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Has anything really changed post-Gove?

01/10/14
Has anything really changed post-Gove?
One hears a lot about the so-called dividing lines between political parties - what the policy differences are on the key issues of the economy, health, immigration, crime and so on. Less often do politicians of the same hue look to show the amount of clear water between one another.

But that is what Nicky Morgan is attempting to do in her first few weeks and months as the new education secretary – demonstrate she is not “Continuity Gove”, as Labour’s education spokesman Tristram Hunt maintains she is, without turning her back on Gove’s reforms.

Her speech at the Conservative Party conference this week was designed to prove the point.

While she did hymn the “passion, conviction and leadership” of her predecessor, Michael Gove, she described England’s teachers as “world-class”, explained that she appreciated all of England’s 24,000 schools, not just academies and free schools, and said she understood the merit of vocational, not only academic, education. The inference was clear that Mr Gove’s position on these points had been quite different.

But if one thinks that the Government’s “plan for education is working” – and Nicky Morgan certainly does, for she repeated that phrase half a dozen times – then there does have to be plenty of Gove continuity. Because that plan is Michael Gove’s more than anybody else’s.

Free schools, very much a Gove policy, are “raising standards across the board”, she said as she announced 35 new ones. The TechBacc and Tech Levels she pointed to as evidence of the Government’s commitment to vocational education too are Gove introductions.

The phonics check she said was responsible for improved reading among six-year-olds was brought in on his watch. And when she highlighted the rise in 16-year-olds taking academic GCSEs, she was crediting Gove’s EBacc.

Indeed, give or take a greater emphasis in one or two areas, and some focus on overlooked areas like careers advice, there hasn’t been, and won’t be, any great policy shift at the Department for Education post-Gove.

So the real dividing line between Nicky Morgan and her predecessor will be in tone and message – which polices are amplified and which rather more muted. 

This is most notably the case in terms of teachers. And praising them as “the heroes of school reform”, as Ms Morgan did on Tuesday, is certainly a far cry from denouncing striking teachers as “the enemies of promise,” as Mr Gove once did.

Ollie Lane is a PLMR Account Director. Prior to joining the PLMR team, he was Chief Press Officer at the Department for Education, leading on all schools issues and gaining positive coverage across the media for the Government’s education reforms.

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