When asked, the public does not want religious schools; people want more inclusive schools. But religious organisations continue to open schools by the back door, collaborating with local authorities to avoid competition entirely (TES 27 April 2012).
Three months later, Michael Gove announced that thousands of non-religious community schools would be taken over by the Church of England. He promised that the character of the schools would remain intact, with no change in religious education, admissions policies or employment terms for teachers. The National Secular Society (NSS) expressed grave doubts as to whether the promise would be kept (NSS Newsline 4 July 2013).

Meanwhile, Richy Thompson, education campaigner at the BHA, argued that creationism was still an issue of concern. Writing in The Guardian, he warned that creationist groups which had failed to gain approval for free schools were using public funds for nursery provision. In the 'Accelerated Christian Education' nursery textbooks, he said,

we find that in science, children are taught to identify what happened on each of the seven days of creation and about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In social studies they are taught about Noah's Ark (The Guardian 4 July 2013).
School buildings

In October, the government published design templates for new buildings for 261 primary and secondary schools. The new 'no-frills' buildings would have 15 per cent less space than those built under Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, with smaller corridors, assembly halls and canteens. Curved walls and roofs were banned, ceilings were to be left bare, and 'simple designs that have the potential to be replicated on a number of sites' were to be used (The Guardian 2 October 2012).

Architect Richard (Lord) Rogers urged the government to rethink its policy 'for the sake of the next generation' (The Guardian 31 December 2012).

In May 2013 the DfE let slip that private finance for the government's school building programme had been halved to £1bn. The Department was forced to make an immediate allocation of £300m from its reserves to cover 27 schools, and hoped that the spending round to be announced in June would include sufficient public funds to cover the rest (The Guardian 27 May 2013).

School places

DfE figures showed that the number of primary pupils was projected to increase by more than 500,000 between 2010 and 2018, with the sharpest increase in London (The Guardian 4 October 2012).

At the London Councils Summit in November 2012, two hundred councillors from all political parties warned that there would be a shortfall of 90,000 school places in London by 2015, and that the cost of meeting this would be at least £2.3bn. Other cities, including Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, were facing similar problems. Councillors were also concerned that the government had decided to delay the announcement of the year's basic needs allocation until late January, making it even harder for local authorities to build enough new classrooms ready for September 2013 (The Guardian 26 November 2012).

In its report Capital funding for new school places, published on 15 March 2013, the National Audit Office (NAO) noted that all local authorities had so far 'met their statutory duty to provide sufficient schools', but warned that there were 'indications of stress on school places' (NAO 2013a:4). By 2014, said the report, there would be a shortfall of 256,000 school places in England and Wales (NAO 2013a:10).

Facing a more immediate shortage of 120,000 primary school places, Michael Gove scrapped the provision of full-time school places for four-year-olds, which Labour had introduced in 2009 (The Observer 14 July 2013).

School meals

Following Jamie Oliver's 2005 TV series about the poor standard of many school meals, the School Food Trust had been set up as a quango to monitor the quality of food served in schools. It had become the Children's Food Trust, a private charity, in 2011.

Now, in January 2013, as the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that more than a million children at academies and free schools could be eating unhealthy lunches because the schools were exempt from the food standards which applied to other state schools, the DfE announced that the Children's Food Trust would receive no further government funding and that future reviews of school food would be put out to tender (The Guardian 12, 30 January 2013). The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges demanded that all schools - including academies and free schools - should serve healthy food in their canteens (The Guardian 18 February 2013).

The School Food Plan, prepared for the government by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent and published in July 2013, recommended that 'free school meals should be extended to all primary school children, starting with the most deprived areas' (Dimbleby and Vincent 2013:8), and suggested a set of 'simpler food standards' (Dimbleby and Vincent 2013:9). Michael Gove supported the proposal for free meals for all primary pupils, but DfE officials suggested that, at £900m a year, the policy could not be implemented until 2016 at the earliest (The Guardian 12 July 2013).

(Incidentally, readers may like to note that there is an error in The School Food Plan. Dimbleby and Vincent claim that 'Universal free school meals ended in 1949, when the government introduced a flat national charge of 2.5 pence' (Dimbleby and Vincent 2013:138). In fact, as Professor Charles Webster has made clear, universal free meals were never introduced. The postwar Labour government maintained the wartime price of school meals at 5d (2p): 'Rather than introducing free meals, the Labour government increased the school meal charge from 5d to 6d in January 1950, and to 7d in April 1951' (Webster 1997:195). I am grateful to website user Jon Winfield for pointing out this error.)

Pupil premium

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that the pupil premium for primary school children on free school meals would rise from £900 to £1,300 in 2014-15 (The Guardian 17 July 2013).

Curriculum and qualifications

National Curriculum Review

Michael Gove's proposals for the revised National Curriculum were widely criticised.

A hundred academics, including Terry Wrigley and Michael Bassey, said it promoted 'rote learning without understanding' and demanded 'too much too young'. 'This mountain of data', they warned, 'will not develop children's ability to think - including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity' (quoted in The Independent 19 March 2013).

Gove responded that the academics were guilty of 'valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence' and that they were the 'enemies of promise' (The Guardian 6 May 2013).

A hundred environmentalists, including broadcasters David Attenborough and Chris Packham and mountaineer Chris Bonington, condemned the exclusion of debate about climate change from the curriculum as 'unfathomable and unacceptable' (The Guardian 14 April 2013).

And inventor James Dyson bemoaned the lack of emphasis on engineering - 'problem-solving, prototyping and learning by doing' (The Guardian 15 April 2013).

Following what the DfE described as 'unprecedented levels of interest', The national curriculum in England: Framework document was published in July 2013. The national curriculum in England: Key stages 1 and 2 framework document followed in September 2013; The national curriculum in England: Key stages 3 and 4 framework document in December 2014.

The revised curriculum included many changes from the initial draft proposals: schools would have more choice over which languages they taught; the much-criticised British emphasis in history lessons had been diluted; climate change had been restored to the geography curriculum; and English would, after all, include the teaching of spoken language skills.

But the National Curriculum would continue to apply only to local-authority maintained schools in England. Academies and free schools could choose to ignore it, while independent schools had never been required to teach it.

Concerns were expressed about the timetable for its implementation. Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said:

In less than a year teachers will be expected to implement a curriculum that they have had no say in. This will almost certainly lead to confusion and chaos and comes on top of reforms to GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications, all of which are also being rushed through with little thought given to the practicalities of implementation, never mind the content (quoted in The Guardian 8 July 2013).
English Baccalaureate

As the new school year began, Gove announced that his proposed English Baccalaureate (EBacc) would be based on traditional end-of-year exams in English, maths, science, history, geography and languages. He told MPs:

Critical to reform is ending an examination system that has narrowed the curriculum, forced idealistic professionals to teach to the test and encouraged heads to offer children the softest possible options. We believe it is time for the race to the bottom to end. We believe it is time to tackle grade inflation and dumbing down, and we believe that it is time to raise aspirations and restore rigour to our examinations (Hansard House of Commons 17 September 2012 Col 653).
He went on:
We want to ensure that modules - which encourage bite-size learning and spoon-feeding, teaching to the test and gaming of the system - go, once and for all. We want to remove controlled assessment and coursework from core subjects. ...

Critically, we will end the competition between exam boards, which has led to a race to the bottom, with different boards offering easier courses or assistance to teachers, in a corrupt effort to massage up pass rates. We will invite exam boards to offer wholly new qualifications in the core subject areas of English, mathematics, the sciences, history, geography and languages. In each subject area, only one exam board will offer the new exams. The independent exams regulator will assess all the exams put forward by awarding bodies. The winner will be the board that offers the most ambitious course, benchmarked to the world's best, informed by academic expertise and capable of both recognising exceptional performance and allowing the overwhelming majority of students to have their work recognised and graded fairly. We plan to call the new qualifications in core academic subjects English baccalaureate certificates, recognising that they are the academic foundation that is the secure basis on which further study, vocational learning or a satisfying apprenticeship can be built. Success in English, mathematics, the sciences, a humanities subject and a language will mean that the student has the full English baccalaureate (Hansard House of Commons 17 September 2012 Col 654).

Some wondered whether there was a connection between the summer's marking fiasco and Gove's EBacc proposals. Writing in The Guardian (17 September 2012), Ben Morse, head of Year 13 at the Piggott School in Reading, suggested that:
This summer's carefully stage-managed farrago was the warning. Anyone looking for the signs knew that this crafted controversy would pave the way for the GCSE to look ineffective. Gove took the slight PR hit, sure, in appearing (but never admitting) to be behind the grade issues. Because there was a larger plan. With the reputation of the qualification in tatters, Gove's desire to rebrand education in his image could happen. And so it is - with apparently, no consultation with unions, teachers or school leaders (Morse 2012).
There were many other concerns.

Former Conservative education secretary Kenneth (Lord) Baker warned that it was 'vital that schools and colleges provide education which develops practical skills and personal qualities as well as subject knowledge' (The Guardian 17 September 2012).

The British Dyslexia Association said a renewed emphasis on exams rather than coursework could disadvantage candidates with learning difficulties (The Guardian 18 September 2012).

The Schools Music Association worried that Gove's proposals would 'effectively mean the end of the teaching of creative subjects' (The Observer 23 September 2012), and leading figures in the arts world said the decision to leave arts subjects out of the EBacc could destroy Britain's creative economy 'within a generation' (The Guardian 2 November 2012).

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for an end to the 'exams factory' culture of the National Curriculum and league tables (The Guardian 19 November 2012).

In November, Ofqual's Chief Regulator, Glenys Stacey, wrote to Gove warning him that the proposed EBacc was 'not ideally suited to forming the sole basis for accountability measurement' and could lead to 'more limited' teaching as schools crammed students to pass (The Guardian 5 December 2012).

Finally, in its report From GCSEs to EBCs: the Government's proposals for reform, published on 31 January 2013, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) warned that the government risked destabilising the entire school exam system by rushing through its plans.

While the Committee agreed that 'significant improvements' were needed to restore public confidence, they were concerned that the government was 'trying to do too much, too fast' (CESC 2013a:3). They were not convinced by Michael Gove's claim that a new qualification (the EBacc) was required (CESC 2013a:12); and were particularly worried about the pace of change:

We have serious concerns about the Government's proposed timetable for change and about the risks of making fundamental changes to qualifications and the way they are administered at the same time. The problems with results in GCSE English in 2012, which ultimately led to a legal challenge, illustrate the turbulence and disruption that can ensue when significant changes are made to a high stakes qualification. The proposed reforms involve changes to qualifications, and the way they are administered, as well as a step-change in standards. They constitute change on a far greater scale, with correspondingly higher risks to the stability of the exam system (CESC 2013a:26).
A week later, amid rumours that Downing Street had intervened, Michael Gove was forced to abandon his plans for the EBacc. However, GCSEs would still be reformed, with a focus on exams and tougher questions, and league tables would in future be based on two measures: passes in English and maths, and a value-added measure. The DfE had already introduced an element of this in 2010 when it began grading schools on the basis of results in a series of core subjects, also - confusingly - called the English Baccalaureate (The Guardian 7 February 2013).

A Level

In October 2012 it was revealed that Michael Gove was proposing to make A Levels resemble the International Baccalaureate by scrapping modules and expecting students to take a wider range of subjects. Those hoping to attend the elite Russell Group of universities might also be expected to write a 5,000-word dissertation. A DfE spokesman stressed that the plans were at an early stage of development (The Guardian 17 October 2012).

After a three-month consultation, Ofqual announced that, in an attempt to curb the 'resit culture', pupils in England starting A Level and AS Level courses in September 2013 would be able to sit the exams only in June, not in January (The Guardian 9 November 2012).

In January 2013 Gove declared that, from 2015, AS Level would be a stand-alone qualification, and new A Level exams would be introduced to encourage 'deeper thinking'. Leading universities would help devise the academic content. Cambridge University opposed the change to AS Level, arguing that it was crucial for identifying the most talented applicants (The Guardian 23 January 2013).

A month later Gove published a new form of A Level league table which detailed the number of sixth-formers achieving AAB in three 'facilitating subjects', which were the same as those in his proposed English Baccalaureate: English, maths, sciences, modern foreign languages, history and geography. No other A Levels were taken into account in compiling the league tables (The Guardian 18 February 2013).

Glenys Stacey warned that reforming both A Levels and GCSEs would place 'a considerable burden on schools' and would be 'challenging' for the regulator and the exam boards (The Guardian 22 March 2013).

The Russell Group of universities accepted Gove's invitation to advise Ofqual on the content of A Level subjects, despite concerns expressed by organisations including the teacher unions, Universities UK, the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, and Cambridge University, that the qualification would be reduced to a university entrance exam (The Guardian 14 June 2013).

White Paper: special educational needs

The White Paper Reform of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs was published in September 2012. Described as 'Draft Legislation', its recommendations were based on the proposals in the Green Paper Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability (see above), and were to form the basis of Part 3 of the 2014 Children and Families Act (see below).

In her Foreword to the White Paper, Sarah Teather said that the current system of statementing and learning difficulties assessments would be replaced by a single assessment process, and that:

The resulting Education, Health and Care Plans would provide a commitment from all services to support educational and other outcomes. All young people and parents of children with an Education, Health and Care Plan would have the option of holding a personal budget, giving them greater control over how their support is delivered (DfE 2012c:5).
Other curriculum matters

In August 2012 Gove suspended the National Curriculum for information and communications technology (ICT), describing it as 'demotivating and dull'. The DfE said a new ICT curriculum would be published in September 2014, but offered no advice to teachers on what to teach until then (The Guardian 20 August 2012). In October 2012 Gove announced that ICT training courses were to be scrapped: instead, graduates would be offered scholarships to train as computer-science teachers (The Guardian 19 October 2012).

On 4 December 2012 the Standards and Testing Agency published the 2013 EYFS Profile Handbook, which set out details of the profiles for five-year-olds.

Having already stripped most GCSE-equivalent vocational courses from school league tables, Michael Gove now removed thousands of courses offered to 16- to 18-year-olds, in line with the recommendations of Alison Wolf's Review of Vocational Education (see above) (The Guardian 7 March 2013).

The Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) expressed a number of concerns about Gove's school sports initiative, which had replaced Labour's School Sport Partnerships in 2010.

In their report School sport following London 2012: No more political football, published on 22 July 2013, the Committee said:

While we do not think that the opportunity for a London 2012 legacy for schools has been lost, we believe that further action is needed if a long-term legacy is to be built. The School Games programme has been a success, but is limited to sporty young people and is only funded until 2015. A legacy activity that appeals to all is needed alongside the School Games, with funding for both on a long-term basis.

School sport is simply too important to be picked up and dropped. If school sport is to grow from the grass-roots, it needs long-term funding and time to develop. We would like to see an end to school sport being kicked around as a political football, and successive governments commit to a long-term future for school sport (CESC 2013b:4).

With regard to the issue of competitive sports, the Committee commented:
The balance of evidence to our inquiry supports the view that competition in school sport deters some young people from participating in sport and physical activity. We therefore recommend that the Department for Education makes clear to all schools that they must offer both competitive and non-competitive sporting opportunities to their pupils (CESC 2013b:13).
On 11 February 2013 the DfE published details of the new statutory test of English grammar, punctuation and spelling to be taken at the end of Key Stage 2. More than half of school literacy coordinators believed the government's new phonics test for 5- and 6-year-olds was pointless (The Guardian 21 May 2013). Nick Clegg announced a consultation on whether to introduce a 'baseline' test for 5-year-olds starting school (The Guardian 17 July 2013).


Pay and conditions, morale

Members of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) continued to take industrial action over jobs, pay, pensions and workload; National Union of Teachers (NUT) members voted to take similar action from 1 October (The Guardian 26 September 2012).

In December, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the national salary scheme for teachers would be scrapped and that, subject to consultation, individual schools would be given greater freedom to set pay in line with performance (The Guardian 5 December 2012).

Two-thirds of local authorities reported that the level of stress-related absence among teachers had risen in the previous four years (The Guardian 26 December 2012). A YouGov poll for the NUT revealed that teacher morale had reached a new low, and that only 13 per cent of teachers in academies and free schools approved of the government's education policies (The Guardian 2 January 2013).

In January 2013 Michael Gove announced that performance-related pay for teachers in England and Wales would be introduced from September (The Guardian 15 January 2013).

The NUT and the NASUWT, representing more than 400,000 teachers, announced that they would begin a 'rolling programme of national strikes' from 27 June, in protest at pay freezes, increased workload and rising pension contributions (The Guardian 18 March 2013).

At the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), delegates passed a vote of no confidence in Michael Gove and Ofsted head Michael Wilshaw, saying they had shown 'abject failure to improve education or treat teachers, parents and pupils with respect' (The Guardian 25 March 2013). They also expressed concern that Gove's plan to remove coursework assessment from GCSEs and rely only on final exams could discriminate against girls (The Guardian 27 March 2013).

Delegates at the NUT's annual conference voted overwhelmingly for the abolition of Ofsted (The Guardian 30 March 2013); for a boycott of the new spelling, punctuation and grammar tests for 11-year-olds and the reading check for 6-year-olds (The Guardian 1 April 2013); and they unanimously called for Gove's resignation, saying he had 'lost the confidence of the teaching profession' and 'failed to conduct his duties in a manner befitting the head of a national education system' (The Guardian 2 April 2013).

At their annual conference, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) delegates passed a vote of no confidence in the government's education policies, expressing particular concerns about the new National Curriculum, test and exam reforms, and the forced academisation of schools (The Guardian 18 May 2013).

The first one-day strike by members of the NUT and NASUWT was held on 27 June (The Guardian 27 June 2013). Regional strikes and a further national one-day strike were planned for the autumn (The Guardian 12 July 2013).

Gove suggested that teachers should set up a Royal College to provide a voice for the profession in competition with the unions, which he said were dominated by a 'tiny, but vocal, group of militant activists' (The Guardian 25 April 2013).

Teacher training and supply

In July 2012 Gove had announced a huge expansion of the School Direct school-based teacher-training scheme, and a consequent cut in the funding of university courses.

But by July 2013 it was clear that only half of the planned 10,000 School Direct places had been filled, leading to concerns about future teacher shortages. Professor Martin Fautley, Director of Birmingham City University's Centre for Research in Education, said:

if numbers don't work, then universities aren't going to be running those courses. In the final analysis, only the research-intensive universities would be able to sustain their departments because they can generate sufficient funds independently. That would take out a whole layer of education research and thought (quoted in The Guardian 8 July 2013).
His words were prophetic. A fortnight later Bath University announced that it was proposing to close its 'outstanding' Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course amid fears of a lack of government support for higher education-based provision (The Guardian 22 July 2013).

The number of new physics and maths teachers recruited in 2013 was well below the government's target (The Guardian 6 September 2013).

Higher education

The former Labour MP and Cabinet minister Alan Milburn (1958- ), who had been appointed Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in July 2012, called for the reintroduction of some form of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) (The Guardian 18 October 2012).

The Higher Education Commission, a cross-party group of MPs and representatives from business and academia, warned that higher fees and the banks' unwillingness to offer loans were making postgraduate study increasingly inaccessible for poorer or debt-averse students (The Guardian 22 October 2012).

Les Ebdon, Director of the Office for Fair Access, urged schools to resist the 'dreadful snobbery' of focusing on getting a few pupils into Oxbridge and other elite universities rather than providing the best options for all students, including apprenticeships, which he said were greatly undervalued (The Guardian 23 November 2012).

Other issues


Writing in The Guardian (27 August 2012), the writer and campaigner Melissa Benn noted that attitudes to education were very different in England and Scotland. Michael Russell, Scotland's cabinet secretary for education, had spoken of the necessity of a highly qualified teaching profession, free university learning, and the vital importance of public education as a 'societal, not just an individual, good'.

In Scotland, said Benn, there was 'very little teacher-bashing and scant reference to market solutions to social problems'; the overriding concern was 'to improve access by poorer students to higher and further learning and keep universities free, despite considerable pressure from an unholy alliance of English newspapers and Scottish conservatives'. There was 'a heartening and robust belief in publicly funded, publicly accountable high-quality education'.

Scotland, Benn said, had deliberately rejected 'the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) approach so beloved of the coalition, with its commitment to privatisation, competition and deregulation' (Benn 2012).

Sure Start

Sure Start centres had been created by Tony Blair's government in 1999 to improve the health, well-being and educational attainment of 0- to 3-year-olds in disadvantaged areas.

In October 2012, Labour claimed that 400 of the centres had closed in the previous two years; the DfE insisted that the figure was just 25. However, in October 2012 The Guardian revealed that ministers were planning to scrap the Early Intervention Grant (EIG) which included funding for Sure Start. Local councillors wrote to David Cameron, asking him to intervene to stop a proposal which they said would lead to 'disproportionate cuts' in preventative social programmes (The Guardian 24 October 2012).


Michael Gove's plans to reduce the number of DfE staff by almost half raised concerns that black and disabled members and those over fifty would be disproportionately affected. Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) voted for industrial action (The Guardian 18 February 2013).

Gove was also embroiled in a row about alleged bullying and intimidation by his special advisers which he claimed to know nothing about. Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg called for an independent investigation (The Guardian 13 February 2013, The Observer 17 February 2013).

And there was increasing ill feeling between Gove and the Liberal Democrats, with Nick Clegg objecting to Gove's proposal to cut funding for more free nursery education. Instead, Gove was told to find efficiency savings in the way in which new academies and free schools were commissioned (The Guardian 24 June 2013).

2013-14 Downfall

The schools


The academies programme was beset by further problems throughout the new school year.

These were not the only concerns. Writing in Forum, Jane Eades listed some of the alleged cases of financial mismanagement involving academy trusts. These included: Meanwhile, civil servants at the DfE suggested abandoning attempts to force schools to become academies because doing so was very expensive. Michael Gove and schools minister David Laws rejected the idea (The Guardian 21 October 2013).

Free schools

In September 2013, 93 free schools, 13 studio schools and 12 university technical colleges opened. But the problems continued:

Meanwhile, in its report
Establishing Free Schools, published on 11 December 2013, the National Audit Office (NAO) was concerned that the 174 free schools opened in England by September 2013 had cost £1.1bn - more than double the original Treasury grant of £450m:
The Department initially underestimated the total capital funding needed to establish Free Schools. It bid for £900 million in the 2010 Spending Review for Free Schools' premises, but could only earmark £450 million following a tough capital settlement. It subsequently increased this to £1.5 billion, just over 8 per cent of its total capital budget, through additional funds from HM Treasury and savings in other capital budgets. At £6.6 million per School, the average unit cost of premises is more than double its original aggressive planning assumption. In May 2011, it revised its assumptions, which now reflect actual costs (NAO 2013b:8).
The NAO also expressed concern that there had been 'no demand to open Free Schools in some areas with significant forecast need for school places' (NAO 2013b:11).

It urged the DfE to 'develop a more structured approach to applying the lessons from open Free Schools to approved Schools when in pre-opening'; and to 'assess the effects in practice of open Free Schools on the quality and sustainability of other local education provision' (NAO 2013b:11). The Department, it said, had yet to determine 'a full set of indicators to assess the wider impact of open Free Schools' (NAO 2013b:11).

A confidential document prepared for academies minister John (Lord) Nash and seen by The Observer revealed concerns in the DfE about the 'political ramifications of any more free schools being judged inadequate'. It said 'speedy intervention' would be essential in any further cases and it highlighted the problems that new free schools were facing, despite ministers' public claim that the programme was proving a success (The Observer 5 April 2014).

Despite these warnings, Michael Gove approved cutbacks in the checking of free-school proposals (The Guardian 23 October 2013), and the DfE announced it had approved 38 more schools (BBC News 19 June 2014).

Faith schools

In May 2014, Ofsted inspected Olive Tree Primary, an independent Muslim school in Luton, and rated it inadequate. The school's library contained books which suggested that stoning and lashing were appropriate punishments and promoted fundamentalist views which had 'no place in British society', said Ofsted. The inspection had been abandoned when parents complained that their children had been asked about homosexuality, but Ofsted said it had already gained 'sufficient evidence' to produce a report. Farasat Latif, chairman of governors, rejected Ofsted's findings. 'They carried out a half-baked inspection, which they abandoned half-way through', he said. 'We are the victims of the extreme politics of Michael Gove whose ignorance of Islam is matched by his hostility. Many Muslims will feel alienated and victims of state Islamaphobia' (BBC News 9 June 2014).

School places

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA), said councils were facing 'unprecedented pressures', leaving schools to face a 'desperate shortage' of places in the near future (The Guardian 3 September 2013). In response, the government announced that £2.35bn would be allocated to the creation of more school places in England, in addition to the £5bn already committed (BBC News 18 December 2013). The pressure on places continued to rise, however, and Liberal Democrats berated Michael Gove for pouring money into free schools (BBC News 11 May 2014).

School meals

At the Liberal Democrat annual conference in September 2013, Nick Clegg announced the introduction of free lunches for all infants in England. Michael Gove was said to be concerned about how this would be funded (The Guardian 17 September 2013).

In June 2014 ministers issued new regulations for meals in state schools, to come into force in January 2015. Based on The School Food Plan (see above), the regulations included:

National Union of Teachers (NUT) General Secretary Christine Blower was concerned that schools which had become academies since 2010 would not have to comply with the new rules. 'Parents of children in these schools will rightly be unhappy that the government is failing to deliver the same guarantee of minimum nutritional food standards for all schools', she said (BBC News 17 June 2014).

School uniform

In September 2013 the DfE published School uniform: Guidance for governing bodies, school leaders, school staff and local authorities. This updated the Department's previous guidance, published in May 2012, 'with greater emphasis on securing best value for money in the supply of school uniforms' (DfE 2013:3).

The document stated that:

It is for the governing body of a school to decide whether there should be a school uniform policy and if so what that should be. This flows from the duties placed upon all governing bodies by statute to ensure that school policies promote good behaviour and discipline amongst the pupil body. It is also for the governing body to decide how the uniform should be sourced.

The Department strongly encourages schools to have a uniform as it can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone (DfE 2013:4).


New guidelines on Behaviour and discipline in schools were published by the DfE in February 2014. Appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove said teachers should dispense 'tough but proportionate' punishments. The teacher unions were unimpressed: the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said Gove's behaviour was 'increasingly bizarre' and that schools did not need 'one-size-fits-all advice' (BBC News 2 February 2014).

During June 2014 both Gove and Michael Wilshaw suggested that bad parents should be fined. Gove pledged that a future Tory government would introduce 'stronger sanctions' for parents who did not 'play their full part in guaranteeing good behaviour', while Wilshaw told The Times that parents should be fined if they allowed homework to be left undone, missed parents' evenings or failed to read with their children (BBC News 17 June 2014).

The number of parents fined for the truancy of their children rose by a quarter in 2012-13 compared with the previous year (BBC News 25 March 2014).

Curriculum and qualifications

Tests and league tables

There was growing criticism of the new National Curriculum, primary school tests, league tables and exams.

In a letter to The Times (1 October 2013), two hundred writers and academics - including Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman - said they were 'gravely concerned' and called for the reforms to be halted (The Guardian 1 October 2013).

The Assessment Reform Group criticised plans to rank 11-year-olds nationally (The Guardian 7 October 2013), and Tim Hands, head of Magdalen College School, Oxford, said successive governments had 'emasculated state schools with targets and league tables' (The Guardian 3 October 2013).

The education secretary's response was to propose even more testing, including formal assessments for 4- and 5-year-olds (BBC News 2 February 2014).

Special needs

The wide-ranging 2014 Children and Families Act (13 March) was based on the proposals in the 2012 White Paper (details above).

It replaced the previous statementing procedure for special-needs pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCs) (Section 37) and required local authorities to prepare 'personal budgets' when asked to do so (49) by a parent or young person.

The ten parts of the Act made provisions relating to:

1 Adoption and contact (sections 1-9);
2 Family justice (10-18);
3 Children and young people in England with special educational needs or disabilities (19-83);
4 Childcare (84-89);
5 Welfare of children (90-106);
6 The Children's Commissioner (107-116);
7 Statutory rights to leave and pay (117-126);
8 Time off work: ante-natal care etc (127-130);
9 Right to request flexible working (131-134); and
10 General (administrative) matters (135-140).
Early years

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, 127 teachers, writers and academics including Richard (Lord) Layard, Director of the well-being programme at the London School of Economics, and Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former children's commissioner for England, warned that the government's early years education policies were damaging children's health and well-being. Current research, they said, 'does not support an early start to testing and quasi-formal teaching, but provides considerable evidence to challenge it' (The Guardian 12 September 2013).

On 31 March 2014 the DfE published the Statutory Framework for the EYFS, setting out the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five.


As proposed by Alison Wolf in her 2011 review of vocational education (see above), from September 2013, 16-year-olds were required to attain at least a C grade in GCSE English and maths, and would have to continue working on these subjects until they did (The Guardian 2 September 2013).

Michael Gove's ambitious timetable to overhaul GCSE and A Level examinations was put back a year after Glenys Stacey, Ofqual's Chief Regulator, told the education secretary that many new GCSE exams and a new A Level exam in mathematics would not be ready until 2016 (The Guardian 6 September 2013).

On 14 October 2013, Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws announced that, from 2016, schools would be required to publish details of pupils' progress in eight rather than five subjects. He told MPs:

The five A* to C grades measure also encourages schools to offer a narrow curriculum. Mastery of just five subjects is not enough for most pupils at age 16. Furthermore, the use of equivalent qualifications means that some students have not been offered a rigorous academic curriculum, which would have served them well. Until this year, a school could offer English, maths and only one BTEC and still have the pupil count as having achieved five Cs or better.

We believe that the system can do much better than that, so we will require all schools to publish core information on their website in a standard format. From now on, there will be four key measures that must be published. The first is pupils' progress across eight subjects, so a parent will see whether pupils at a school typically achieve one grade higher than expected or one grade lower. The second is the average grade that a pupil achieves in those same best eight subjects. That will show, for example, that pupils in a particular school average a high B grade or a low D grade in their GCSEs. The third is the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade in English and maths. The fourth is the proportion of pupils gaining the EBacc, which will continue in its current form. We will also look at developing a destination measure to show the percentage of pupils in any school who move on to further study or employment, including further training (Hansard House of Commons 14 October 2013 Cols 437-438).

In a written statement to Parliament on 1 November 2013, Michael Gove outlined the new GCSE syllabuses for English and maths, to be taught in schools from September 2015. Reform of these key subjects was, he said, 'a matter of pressing urgency':

The new mathematics GCSE will demand deeper and broader mathematical understanding. It will provide all students with greater coverage of key areas such as ratio, proportion and rates of change and require them to apply their knowledge and reasoning to provide clear mathematical arguments. It will focus on ensuring that every student masters the fundamental mathematics that is required for further education and future careers. It will provide greater challenge for the most able students by thoroughly testing their understanding of the mathematical knowledge needed for higher-level study and careers in mathematics, the sciences and computing. ...

My ambition is that the great majority of students should continue to study mathematics, post-16, by 2020. All students without a grade C or above will continue to study mathematics post-16. ...

The English language GCSE will provide all students with a robust foundation of reading and good written English, and with the language and literary skills which are required for further study and work. It will ensure that students can read fluently and write effectively, and will have 20% of the marks awarded for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar. ...

The new English literature GCSE will build on this foundation, and encourage students to read, write and think critically. It will involve students studying a range of intellectually challenging and substantial whole texts in detail including Shakespeare, 19th century novels, Romantic poetry and other high-quality fiction and drama. ...

The new GCSEs in English and mathematics set higher expectations; they demand more from all students and provide further challenge for those aiming to achieve top grades. Alongside the GCSE content we are publishing today, Ofqual is announcing its decisions on the key characteristics of reformed GCSEs, including new arrangements for grading and assessment (Hansard House of Commons Written statement 1 November 2013 Vol 569).

Ofqual gave further details of the new GCSE exams: the use of A* to G letter grades would be replaced with a numbered scale from nine to one, with nine being the highest grade. Course modules and assessment would be dropped, with grades determined by a single end-of-course examination for most GCSE subjects (The Guardian 1 November 2013).

Following Michael Gove's call for more British works to be studied, the exam board OCR dropped a number of US literary classics from its draft GCSE English Literature syllabus. These included Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1937). In response to protests, Gove denied that he had banned American authors (BBC News 25, 27 May 2014).

Despite a fall in English grades, overall GCSE results for 2014 showed a small rise in A* to C grades to 68.8 per cent (BBC News 21 August 2014).

A Level

In October 2013 Ofqual recommended that coursework should count for up to 20 per cent of marks in English literature, English language, history, geography and computer science at A Level (The Guardian 25 October 2013). Six months later, however, Michael Gove announced new 'tougher' GCSE and A Level exams with a stronger emphasis on final exams. Arts courses - including music, drama, art and dance - to be taught from September 2016, would be made more 'rigorous and demanding', and courses in design and technology, PE and religious studies would also be revised. He said the changes would correct the 'pernicious damage' caused by 'dumbing down' (BBC News 9 April 2014).

There was a slight fall in the number of A* and A grades awarded at A Level, from 26.3 per cent in 2013 to 26.0 per cent in 2014 (BBC News 14 August 2014).


In September 2013 Ofsted published three documents setting out the arrangements for school inspections under Section 5 of the Education Act 2005 (as amended):

Labour peer Sally Morgan resigned from her post as chair of Ofsted, telling the BBC that she had been the victim of a 'determined effort from Number 10' to appoint more Conservatives to head public bodies. Gove denied that he had dismissed her (BBC News 1 February 2014).

In its report Watching the Watchmen, Policy Exchange, a centre-right think-tank, claimed that many Ofsted inspectors did not have the skills needed to make fair judgements of schools. Inspectors, it said, should be required to pass an accreditation exam. Ofsted said it would study the recommendations closely (BBC News 17 March 2014).

In a speech to the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Birmingham, Michael Wilshaw sought to address concerns about Ofsted inspections. He said that in future full inspections would be reserved for schools which were struggling or on the verge of being rated outstanding. He hoped to recruit more heads as inspectors and to end the outsourcing of school inspections (BBC News 21 March 2014).


As the new school year began, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) confirmed that strikes would go ahead unless Michael Gove agreed to meet them for a serious discussion of pay and pensions (The Guardian 6 September 2013).

Gove used his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester to berate the teachers' unions - 'the enemies of promise' - for striking over pay and conditions, accusing them of standing in the way of progress. 'I have a simple message for the militant teaching unions: please, please, please don't put your ideology before our children's interests', he said, to applause from party members (The Guardian 1 October 2013).

Industrial action over pay, pensions and working conditions continued, with regional strikes in the autumn and national one-day strikes in March and July 2014.

A Guardian/ICM poll in April 2014 revealed strong public opposition to Gove's reforms. Only 32 per cent thought it was better for schools to become academies, with 57 per cent believing that local councils had an important educational role and 'should keep responsibilities in relation to schools'. With 13 per cent of the 1,500 teachers in free schools now lacking professional accreditation, the poll also showed that almost two thirds of voters thought that 'teaching is a profession which requires dedicated training' (The Guardian 14 April 2014).

Gove appointed head teacher Andrew Carter to chair a review of teacher training. Carter was asked to define 'effective' training, examine how the current system was working and recommend improvements. Universities warned that the review should not be an excuse for taking more teacher-training places away from higher education (BBC News 1 May 2014).

The Blunkett Review

In April 2014, the Labour Party published its Review of education structures, functions and the raising of standards for all. The review, conducted by former education secretary David Blunkett, said it was 'unsustainable' and 'undemocratic' to have thousands of individual schools 'contractually bound to the Secretary of State and free-floating from the communities they serve' (Blunkett 2014:5). It called for all state schools to be co-ordinated under local control and proposed the appointment of local 'Directors of School Standards' to monitor schools (Blunkett 2014:6).

In response, the government argued that free schools and academies were already held more rigorously to account than council-run schools, and that it was in the process of introducing regional school commissioners to monitor the performance of academies (BBC News 30 April 2014).

Writing in Forum, Keith Lichman, Secretary of the Campaign for State Education (CASE), argued that the review was a missed opportunity. While Blunkett had recognised that there was now a 'chaotic and unsatisfactory situation in the English education system', his response, said Lichman, was 'ambiguous and self-contradictory'. He had sought to 'normalise and regulate rather than remedy a system in which lack of democratic accountability, unfair school admissions and selection and creeping privatisation have become the trend' (Lichman 2014:445).

Poverty and social mobility

With the coalition government pursuing ever greater cuts in public expenditure, there were increasing concerns about child poverty and social mobility.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) surveyed 24 nations and ranked English young adults 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy. It suggested that the situation had worsened over four decades, and noted that the link between poverty and and pupils' educational problems was almost twice as strong in England as in some other countries (The Guardian 8 October 2013).

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) blamed schools in deprived areas for their pupils' lack of progress. Its first annual State of the Nation report, Social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain, published in October 2013, said:

We find that the gap between the poorest and wealthiest children has narrowed at primary school and GCSE-level but widened at A-level. The most deprived areas still have 30 per cent fewer good schools and get fewer good teachers than the least deprived. Schools in London are improving most but other places are falling behind for disadvantaged students, including parts of Middle England. And pupils who are at risk of low attainment - not just those who are low income - receive too little attention (SMCPC 2013:3).
On higher education it commented:
we welcome the progress that has taken place over the last 20 years to attract more low-income students. We find, however, that top institutions have not progressed as far as universities as a whole and that there are 3,700 'missing' state school students each year who have achieved the grades to get into the Russell Group of universities but still don't. The worst fears about the negative impact of tuition fees have not been realised so far but the big falls in applications from mature and part-time students are causes for concern (SMCPC 2013:3-4).
In January 2014 the Character and Resilience Manifesto was published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility (APPGSM) in collaboration with the CentreForum think-tank. It called on the government In its report Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children, published on 18 June 2014, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) noted that:
White children who are eligible for free school meals are consistently the lowest performing group in the country, and the difference between their educational performance and that of their less-deprived white peers is larger than for any other ethnic group (CESC 2014:3).
It called on the government to ensure that the best teachers and leaders were incentivised to work in the schools and areas that needed them the most, and to provide better advice and guidance to young people (CESC 2014:60).

The Trojan Horse affair


In March 2014 the BBC reported that Birmingham City Council and the DfE's Extremist Unit were investigating a letter, apparently sent to a contact in Bradford, which purported to set out details of 'Operation Trojan Horse', a plot to oust up to 16 Birmingham head teachers and make their schools more Islamic. The letter said parents should be told the schools were making their children say Christian prayers and corrupting them with sex education and teaching about homosexuals. 'Operation Trojan Horse has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham', it said. 'Implementing it in Bradford will not be difficult for you' (BBC News 7 March 2014).

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr, wrote to Michael Gove and to Birmingham City Council leader, Albert Bore, calling for dozens of former teachers to be released from so-called 'gagging clauses'. Twenty-five schools were being investigated over claims that male and female pupils were segregated, that sex education was banned, and that the al Qaida-linked Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011, had been praised in a school assembly (BBC News 28 April 2014).

Gove wrote to the heads of all schools and colleges in England, urging them to be aware of signs of radicalisation, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation among students. His letter set out new government advice on various types of abuse (BBC News 8 May 2014).

The BBC reported that Birmingham City Council officials investigating the affair had seen no evidence of links to extremism but had uncovered 'significant grievances' about governance and leadership, some on a large scale. The authority was said to be frustrated by the lack of information it had received from Ofsted and the DfE, but would not comment as the investigation was ongoing (BBC News 10 May 2014).

Tristram Hunt, who had replaced Stephen Twigg as shadow education secretary on 7 October 2013, wrote to Michael Gove to ask why action had not been taken earlier. 'Your response to the revelations leaves too many unanswered questions. You will, I am sure, want to place on record responses to the many unanswered questions surrounding this affair', he wrote. He added: 'Do you now accept that there is a lack of local oversight in our school system that means an increasing number of problems are going unnoticed?' (BBC News 29 May 2014).

Home Secretary Theresa May also wrote to Gove, accusing him of failing to deal with the alleged Islamist plot to take over schools. Her letter said:

The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements. Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act? (quoted in BBC News 4 June 2014).
The BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, said he understood that May and Gove had clashed at a meeting of the Extremism Task Force, a committee of cabinet ministers set up by David Cameron, about how to define extremism. Publicly, the pair insisted they were united (BBC News 4 June 2014).

Ofsted investigation

Michael Wilshaw took personal charge of Ofsted's investigation into the affair and announced its findings in June. Five schools - including three academies run by the Park View Educational Trust - were placed in special measures. A sixth school was also labelled inadequate for its poor educational standards. Three schools were praised, but twelve would need to make improvements (BBC News 10 June 2014).

Head teachers, said Wilshaw, had been 'marginalised or forced out of their jobs' and there was evidence of an organised campaign to alter the 'character and ethos' of schools.

Ofsted's concerns included:

Ofsted recommended:

DfE investigation

The DfE's own investigation was led by Peter Clarke, an ex-Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and former National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (BBC News 15 April 2014). His report said there was evidence of 'coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city', and that there had been a 'sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children ... the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam'. The DfE was urged 'to review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status and become multi-academy trusts' (The Guardian 18 July 2014).

Michael Gove rejected criticism of the academisation process and said only that the government would require all schools to 'promote British values' and that he would back Ofsted's plan to introduce no-notice school inspections in England. Two of the Trojan Horse academies had their funding agreements terminated; two more were warned they could lose funding unless concerns were addressed. All four were rated inadequate (BBC News 10 June 2014).

Conspiracy theorists suggested that the original Trojan Horse letter had been a hoax. Sarah Barton, a Birmingham secondary-school teacher, and Richard Hatcher, Professor of Education at Birmingham City University, disagreed. Writing in Forum, they argued that

The provenance of the Trojan Horse letter is either unknown or undisclosed, and it is not believed by anyone to be what it purports to be. But while it is widely acknowledged to be fake, it is not a hoax. It is in effect an allegation - the work of an anonymous and apparently well-informed whistle-blower. There can now be little doubt that many of the allegations it contains are well-founded (Barton and Hatcher 2014:461).
Whatever the truth of the matter, the affair had demonstrated that school governance in England was now chaotic.

Morgan replaces Gove

On 15 July 2014, as the Trojan Horse affair reached its climax, Michael Gove lost his job as education secretary.

He was replaced by Nicky Morgan (1972- ) (pictured). She had been privately educated at a girls' day school - Surbiton High School - before reading law at St Hugh's College Oxford, and then becoming a corporate lawyer.

Elected to Parliament as MP for Loughborough in 2010, she had been appointed economic secretary to the Treasury in October 2013, and had been given the right to attend Cabinet meetings as women's minister and financial secretary in April 2015. A trustee of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, she had voted against gay marriage, leading to accusations that she was the 'minister for straight women' (The Guardian 14 July 2014).

On her appointment as education secretary, she said:

I am delighted to become education secretary and continue as minister for women and equalities. I know that education can be the single greatest transformer of lives. It is also a crucial part of this government's long-term plan. I look forward immensely to working alongside parents, teachers and schools to ensure we have world-class schools and the skills that will get our young people great jobs (quoted in BBC News 15 July 2014).
The teacher unions said they hoped for a more 'constructive relationship' with the new secretary of state (BBC News 15 July 2014).

The National Secular Society (NSS) noted that Morgan's voting record showed her to be a 'very strong supporter of more autonomy for schools'. In 2010 she had voted against against requiring academies to include personal, social and health education (including sex and relationships education) in their curriculum. And she had said that 'as a Christian active in politics' she felt it her duty to stop 'the continuing creeping secularism in Britain' (NSS Newsline 15 July 2014).

One of Morgan's first announcements was that the new chair of Ofsted would be David Hoare, who had worked at the struggling Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) academies chain (BBC News 31 July 2014).

2014-15 New face, same policies

The schools


The academies programme continued to cause concerns, some relating to the financial propriety of sponsors.

A report by the University of London Institute of Education (ULIE) for the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) Conflicts of interest in academy sponsorship arrangements, published on 16 September 2014, highlighted flaws in the system for dealing with potential conflicts of interest and the inability of the system to identify 'intangible conflicts that do not directly involve money' (ULIE 2014:3), such as those that emerged in the case of the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham. It noted that

The report recommended that the CESC should: Concerns about alleged irregularities and potential conflicts of interest at the Durand Academy in south London were the subject of a report by the National Audit Office (NAO). Investigation into the Education Funding Agency's oversight of related party transactions at Durand Academy, published on 13 November 2014, reported that almost half of academy trusts had paid millions of pounds of public money to the private businesses of directors, trustees and their relatives. It said 976 academy trusts - 43 per cent of those examined - had disclosed 'related party transactions' in 2013 worth an estimated £71m (NAO 2014b:19). Fifty-four cases, involving £8.6m, were assessed by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) as 'posing a risk to value for money' (NAO 2014b:19).

Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the EFA, responsible for funding and monitoring academies, needed to get a grip of these 'dubious' relationships (The Guardian 13 November 2014).

In January 2015, the Public Accounts Committee questioned Durand's head, Greg Martin, and learned that his salary was more than £400,000, and that a dating agency in which he had an interest was run from the academy site. The EFA welcomed Durand's proposal to replace Martin as the accounting officer in order to reduce conflicts of interest. All new appointments would have to be cleared by the EFA (The Guardian 21 March 2015).

The Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) published its report Academies and free schools on 27 January 2015. It drew attention to the fact that

despite all the attention paid to academies and free schools, of the 21,500 state-funded schools in England, 17,300 are maintained schools and 4,200 are academies as at August 2014 (CESC 2015a:63).
It noted that 'The oversight and intervention systems for English state schools differ according to whether they have academy or maintained status' (CESC 2015a:63), and concluded that
For the new architecture to work most effectively not only must individual academy performance be publicly transparent but academy chains themselves must be as fully scrutinised as local authorities. The DfE, in particular, needs to be far more open about the implementation of the academies programme and how it assesses and monitors schools and chains. This includes funding and regulation by the EFA. Rather than seeing every request for information as an attack on the policy, the DfE has much to gain from transparency and clarity over its processes (CESC 2015a:63).

Questions about school governance and the ability of the DfE and Ofsted to monitor it satisfactorily were raised again by the CESC in its report Extremism in schools: the Trojan Horse affair, published on 17 March 2015. It warned that:

The greater autonomy of academies makes it easier for a group of similar-minded people to control a school. While it should be remembered that several of the governors criticised in Birmingham were local government appointees, the DfE needs to be alert to the risks of abuse of academy freedoms of all kinds and be able to respond quickly (CESC 2015d:22).
These were not the only concerns about the academies programme, however: Free schools

Meanwhile, problems with the free schools continued:

Despite the problems, Nicky Morgan declared that free schools were a huge success story. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:
At the heart of all this is giving parents real choice. I don't think so far as children's education is concerned we have a day to lose. If parents are unhappy with the choice of places in their local area or there are insufficient places then free schools are an important part of the mix (quoted in The Guardian 9 March 2015).
David Cameron promised that a Conservative government would aim to open five hundred more of the schools (The Guardian 9 March 2015).

Faith schools

Following the Trojan Horse affair, Ofsted made snap inspections of 40 schools, including Christian and Jewish institutions. Some of the schools complained that they were being penalised for not celebrating enough festivals of other faiths, not giving children sex education lessons, not teaching them to be tolerant of homosexuality, and not inviting faith leaders to speak at assemblies (The Guardian 2 November 2014).

In response, Nicky Morgan issued guidance to private schools, academies and free schools on the new rules introduced by Michael Gove. She said faith schools must 'actively promote' fundamental British values such as tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles, but the DfE dismissed any suggestion that schools would be forced to teach gay rights against their will. However, a spokesman said:

Ofsted are rightly ensuring that schools do not indoctrinate pupils about gay people - or any other people - being inferior. The same goes for schools that do things like make girls sit separately at the back of the class. Both are practices which go directly against the fundamental British values of tolerance and respect (quoted in The Guardian 2 November 2014).
Morgan said six independent Muslim faith schools in London's East End would be required to make urgent changes or be forced to close, after Ofsted inspectors criticised them for failing to promote British values and safeguard their pupils. Michael Wilshaw said the schools 'focused intensively on developing Islamic knowledge and understanding at the expense of other important areas of the curriculum', ignoring creative subjects such as music and art. However, Morgan insisted there was 'no suggestion of a coordinated plot' (The Guardian 21 November 2014).

The London Oratory, one of England's oldest state-funded Catholic boys' schools, challenged the finding by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator that its admission arrangements for 2014 and 2015 breached the School Admissions Code (The Guardian 24 March 2015). The school won a partial victory: the High Court overturned a series of rulings which claimed that the school used socially selective admissions procedures to discriminate against children from less well-off families, but it lost its bid to take into account a family's 'Catholic service' in selecting pupils (The Guardian 17 April 2015).

Two private ultra-orthodox Jewish schools in north London, which had written to parents to say that any child driven to school by their mother would be turned away at the gates, were warned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that a ban on women drivers would be unlawful (The Guardian 5 June 2015).

Education budget

After Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne refused to say whether or not he could continue to protect funding for schools, Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws warned that the Conservatives would cut £13.3bn a year from the education budget by 2020. (The Guardian 15 December 2014).

David Cameron's announcement, that spending on state schools in England would remain frozen at 2010 levels for at least four years, was greeted with dismay by heads across the country. Sam Freedman, a former DfE policy adviser, estimated that with inflation and tax increases, this would amount to a real-term cut of more than ten per cent by the end of the next Parliament in 2020 (The Guardian 6 February 2015).

The Leeds Schools Forum, representing the 271 state-funded schools in Leeds, estimated that the combined effect of increases in national insurance, pension contributions, wages and inflation would eat away £378m from the city's education budget in 2015-16, rising steeply to £1.1bn from 2016-17 onwards. It noted that neither the Conservatives nor Labour were proposing to compensate schools for these extra costs (The Guardian 16 February 2015).

School places

Primary school heads and local authority leaders said England's education system was reaching breaking point. The Local Government Association (LGA) said 900,000 extra school places would be needed in England within a decade, at a cost of around £12bn. To fill the gap left by 'basic needs' capital funding, councils had already spent £1bn to create 300,000 new places (The Guardian 15 April 2015).

During the coalition's five years in power, the number of pupils in classes larger than 30 had risen from 31,000 to 101,000 (The Guardian 11 June 2015).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) warned that there would be eight million pupils in England's state schools within a decade and that secondary schools would be hit by both a twenty per cent increase in pupil numbers and the government freeze on pupil funding (The Guardian 22 July 2015).


In opposition, David Cameron had warned his party to drop its obsession with grammar schools. In February 2015, however, under pressure from right-wing MPs, he gave his support to the proposal by the Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge to open another campus in Sevenoaks. Home Secretary Theresa May endorsed a similar proposal for a satellite grammar-school campus in her Maidenhead constituency (The Guardian 17 February 2015).

Meanwhile, successful comprehensive schools in Gloucestershire were said to be under threat from grammar schools which were planning to increase their intake by 25 per cent from September 2016 (The Guardian 13 April 2015).

Other school matters

Schools minister David Laws announced the Talented Leaders programme, which aimed to recruit a hundred of 'the nation's best and brightest' heads to be sent into England's most challenging schools over a two-year period. The Future Leaders Trust, which would operate the scheme, said the new heads would fill vacant posts rather than replace existing school leaders (BBC News 10 September 2014).

David Cameron claimed that 500 schools were still 'failing'. A future Conservative government, he said, would create a National Teaching Service, funded by central government and made up of high-quality teachers who could be sent to poorly performing schools. Nicky Morgan said the scheme would target schools where 'failure has become ingrained'. She added: 'We will not tolerate failure, and where we find it we will use tried and trusted interventions to turn things around in the interests of young people everywhere' (The Guardian 12 October 2014).

The Local Government Association (LGA) called on the government to scrap the rules on term-time holidays and allow head teachers to use their discretion. Under the rules, introduced in 2013, parents who took children out of school without permission faced a £60 fine per child, rising to £120 if it was not paid within 21 days. Those who failed to pay faced prosecution, with a maximum fine, if convicted, of £2,500 or a gaol sentence of up to three months. The LGA said the rules failed to recognise that family life was not simple and there might be times when parents needed to take children out of lessons for legitimate reasons (The Guardian 24 October 2014).

In its report Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention, published on 30 October 2014, the National Audit Office (NAO) noted that 1.6m children attended state-funded schools rated less than good by Ofsted (NAO 2014a:4). It argued that

The Department has not clearly articulated some of the roles and responsibilities of external oversight bodies ... there has been some confusion about: oversight of safeguarding; the responsibilities of academy sponsors; and the role of local authorities in relation to academies. On the last point, there have been mixed messages from the Department and Ofsted (NAO 2014a:8).
The NAO recommended that the DfE should: Warwick Mansell noted that Nicky Morgan, minister for women and equalities as well as education, had talked about 'increasing opportunities for women in the top education jobs'. However, her two appointments to the board of Ofsted were both white males and the board was now 'virtually all male and entirely white'. Also, for the first time in its history, Ofsted had no head-teacher experience among its non-executive directors (The Guardian 24 March 2015).

Lawyers said that the new system for special educational needs (SEN) identification and provision, introduced by the 2014 Children and Families Act, was much more complicated than the previous statementing system (The Guardian 17 February 2015).

New government guidance on the exclusion of pupils came into force at the start of 2015. Previously, schools had been required to show that serious harm was being caused to others before excluding a pupil. Now, a child whose conduct was deemed to be detrimental to the education or welfare of others in class could be removed (The Guardian 6 January 2015). Lawyers threatened legal action against the education secretary on the basis that the changes had been introduced without consultation or warning, and schools minister Nick Gibb was forced to withdraw the guidance (The Guardian 3 February 2015).

Curriculum and qualifications


In 2014, 79 per cent of pupils reached the DfE's targets for reading, writing and maths at age 11. Pupils from the poorest backgrounds in England achieved their best-ever results, and those in London's schools did particularly well (The Guardian 11 December 2014).

Nicky Morgan said that a new Conservative government would launch a 'war on illiteracy and innumeracy'. Year six pupils would undergo new tests for multiplication tables and writing and, if they failed, their schools' leadership would be replaced. National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) leader Russell Hobby commented:

This is pure electioneering, but the constant churn and bluster make any concerns expressed about tackling workload ring hollow. Apparently headteachers will be sacked should any - yes, any - child fail the test (quoted in The Guardian 2 February 2015).
With new baseline assessments for reception children due to start in September, children in England now faced official assessments in each of the first four years of their education (The Guardian 26 May 2015).

SATs markers complained of problems with the new online marking system introduced by Pearson, the company responsible for marking 600,000 pupils' papers (The Guardian 2 June 2015).


An Ofqual survey revealed that four-fifths of heads had concerns about the grades students had been awarded at GCSE, while two-thirds had concerns about grades at A Level. Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) General Secretary Brian Lightman said the strong reputation of GCSEs was being eroded by constant change (The Guardian 23 September 2014).

The proportion of pupils achieving five GCSE grades of C or above, including English and maths, fell from 59 per cent in 2013 to 53 per cent in 2014; the number of state schools failing to reach the government's target of 40 per cent of pupils passing five good GCSEs more than doubled to 330; and the achievement gap between richer and poorer pupils widened for the first time in several years (The Guardian 29 January 2015).

Nicky Morgan confirmed that the government would press ahead with a manifesto pledge to make every pupil starting secondary school in September 2015 study English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography at GCSE. The new grading scale - 1 to 9 - would require pupils to achieve a 5 or higher to get a 'good pass', which would be used to rank the performance of schools (The Guardian 16 June 2015).

A Level

Ofqual announced that the introduction of reformed AS and A Levels in maths and further maths would be put back a year to 2017; that the new chemistry A Level, which had been due to be taught from September 2015, had yet to be accredited; and that new AS and A Levels in applied art and design, applied business, human biology, and economics and business would be scrapped. One head told The Guardian 'It's chaotic. I wake up every morning and wonder what's coming next' (The Guardian 2 December 2014).

Morgan abruptly terminated the funding of the A Levels Content Advisory Board set up by Michael Gove. A DfE spokesperson said: 'We remain fully committed to universities playing the crucial role in reforming A level and restoring public trust. Our position has not changed in any way' (The Guardian 5 February 2015).

Warwick Commission

The Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value issued its report Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth in February 2015. It warned that in the ten years between 2003 and 2013 there had been dramatic falls in the number of pupils taking GCSEs in design, drama and other craft-related subjects (Warwick Commission 2015:44), and argued that

An arts or media subject must be included in the English Baccalaureate, improving the visibility of the arts and increasing incentives for young people to combine science and arts subjects at Key Stage 4 (Warwick Commission 2015:49)
Digital skills

In its report Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future, published on 17 February 2015, the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee (LDSC) argued that

digital and technology skills should be considered complementary to numeracy and literacy. Digital literacy is an essential tool that underpins other subjects and almost all jobs (LDSC 2015:47).
It went on:
The UK is taking significant steps to prepare school pupils for the future digital workforce, but we risk being let down by inconsistent training for teachers. Leadership and coordination from the Government in teacher training is essential (LDSC 2015:49-50).

The Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) published its report on personal, social and health education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) on 17 February 2015. Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools began by arguing that:

PSHE requires improvement in 40% of schools. The situation appears to have worsened over time, and young people consistently report that the sex and relationships education (SRE) they receive is inadequate. This situation would not be tolerated in other subjects, and yet the Government's strategy for improving PSHE is weak. There is a mismatch between the priority that the Government claims it gives to PSHE and the steps it has taken to improve the quality of teaching in the subject (CESC 2015b:3).
The Committee recommended that sex and relationships education (SRE) should be renamed relationships and sex education (RSE) and urged the DfE to
develop a workplan for introducing age-appropriate PSHE and RSE as statutory subjects in primary and secondary schools, setting out its strategy for improving the supply of teachers able to deliver this subject and a timetable for achieving this (CESC 2015b:52).
Skills and employment

In its report Sense and Instability, published in October 2014, the City & Guilds Group examined how changing government policies had affected the 'skills landscape' over the previous three decades.

In his Foreword to the report, Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the City & Guilds Group, noted that

Constant change is the reality for those of us who work in the world of skills. We see changes to qualifications, to policies, to funding, to Government priorities, and to Government itself. Since 1981, there have been 61 Secretaries of State with responsibility for skills policy, each with their own agenda for change (City & Guilds 2014:2).
The report made three key recommendations: Apprenticeships

In its report, Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19 year-olds, published on 9 March 2015, the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC) noted that

The number of people undertaking apprenticeships has increased significantly during the current Parliament ... Nonetheless participation by 16 to 19 year-olds remains low. The central challenge for the Government's reform programme is to drive up the quality of provision while ensuring that more employers commit to providing apprenticeships for young people (CESC 2015c:3).
The Committee warned that
Excessive emphasis on apprenticeships as a means to combat youth unemployment risks reinforcing the myth that apprenticeships are a second class option and damages the apprenticeship brand (CESC 2015c:14);
and that
Misunderstanding by schools of the content, progression opportunities and benefits of apprenticeships is compounded by a cultural preference for the academic over the vocational and by incentives to fill sixth form places rather than offer alternatives to young people (CESC 2015c:22).
It argued that the process of increasing participation should start in schools, where all pupils should have access to 'good quality careers advice about the options that are most appropriate to them' (CESC 2015c:41), and it warned that
Until incentives for schools are changed most young people will continue to receive inadequate careers advice and, as a result, will not be aware of apprenticeship opportunities (CESC 2015c:41).

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reported that the number of young people in Britain receiving counselling for exam-related stress had tripled in recent years (The Guardian 14 May 2015), and a report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said teachers in England were seeing unprecedented levels of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems particularly around exam times (The Guardian 4 July 2015).

Setting and streaming

Research by Susan Hallam and Samantha Parsons, presented to the British Educational Research Association's annual conference, concluded that 'Streaming ... advantages those who are already high attainers, disadvantaging those who are placed in middle or lower groups who are deprived of working with those who are more advanced'; and that 'Streaming undermines the attempts of governments to raise attainment for all children whatever their socio-economic status' (BBC News 25 September 2014).

In its report Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that schools in England had among the highest levels of autonomy over resources, curriculum and assessment in OECD countries, but warned that some policies - notably the setting of pupils by ability - could undermine equality and fairness (The Guardian 19 January 2015).


In her first Conservative Party conference speech as education secretary, Nicky Morgan praised teachers, calling them 'heroes' and promising to make it a priority to reduce their workloads. While the tone of her speech was in marked contrast to Michael Gove's, critics pointed out that she had vowed to continue with his controversial reforms (The Guardian 30 September 2014).

Writing in The Guardian, Morgan and schools minister David Laws said the government would set up a College of Teaching to drive up standards and put the profession on an equal footing with medicine and the law. The announcement, with its emphasis on 'dedicated, hard-working and inspirational' teachers, was seen by some as a further attempt by Morgan to repair the damage done to relations with the profession under her predecessor (The Guardian 9 December 2014).

In 2012, Michael Gove had allowed free schools and academies to employ unqualified teachers. By December 2014, there were 17,100 unqualified teachers in state-funded schools teaching 430,000 children, according to research revealed by shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt. Chris Husbands, Director of the University of London Institute of Education, said the decision to remove the requirement for teachers to gain qualified teacher status (QTS) in state-funded schools 'flies in the face of evidence nationally and internationally' (The Guardian 29 December 2014).

There was disagreement between the coalition partners over the annual teachers' pay settlement. The Liberal Democrats accused the Conservatives of refusing to accept the advice of the School Teachers Review Body (STRB), a claim the Conservatives denied. Teachers had received a one per cent rise in 2014 after two years of freezes, and the STRB was recommending an overall rise of two per cent for 2015 (The Guardian 9 March 2015).

DfE figures showed that 40 per cent of teachers were now resigning in their first year and that the exodus of new recruits had almost tripled in six years (The Guardian 31 March 2015). Meanwhile, a poll of National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) members found that 68 per cent of respondents had considered giving up teaching within the past 12 months, and that 55 per cent were dissatisfied with their jobs - up from 42 per cent in 2014 (The Guardian 5 April 2015).

At the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in April 2015, delegates voted for industrial action if the next government failed to increase funding for schools in England and Wales (The Guardian 6 April 2015).

Education and industry experts warned that the shortage of candidates for headships was forcing schools into using expensive recruitment agencies costing up to £50,000 per appointment (The Guardian 23 June 2015).

Poverty and social mobility

As many had feared, the austerity agenda pursued by the coalition government resulted in a rise in child poverty, which had been falling for ten years. By October 2014, 3.5m children were living in poverty and the Child Poverty Action Group warned that the figure would increase to 4.1m by 2016 and 4.7 million by 2020 (The Guardian 14 October 2014).

Research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that in 2012-13 almost forty per cent of households with children - 8.1m people - were living on incomes below the level regarded by the public as the minimum needed to participate in society, up by more than a third from 5.9m in 2008-09 (The Guardian 19 January 2015).

Figures from the coaching firm Debrett's showed that more than 40 per cent of the most influential people in Britain had been educated at private schools and 20 per cent at grammar schools. Debrett's Chief Executive Joanne Milner commented:

All the figures show that Britain is becoming less meritocratic. As a young person growing up in Britain today, you have a far greater chance of succeeding if you come from a privileged background and have inherited a rich social capital (quoted in The Guardian 25 January 2015).
The Sutton Trust noted that an independent day-school pupil was 22 times more likely to attend a Russell Group university than a state-school student from a disadvantaged background (The Guardian 25 November 2014).

In March 2015 the Sutton Trust published Subject to Background, a report by Pam Sammons, Katalin Toth and Kathy Sylva of the University of Oxford's Department of Education. It said that 35 per cent of disadvantaged students (those on free school meals) who were identified as highly able at the age of 11 went on to get three A Levels, compared with 60 per cent of their better-off counterparts (Sutton Trust 2015:5).

In a paper presented to the British Educational Research Association's annual conference, University of Oxford Professor Steve Strand argued that children on free school meals continued to underachieve in the classroom, regardless of whether or not the school they attended was rated highly. He challenged politicians' view that schools were 'failing' if they did not close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers. A punitive approach to 'failing' schools 'misconstrues the nature of the problem', he said (The Guardian 23 September 2014).

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC), chaired by Alan Milburn, published its report, Cracking the code: how schools can improve social mobility, in October 2014.

It began by warning that:

In the UK, demography too often shapes destiny. Being born poor too often leads to a lifetime of poverty. Both advantage and disadvantage cascade down the generations. Social mobility in Britain is low and is stalling.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in education (SMCPC 2014:i).

However, there was growing evidence from the English schools system that 'deprivation need not be destiny' and that some schools were 'enabling their disadvantaged students to far exceed what would have been predicted for them based on experience nationally (SMCPC 2014:i):
Some schools seem to have learnt the secret of how to alleviate the impact of background on life chances. They have found a way of overcoming the barriers that impede social mobility. At a time when social mobility is stalling and child poverty is rising, there is an urgent need to share the lessons so that every school can crack that code.

Of course schools cannot do it alone (SMCPC 2014:ii).

The report proposed five 'key steps' which would enable schools to improve students' life chances:

2015 General election

Education was hardly mentioned during the election campaign.

The Conservative manifesto (three pages on education) declared that:

Your child deserves the best start in life. A good education is not a luxury; it should be a right for everyone. We will:
The Labour manifesto (two pages on education) promised to protect the education budget, ensure that every teacher was qualified, and 'end the wasteful and poorly performing Free Schools programme' (Labour Party 2015:38).

To the surprise of almost everyone - including, apparently, David Cameron - the Conservatives won the election on 7 May 2015 with a Commons majority of twelve. The Liberal Democrats, who had promised to abolish university tuition fees but had then become part of a government which had tripled them, lost 49 of the 57 seats they had won in 2010.


The Conservatives were clearly proud of what they felt they had achieved during the coalition period. Their manifesto for the 2015 election proclaimed:

We have brought high standards back to teaching, discipline back to schools, and challenging subjects back onto the curriculum. Today, there are a million more pupils in schools rated by Ofsted as 'good' or 'outstanding'. Over a thousand schools that were ranked 'inadequate' have become Academies, bringing in new leadership to promote discipline, rigour and higher standards.

There are over 250 new free schools - set up and run by local people - delivering better education for the children who need it most (Conservative Party 2015:33).


What can certainly be said is that the coalition had attempted to change almost every aspect of education in England, including:

For the children, all this was set against a background of welfare cuts and rising poverty levels, exacerbated by an increase in levels of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems, particularly around exam times.

The teaching profession

Teachers were encouraged to view themselves as professionals but were frequently told exactly what and how they should teach (witness the imposition of 'synthetic phonics' as the only way to teach reading), and they faced multiple changes to their conditions of service.

For the coalition government, argued Clyde Chitty, preparing to be a teacher meant

little more than the acquisition of a certain set of rudimentary skills - and principally those related to behaviour management and the maintenance of good discipline. There must be no space for thinking about broader educational and pedagogical issues or questioning the validity of government statements (Chitty 2011:13).
Most seriously of all, the abolition of the requirement for teachers to be qualified undermined the nature of teaching as a profession: now, anyone could do it, with or without training.

By the end of the coalition period, there was a looming crisis in teacher supply, and schools were finding it difficult to appoint heads.

A traditionalist view of education

Michael Gove said he wanted to see children

sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That's the best training for the mind and that's how children will be able to compete (quoted in The Guardian 13 April 2010).
As Michael Bassey, Emeritus Professor of Education at Nottingham Trent University, noted in Forum (Autumn 2014), Gove believed that:
rote learning is the best preliminary to understanding; ex-soldiers will be good for school discipline; top marks must be awarded to limited numbers rather than on achievement criteria; written examinations with time constraints are the best way of assessing ability; teachers do not necessarily need training; science, history and geography are more important subjects than art, music, drama, and design; a place at Oxford or Cambridge universities should be the aspiration of many; it is poor teaching, not environmental deprivation, that usually leads to low achievements in schools; the aesthetics of buildings do not affect the quality of learning; and that young children should learn to read through the prime use of synthetic phonics, be tested at age six and their parents advised if they fail (Bassey 2014:418).
Other members of the government had similar views. Schools minister Nick Gibb was said to have 'an unreconstructed 1950s grammar school agenda' (The Guardian 17 May 2010), and David Cameron declared that he wanted state schools to be more like private schools. Pupils, he said, should 'stand up when their teacher walks in the room'; there should be 'real discipline', 'rigorous standards', 'hard subjects' and 'sports where children can learn what it is to succeed and fail' (quoted in The Guardian 20 April 2012).

As for the revision of the National Curriculum, Terry Wrigley has commented:

Gove's promise to slim down curriculum content materialised only in the non-core subjects, but was by no means neutral or straightforward. Important curricular knowledge, for example in geography, became a desiccated list of facts (regressing to a 'name the continents and oceans' approach), with scant consideration of engagement with either children's interests or 'big world' issues. The arts and physical education lost their exploratory nature, even with young children, and cultural diversity was cast aside. The engagement with ICT [information and communications technology] as powerful tools for learning and knowledge construction was abandoned in favour of the supposed need to teach children how to program. Gove's attempt to impose a Glorious Heritage version of British (or rather English and imperial) history had to be abandoned when ridiculed even by those from whom he had expected support - notably, and most publicly, by Simon Schama (Wrigley 2015:200).
It was, perhaps, unsurprising that this view of education appealed to the coalition government: the Cabinet consisted largely of ex-public-school millionaires who knew little of education other than Eton and Harrow. One of their own backbenchers described them as 'arrogant posh boys' (The Guardian 23 April 2012).

Power to the centre

In the early days of the coalition, David Cameron talked about the importance of 'localism' and the need to create a 'big society'. The reality was rather different.

Parents were told they were to have more choice, but when they chose not to have their local schools turned into academies, they were ignored; when they objected to the expansion of a grammar school, they were told they no longer even had the right to object.

Meanwhile, local authorities suffered a significant diminution of their role as education providers. This was serious for three main reasons.

First, local government had 'a proud history' in relation to education, with some local education authorities setting high standards in their 'progressive and child-centred practices' (Cunningham 2012:109).

Second, local authorities were 'politically accountable at the ballot box to local ratepayers' (Cunningham 2012:110), and without them what was left was 'a kind of widespread anarchy' and 'a series of mini-fiefdoms, controlled by powerful interests, who are permitted to run schools as they see fit' (Benn 2011:112).

And third, the coalition's determination - despite warnings from within the DfE itself - to abolish the middle tier and attempt to control all schools from Whitehall led, inevitably, to inadequate oversight and ultimately to the Trojan Horse affair.

Michael Gove

As to Michael Gove himself, some would argue that he was arrogant and inept. Those who take this view would no doubt point to his going out of his way to offend the very people whose cooperation he needed; his promotion of policies which were often contradictory and rarely based on evidence; his lack of judgement in trying to change everything at once; and his poor management of what, under his leadership, became a dysfunctional department.

Seumas Milne described him as 'a walking disaster-zone of chronic political incompetence', his ministerial career 'a litany of blunders and apologies' (Milne 2013).

Michael Bassey saw him as dangerous:

It needs to be recognised that Michael Gove, as a government minister, was dangerous. With outstanding energy for reform, but severely limited understanding of education, he imposed half-baked ideas on the millions of young people in our schools and their teachers. At last the prime minister realised this and sacked him, but his legacy looks disastrous (Bassey 2014:419).
Others, however, would suggest that Gove was a shrewd operator whose clear aim was to complete the recasting of England's education system begun by Thatcher and promoted by Blair. In order to do this, he needed to weaken the influence of what he disparagingly described as 'The Blob' - the local authorities and their advisors, the teachers and their unions, the inspectorate, and the university training departments and their academics, historians and researchers. In this view, his strategy of changing everything at once was a calculated one, designed to destabilise the entire edifice and so make it possible to build an alternative one based on neoliberal policies and the principles of the global education reform movement.

Michael Gove was, perhaps, a good example of what happens when too much power is concentrated at the centre.


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