Education in England:
a brief history

Introduction, Contents

Chapter 1 600-1800
Chapter 2 1800-1860
Towards a state system
Chapter 3 1860-1900
Class divisions
Chapter 4 1900-1944
Taking shape
Chapter 5 1944-1951
Post-war reconstruction
Chapter 6 1951-1970
The wind of change
Chapter 7 1970-1979
Recession and disenchantment
Chapter 8 1979-1990
Thatcherism: marketisation
Chapter 9 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 10 1997-2007
The Blair decade
Chapter 11 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 12 2010
What future for education in England?

Chapter 13 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
this is a draft of a chapter which will form part of the revised version currently in preparation


Organisation of this chapter

The new administration

2010-11 Gove: a man in a hurry

The schools
   Free schools
   School buildings
   Other budget cuts
   Faith schools
   Admissions Code
   White Paper: The Importance of Teaching
Curriculum and qualifications
   National Curriculum Review
   Other matters
Higher education

2011-12 Acceleration

The schools
   Free schools
   School buildings
   Other budget cuts
   Education Act 2011
   Other school matters
Curriculum and qualifications
   National Curriculum Review
   A Level
   Other curriculum matters
   General Teaching Council
   Pay and conditions
Higher education

2012-13 Growing concerns

The schools
   Free schools
   Faith schools
   School buildings
   School places
   School meals
   Pupil premium
Curriculum and qualifications
   National Curriculum Review
   From GCSE to EBacc - and back
   A Level
   Other curriculum matters
   Pay and conditions, morale
   Teacher training and supply
Higher education
Other issues
   Sure Start

2013-14 Downfall

The schools
   Free schools
   Faith schools
   School places
   School meals
Curriculum and qualifications
   Tests and league tables
   Special needs
   Early years
   A Level
The Blunkett Review
Poverty and social mobility
The Trojan Horse affair
Morgan replaces Gove

2014-15 New face - same old policies

The schools
   Free schools
   Faith schools
   Education budget
   School places
   Other school matters
Curriculum and qualifications
   A Level
   Other matters
Poverty and social mobility
2015 General election

   The teaching profession
   An outmoded view of education
   Inconvenient evidence
   Power to the centre
The new Tory government


Education in England: a brief history
Derek Gillard

copyright Derek Gillard 2016
Education in England: a brief history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

You are welcome to cite this piece. If you do so, please acknowledge it thus:
Gillard D (2016) Education in England: a brief history

In references in the text, the number after the colon is always the page number (even where a document has numbered paragraphs or sections).

Where a document is shown as a link, the full text is available online.

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Please note that this chapter is a draft. Further changes may be made before the final version is published, hopefully in 2017.

Chapter 13 : 2010-2015

Gove v The Blob

The new administration

Following what many felt had been lacklustre campaigns by all the main parties, the general election, held on Thursday 6 May 2010, produced no overall winner. After several days of anxious negotiations between the parties, Gordon Brown resigned on 11 May and the Queen invited David Cameron (pictured) to form a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

With Cameron (Conservative) as Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) as his deputy, and George Osborne (Conservative) as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the coalition government's first priority was to plan for drastic cuts in public expenditure.

Michael Gove (Conservative) (pictured) 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 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.

Gove's first decision was to rename his Department: it became the Department for Education (DfE) - as it had been between 1992 and 1995.

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.

On 20 May the Cabinet Office published the coalition's Programme for Government, which included sections on Families and Children (section 14), Schools (26) and Universities and Further Education (31).

  • For an analysis of the election manifestos of the three parties and the policies of the coalition government, see my article Hobson's Choice: education policies in the 2010 general election.

    2010-11 Gove: a man in a hurry

    The schools


    The New Labour government 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).

    His Academies Bill, created in haste and rushed through parliament, 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.

    There was widespread concern at the proposals and the lack of debate. Education barrister David Wolfe said: '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). And John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: '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.' He said local communities were being 'completely disempowered' from having a say in the establishment of a new form of school. 'For all that we have heard from the new government about devolving power, this is actually a much more highly centralised system of control' (The Guardian 6 June 2010).

    Gove claimed the country was falling behind the rest of the world in science, literacy and maths and insisted that his plan to transform England's schools would improve the education of the poorest children. He told MPs that the legislation would bring 'new dynamism' to a programme that had lifted standards for all children and helped the disadvantaged most of all. The change was urgently needed, he said, because more than 1,900 schools had expressed an interest in converting to academy status and more than a thousand had already applied to do so (The Guardian 19 July 2010).

    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).

    Liberal Democrat support for the bill was surprising, given that at their spring conference in March 2009 the party 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 Democrats 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 Academies Act 2010 received the Royal Assent on 27 July.

    It was then revealed 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:

    • Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell - a school which, before it became an academy, inspectors had rated as 'outstanding' and whose head had been knighted for services to education - was now classified as 'inadequate' (The Guardian 28 May 2010);
    • Oxford School became an academy despite overwhelming opposition from governors, staff and parents (The Oxford Times 12 August, 2 September 2010);
    • in the three years since it had become an academy, Southwark's St Michael and All Angels school had lost more than a hundred staff and descended into chaos: the head had been booed by pupils at assembly and a chair had been thrown at a teacher (The Guardian 3 February 2011); and
    • the Yorkshire Post revealed that Wakefield council was investigating how Michael Wilkins, head of Outwood Grange Academy, appeared to have earned 1m in four years. Gove had described Wilkins as one of the country's 'great school leaders' (The Guardian 21 March 2011).
    Free schools

    Gove modelled his policy on that of Sweden, whose free schools, he claimed, had been an unqualified success. He chose to ignore 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).

    But Gove was determined to press ahead. He told local authorities that his new education bill would force them 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. Warwick Mansell noted that there were proposals for ten free schools in Waltham Forest alone, seven of them from Christian or Muslim groups (The Guardian 22 February 2011). 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 urged the government to allow companies to run free schools for profit (The Guardian 20 April 2011).

    There was little of the transparency which Cameron had said would characterise his government: the 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).

    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 put on hold. 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 Gove's free schools (The Guardian (14 May 2010).

    A few weeks later Gove cancelled BSF altogether. He suspended plans for 715 new schools and cut funding for school swimming pools (The Guardian 5 July 2010). He faced mounting anger from parents and teachers, and even from Tory MPs, two of whom demanded to know why new schools in their constituencies would not now be built.

    To make matters worse, some schools which had been told their new buildings could go ahead now learned that they would not. In Sandwell, one of the most deprived parts of the country, there was anger over nine cancelled schemes. 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 at the cuts (The Guardian 19 July 2010). Gove was attacked by MPs, teachers and councils for the erroneous list of cancelled building projects and was forced to apologise in the Commons (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 Gove in the High Court, and in February 2011 Mr Justice Holman ruled in their favour, saying that 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 announced plans for a replacement for BSF. He told the Commons that around 300 schools would be rebuilt under private finance schemes with an 'upfront cost' of around 2bn. He added that, while the cancelled programmes would not be reinstated, the government would cover the contractual liabilities of the six councils involved (The Guardian 19 July 2011).

    Other budget cuts

    Other cuts affected school meals. New Labour's intention had been to extend free meals to 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 meals rose by around 17 per cent and experts warned that thousands of poorer pupils would be denied healthy meals (The Guardian 2 April 2011).

    Another casualty of the cuts was Labour's Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which had been designed to encourage poorer students to stay on in education. It paid between 10 and 30 a week to 16-19 year olds in households earning less than 30,800 a year. In the run up to the election, Gove had denied that he would scrap EMA. He had told The Guardian: 'Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't.' Yet in the autumn spending review he reneged on that promise (The Guardian 25 October 2010).

    The decision to abolish EMA provoked anger: students from across the country demonstrated in London and shadow education secretary Andy Burnham urged the government to think again (The Guardian 19 January 2011).

    In March 2011 Gove announced that the 560m EMA would be replaced with a 180m bursaries scheme (The Guardian 1 April 2011). Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson 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 in July a report by the Commons Education Select Committee (CESC), Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training, 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 2011a:3).
    In his autumn spending review, Osborne told MPs that there would be 'a real increase in the money for schools ... for each of the next four years'. But there were more cuts:
    • the Playbuilder scheme, which would have created 3,500 children's community playgrounds, was cancelled (The Guardian 11 August 2010);
    • Labour's proposed 'academic' diplomas in humanities, science and languages were scrapped and funding for existing vocational diplomas in other subjects was cut, saving the DfE 22.2m (The Guardian 7 June 2010);
    • Labour's 162m a year School Sports Partnerships scheme was scrapped (The Guardian 1 December 2010). However, following protests, Gove was forced to keep 'key elements' of the scheme going until the 2012 London Olympics (The Guardian 17 December 2010);
    • funding for trainee secondary teachers was cut by 14 per cent and for primary trainees by six per cent (The Guardian 31 January 2011);
    • by 2015, school sixth-form funding would be reduced to bring it into line with that in colleges, and funding for sixth-form pastoral care and extra-curricular activities would be cut by 650m (The Guardian 31 January 2011);
    • careers advice centres for teenagers and young adults ('Connexions') were closed across the country because councils said central government had not given them funds to keep them open (The Guardian 13 March 2011);
    • budget deficits of up to 1m forced schools to make staff redundant and contemplate selling off land (The Guardian 5 April 2011);
    • the 'standards fund', which provided free school meals or extra tuition for needy children was cut - at the last minute - by 155m (The Guardian 7 April 2011); and
    • school trips to museums and galleries were cut back - 9,000 fewer children visited the National Railway Museum in York, and 6,000 fewer the Science Museum in London (The Observer 8 May 2011).
    Desperate for something positive to say, Clegg announced a 7bn 'pupil premium' scheme to give schools extra funding for children from disadvantaged homes. He insisted that this would be new money, but a week later Gove admitted that he had had to make cuts elsewhere in the education budget to fund the premium (The Guardian 16, 24 October 2010).

    Faith schools

    Writing in the Catholic Herald, 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 CESC that government plans to simplify the admissions code could weaken it. He had three particular concerns:

    • that the adjudicator's powers to investigate and order changes to school admissions policies were being reduced;
    • that local admissions forums would be scrapped; and
    • that local authorities would no longer be required to provide annual reports to the adjudicator on how school admissions were working (The Guardian 22 March 2011).
    Two months later, Gove 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'. He said he wanted to see 'more fairness' in the system, and to give the schools adjudicator 'more teeth' (The Guardian 22 May 2011).

    A draft version of the new admissions code was published at the end of May. Its principle aim was to allow popular schools to expand. 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 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.

    White Paper: The Importance of Teaching

    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:
    • teaching and leadership;
    • behaviour;
    • curriculum, assessment and qualifications;
    • the new school system;
    • accountability;
    • school improvement; and
    • school funding.
    It argued that the National Curriculum had been too prescriptive and had specified teaching methods which teachers should be free to decide. 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 frequently quoted in the white paper as one of the countries which had been the government's 'inspiration'. Yet not once did the paper acknowledge that Finland's schools were almost entirely comprehensive and unstreamed.

    The education bill, tabled in the Commons in January 2011, gave the education secretary the right to tell local authorities to close schools that required 'significant improvement', and allowed the government to issue warning notices to under-performing schools to improve. Gove said the new powers would mean the government could 'intervene whenever a school is not providing the kind of education children deserve', but NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said 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' (The Guardian 27 January 2011).

    Thirty-six Tory MPs (plus Labour MPs Gisela Stuart and Eric Joyce) signed an amendment to the education 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

    Not content with massive changes to the structure and governance of schools, Gove was also determined to reform every aspect of the curriculum and examinations.

    First, he scrapped the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), which had been created in 2008 when the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was split into the QCDA and Ofqual, the watchdog for exam standards. The QCDA would continue to work on national tests and exam administration for the time being, he said, but it would stop work on qualifications and curriculum, saving 8m (BBC News 27 May 2010).

    The new primary curriculum, proposed by Sir Jim Rose and due to be implemented in September 2011, was abandoned, along with planned initiatives in personal, social and health education (PSHE), citizenship and RE. The government reckoned these decisions would save 7m (The Guardian 7 June 2010).


    One of the few things the new government was determined not to scrap was the hated SATs. A quarter of all primary schools had boycotted them in summer 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 Bew and his panel published their Independent Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability. 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') and were preparing to lodge appeals with Edexcel. 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).


    Another policy which Gove had no intention of scrapping was the compulsory use of 'synthetic phonics' to teach reading. Dylan Wiliam, professor of educational assessment at the IoE, 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).
    In March 2011 schools minister Nick Gibb announced that the government's 'synthetic phonics check' for six year olds in England would go ahead.

    In June, President of UKLA David Reedy and the leaders of seventeen educational organisations (including NAPE, CPR, NATE and all the major teaching unions) wrote an open letter to Gove. They argued 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', but they went on:

    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 (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 overwhelming opposition from respondents to its consultation - and announced it would go ahead with the phonics test in 2012.


    In September, Gove said the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) would be awarded to students passing GCSE 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?' (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).

    The CESC's report on The English Baccalaureate (28 July 2011) 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 2011b:37).

    National Curriculum Review

    With the QCDA scrapped, Gove's National Curriculum Review, launched in January 2011, was conducted by the DfE itself. A panel led by Tim Oates was appointed and advice 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.

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

    In February 2011 the CESC's report Behaviour and Discipline in Schools warned that a curriculum biased towards academic subjects could result in bad behaviour in the classroom and urged the government to think again about the status of vocational education, to ensure a balanced approach to the curriculum (The Guardian 3 February 2011).

    Other matters

    March 2011 saw the publication of three important documents:


    Disputes between the teacher unions and the coalition government about conditions of service began in the autumn of 2010, when the NASUWT asked schools which were considering academy status to guarantee that their teachers would continue to work under national pay and conditions. In response, academies minister Lord Hill told 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 NAHT - started discussing strike action (The Guardian 23 April, 1 May, 14 June 2011).

    It might have been wise for an education secretary seeking to make wide-ranging changes to have enlisted the support of the teachers. Instead, Gove seemed to go out of his way to offend them. He insisted that teaching was a craft which could be learned simply by watching others: teacher training would therefore be moved out of universities and into schools (The Guardian 17 April 2011), and he proposed new rules to allow poorly performing teachers to be speedily sacked (The Guardian 24 May 2011).

    Higher education

    Along with the schools, higher education also faced a battering in Gove's first year.

    Labour had promised 20,000 additional university places for 2010, but the coalition cut this to 8,000 and threatened fines if universities exceeded this figure. The admissions service UCAS estimated that 170,000 students 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).

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

    In his first major speech on universities, Vince Cable outlined plans to abolish tuition fees and replace them with a graduate tax which students would pay when they finished their degrees. He said the plan - which he insisted was only an option - would inevitably result in some students paying more (The Guardian 15 July 2010).

    However, by November the graduate tax had been forgotten and Cable was proposing not just a rise but a tripling of fees to 9,000 a year. The Liberal Democrat party was torn apart by the issue. When it came to the debate on 9 December, some Liberal Democrat MPs (including Clegg, Cable and Teather) voted for the increase, some voted against, others abstained. The measure was approved by just 21 votes.

    Thousands of university students and school pupils took to the streets to protest. They were angry - not just at the massive rise in fees, but also at the sheer dishonesty of the Liberal Democrats. Support for the party fell to 8 per cent, its worst showing for decades (The Observer 12 December 2010).

    The Browne review of higher education funding, Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education, which had been commissioned by the Labour government, was published in October 2010. Its proposals, including a Student Finance Plan with the government meeting upfront costs, were largely ignored.

    The Department for Business Innovation and Skills published its white paper Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System in June 2011. Peter Scott, of the IoE, commented: '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'. He concluded: 'the real purpose of the white paper is to cut higher education's coat to the Treasury's tight cloth' (The Guardian 4 July 2011).

    2011-12 Acceleration

    The schools


    As 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:

    • sixteen schools had been unable to convert to academy status because banks questioned whether local authorities would still be liable for PFI repayments (The Guardian 16 September 2011);
    • many academies were facing bills of up to 800,000 for support-staff pensions. The DfE said it had not yet worked out how to resolve the problem (TES 21 October 2011);
    • in Salford, Oasis Academy MediaCityUK descended into chaos after fourteen members of staff were made redundant (TES 25 November 2011);
    • the United Church Schools Trust, several of whose schools had been judged inadequate, advertised for a public relations company at a cost of around 1m over five years (TES 28 October 2011);
    • Cameron pleaded with private schools to sponsor academies but little interest was shown (TES 14 October, 9 December 2011, 23 March 2012);
    • many academies had their budgets 'adjusted' by the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA), the body responsible for their funding. The DfE admitted that the system was 'not perfect' (TES 16 December 2011);
    • governors of some of England's 200 'underperforming' primary schools explored legal challenges to Gove's right to force conversion on them;
    • at Downhills Primary School in Haringey parents voted overwhelmingly against academy status but the DfE sacked the governors and gave the school to the Harris Federation (TES 13 January, 10 February, 23 March 2012; The Guardian 17 January, 10, 11 February, 9 April, 22 May 2012);
    • figures published by the DfE showed that academies were performing less well than maintained schools. In 2011, 60 per cent of pupils in maintained schools attained five A* to C grade GCSEs but only 47 per cent did so in the 249 academies (The Guardian 26 January, 25 February 2012);
    • Islington Green had been the most improved school in London. Now, as an academy, its results were worse and the principal resigned (TES 16 March 2012);
    • Birkdale Academy in Southport had been 'good with outstanding features' before it became an academy. Now, it was placed in special measures (The Guardian 10 April 2012);
    • in 2011-12 academies and free schools were paid more than 26 million for 4,700 sixth-form students who were never enrolled (TES 6 April 2012);
    • Durand Academy in Stockwell paid a public relations firm more than 152,000, partly to ensure positive mentions in parliament and the press (The Guardian 19 April 2012);
    • police investigated allegations that Richard Gilliland, chief executive of a Lincolnshire academy chain, had used his official credit card to pay for, among other things, sex games and the refurbishment of a flat (The Guardian 27 April 2012);
    • 128 academies faced having to repay an average of 118,000 because of another government funding blunder (TES 4 May 2012);
    • school meals campaigner Jamie Oliver attacked Gove for allowing academies to ignore national standards, lower nutrition levels in school meals and profit from junk food vending machines (The Observer 22 April 2012; The Guardian 27 April, 14 May 2012);
    • some academies faced deficits of up to 500,000 (The Guardian 4 June 2012);
    • Sheffield Springs academy lost 25 teaching staff and three principals in a year (The Guardian 2 July 2012); and
    • Kingsdale school in south London, which David Cameron had praised as 'brilliant', lost more than 40 teachers during the year and faced investigation for alleged cheating in GCSEs (The Guardian 2 July 2012).
    Undaunted, Gove announced that his next target for academisation would be 'underperforming' pupil referral units, 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. They included three Christian, two Jewish, one Hindu and one Sikh school, plus the Maharishi School in Lancashire, a private school which converted to free school status to teach children meditation (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).

    There was widespread concern that free schools were being opened in areas which already had surplus places. Critics pointed out that the DfE had earmarked half its 1.2bn school building budget to free school vanity projects, 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 NUT leader Christine Blower told the union's annual conference in Torquay that

    • the government had spent 337.2m on academies and free schools since May 2010;
    • 2.6m had been paid to 27 free school groups between November 2010 and February 2012;
    • five former private schools which had become free schools had received 4.26m; and
    • 19 free schools which opened in September 2011 shared a total of 5m for their 1,664 pupils (The Guardian 9, 10 April 2012).
    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.

    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 extremists were keen to get in on the free schools act. 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'. The church vowed to try again in 2013 (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 Gove. 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).

    School buildings

    Gove's Priority School Building Programme, which replaced Labour's much more ambitious Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, ran into trouble and by March 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 forty 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).

    When Gove scrapped BSF in July 2010, he told the Commons that the 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. 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).

    Other budget cuts

    More budget cuts were announced:

    • school buses and concessionary fares were cut across the country (The Guardian 5 September 2011);
    • the Every Child a Reader and Numbers Count projects were cut by a third, local authority music services faced major cuts, Creative Partnerships was closed, and funding for Booktrust schemes was halved (The Guardian 12 September 2011);
    • ministers had promised that funding for Sure Start was guaranteed, but 124 of the centres had closed in the coalition's first year (The Guardian 14 November 2011) and they now made it part of an Early Intervention Grant (EIG) whose overall funding was cut 11 per cent in 2011 (The Guardian 12 September 2011);
    • the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that the government's proposed national funding formula would result in urban schools facing cuts of more than ten per cent (TES 18 November 2011);
    • a quarter of local authorities had reduced the number of staff employed to support 'gifted and talented' children, and a third now had no such staff at all (TES 9 December 2011); and
    • thousands of school careers advisers were laid off and many others had their hours cut; heads cut back on music, art and sports spending - in some cases by 80 per cent; grants for sixth formers to receive help with university and college choices were cut by up to three quarters; many after-school clubs and holiday play schemes closed; and school buildings' repair budgets faced huge cuts (The Guardian 26 December 2011).
    Meanwhile, at a meeting organised by the Ark academy chain, Gove told head teachers and local authorities to stop 'whingeing' about diminishing budgets (The Guardian 31 October 2011).

    The Education Act 2011

    Gove had hoped to remove the duty on schools 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 schools from what he regarded as 'bureaucratic burdens', but the move was defeated in the House of Lords (TES 28 October 2011).

    The Education Act 2011 received the Royal Assent on 15 November. Based on the white paper The Importance of Teaching (see above), it was a wide-ranging Act which abolished:

    • the General Teaching Council;
    • 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.
    It made other provisions relating to:
    • early years;
    • discipline (powers to search students, exclusion etc);
    • the school workforce (prohibition orders, induction period etc);
    • qualifications and the curriculum (Ofqual's objectives etc);
    • careers advice;
    • school profiles, admissions, meals, governing bodies, inspection exemptions, academies;
    • apprenticeships and training;
    • direct payments for special needs provision; and
    • student loans and fees.

    Christine Gilbert resigned as head of Ofsted in June 2011 and was replaced by Michael Wilshaw (pictured).

    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 when not enough lessons were 'good', 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' when he 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).

    Other school matters

    More than 3,000 breakfast clubs closed in 2011, and the Children's Society warned that more than half of all children living in poverty - 1.2 million - 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).

    During the consultation on the new School Admissions Code, Gibb told the Commons that 'anyone, absolutely anyone' would be allowed to object to the adjudicator about school admissions arrangements. But the new School Admissions Code, published on 1 February 2012, stripped parents of the right to object to the expansion of grammar schools. Within weeks, Kent County Council announced that Sevenoaks would get a grammar school annexe (The Guardian 31 March 2012).

    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).

    Curriculum and qualifications

    National Curriculum Review

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

    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.

    His proposed curriculum reforms - which appeared to be based on the 'cultural literacy' ideas of American educationist ED Hirsch - were attacked by three of the four members of the advisory panel. Andrew Pollard said the proposals - which included mandatory spelling lists - were too prescriptive. He 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 also 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).


    A leaked DfE document revealed that Gove 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 AQA exam board raised the threshold for C grade GCSE passes from 54 per cent in January to 66 per cent in June. There was widespread criticism. Gove came under pressure from Labour to order an inquiry into the effect of the change; the Welsh government launched its own inquiry; Tory backbencher John Redwood described the change as 'unfair'; and John Townsley, one of Gove's favourite headteachers, 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 called on Gove to use the results row to examine whether the whole system was 'credible enough'. GCSE exams should be 'thoroughly overhauled', he said, to tackle declining standards and the slump in England's ranking in global education league tables (The Guardian 2 September 2012).

    Gove denied putting pressure on exam boards and blamed the problems on the exam 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' (The Guardian 3 September 2012).

    Ofqual published its report on the fiasco 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).

    The CESC's report on The administration of examinations for 15-19 year olds in England (3 July) recommended that exam boards should no longer be able to set their own syllabuses, which had led to competition and resulted in 'grade inflation'. Instead, there should be a single syllabus for each subject, accredited by Ofqual (The Guardian 3 July 2012).

    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. 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, 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 were introduced in the early 1950s. The new syllabuses would be taught from 2014, with students sitting the exams two years later. Universities, heads and examiners expressed concern over the plans (The Guardian 2, 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).

    Other curriculum matters

    The government's refusal, in its remit for the review of PSHE, to make sex education compulsory for all primary pupils was condemned by many (TES 16 September 2011).

    The Welsh government had abolished school league tables in 2001. Following poor results in the 2009 Pisa tests, education minister Leighton Andrews launched an action plan to improve standards including 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, the NASUWT's organiser 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 Labour's proposals for more language teaching in primary schools as soon as it came to power, the coalition government now decided such teaching was a good thing after all. In a letter to 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 D&T in schools was under threat from the English Baccalaureate and from its absence from the list of GCSE subjects used to compile league tables. The Association said it feared D&T might become an optional part of the National Curriculum in the government's review (TES 28 October 2011).

    Thousands of vocational qualifications were removed from school league tables. Only 70 would now 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).

    A month later Teather 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).

    In March the government published its Statutory Framework for the EYFS, based largely on Tickell's recommendations. Some practitioners warned that the slimming down had gone too far (TES 30 March 2012).

    The government's obsession with phonics continued unabated. Schools were criticised for not buying more phonics schemes from a government-approved catalogue, and Gove announced that teacher trainers who failed to embrace phonics enthusiastically would be punished (TES 3 February, 16 March 2012).

    Just a month before the 2012 Olympics were due to begin in London, Cameron complained that 'in so many schools sport has been squeezed out and facilities run down'. Which was a bit rich, since it was his government that had cut School Sport Partnerships and allowed the sale of more than twenty school playing fields (The Observer 8 July 2012, The Guardian 18 July 2012).



    Gove attended the annual ASCL conference in March, 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. Gove was unrepentant and defiantly 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 Lord Hill announced that the DfE had conceded that a list of those with qualified teacher status (QTS) was necessary. The new system, which would be more limited than the existing register, would be maintained by the new Teaching Agency, due to replace the GTC, and the Training and Development Agency for Schools from April 2012 (TES 28 October 2011).

    Pay and conditions

    The strike on 30 June 2011 had closed thousands of schools but the government made no concessions. Indeed, in October it was revealed that there were plans for even more draconian measures, with better-paid teachers having to make greater pension contributions than previously estimated. On top of this, teachers' pay was frozen for two years (TES 14 October 2011).

    It was hardly surprising, then, that members of the NAHT voted overwhelmingly for strike action - for the first time 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).

    Gove warned that there was no more money to fund an improved pension deal but claimed 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, Osborne added fuel to the flames by announcing that when the teachers' pay freeze came to an end there would be a one per cent cap on future rises. So 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 (1 May), the CESC advocated performance-related pay.

    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).


    Gove's policy of having teachers trained in schools, rather than in universities and colleges, benefited from the huge rise in tuition fees. With a one-year PGCE course now costing students 9,000, many more were opting for the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), on which they could earn more than 20,000. There were already more than 21,000 applicants for just 4,400 GTP places for the coming year, while primary PGCE courses had attracted 14.8 per cent fewer candidates than in 2011. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (replaced in April by the Teaching Agency) declared that more than 300 PGCE courses were 'potentially unviable' and should be closed. But in May the DfE performed a minor U-turn and 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 a further attempt to marginalise the unions and the training colleges, Gove announced that, like private schools and free schools, academies would now be allowed to employ people with no formal teaching qualifications. 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 found that 89 per cent wanted their children taught by qualified teachers, with just one per cent happy to have them taught by unqualified staff (The Guardian 27 July 2012).


    Gove published new rules on the dismissal of teachers. 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. 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' (TES 2 March 2012).

    Higher education

    Vince Cable's decision to appoint Les Ebdon as director of the Office for Fair Access 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. Tory MPs had tried to veto the appointment and 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 it was told the schools would have to be academies or free schools over which it would have no control. Chairman of Coventry's planning committee Kevin Maton 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? (The Guardian 16 October 2012)

    The National Audit Office (NAO) report Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme (20 November) said there had been an overspend of 1bn on academies in the previous two years, with a further 767m extra predicted by April 2013; and it noted that Ofsted had rated almost half of sponsored academies as inadequate or satisfactory - the latter now defined as 'requiring improvement' (The Guardian 26 November 2012).

    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).

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

    NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby 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 large amounts 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:
    • the DfE announced that Roke primary school in Croydon was to be taken over by the Harris Federation. Parents voted by clear majorities against the change to academy status and against Harris's sponsorship, and were furious when Harris advertised for a new head before the consultation had finished (The Guardian 14 January, 22 April, 20 May 2013);
    • the only two Harris Federation primary schools which had had inspection reports published - Peckham Park in south London and Chafford Hundred in Essex - had both received 'requires improvement' judgements (The Guardian 25 March 2013);
    • Kingsdale school, the Southwark academy which Cameron had described as 'brilliant', suffered a significant drop in GCSE results in 2012 (The Guardian 11 March 2013);
    • in May 2013 it was revealed that the Aurora Academies Trust was paying its US parent company 100,000 a year to use its patented 'Paragon' curriculum (The Observer 18 May 2013);
    • the DfE ruled that academy trusts could move pupils to other schools in their chains without consulting parents (The Guardian 20 May 2013);
    • the Harris chain asked families at Camden junior school in Surrey to choose their child's uniform before consulting them on whether the school should become an academy (The Guardian 15 July 2013); and
    • the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), which had been criticised for poor management of its schools, had paid nearly 500,000 of tax-payers' money into the private business interests of its trustees and executives over a period of three years (The Observer 20 July 2013).
    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 still had no premises and were hoping to open in disused offices, a job centre, a business park and a shopping centre. The DfE began to apply 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 Guardian and the Association of Colleges, a tribunal ruled that 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, and in February Gove reluctantly released details of 517 applications made for the first three waves of free schools. He claimed 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).

    Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said DfE figures showed that ten per cent of free school teachers 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).

    He also declared that under Labour all schools would be given the freedoms previously enjoyed only by academies and free schools: opting out of the National Curriculum, more financial control and varying the length of their working day. A Labour government would also end the building of free schools and reassert local oversight of academies. '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', he said (The Guardian 17 June 2013).

    The NUT pointed out that of the 145 free schools opened or due to open during 2013, 29 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 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, 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).

    Ofsted rated Discovery Free School, in Crawley, West Sussex, one of the first free schools to open, as inadequate. It was placed in special measures (The Guardian 19 June 2013).

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

    Apparently blind to the problems, 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

    The TUC wrote to Gove expressing alarm that a homophobic booklet by an American preacher had been distributed in Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire. The TUC asked Gove to extend to the school curriculum the provisions of the 2010 Equality Act, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Gove refused (The Guardian 18 February 2012).

    The government's bias in favour of faith schools was highlighted in April by the BHA. 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).
    Gove announced that thousands of non-religious community schools would be taken over by the Church of England. He promised that the character of community schools would remain intact, with no change in religious education, admissions policies or employment terms for teachers, but the National Secular Society expressed grave doubts that the promise would be kept for very long (NSS Newsline 4 July 2013).

    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 get funding for free schools were using public funding 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 also 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 fifteen 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 of its own money to cover 27 schools, and hoped that June's spending round 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, 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).

    The NAO's report Capital funding for new school places (15 March) warned that there would be a shortfall of 256,000 school places in England and Wales by 2014.

    Facing a looming shortage of 120,000 primary school places, Gove scrapped the right, introduced by Labour in 2009, for four year olds to be given a full-time place in school (The Observer 14 July 2013).

    School meals

    The School Food Trust had been set up as a quango to monitor the quality of meals served in schools following Jamie Oliver's 2005 TV series about the poor standard of food served in many 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). Gove supported the proposal for free meals for all primary pupils, but DfE sources suggested that, at 900m a year, the policy could not be implemented until 2016 at the earliest (The Guardian 12 July 2013).

    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

    There was widespread criticism of Gove's proposed National Curriculum.

    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' (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 (sic) was published in July 2013. It included many changes from the initial draft proposals: schools would have more choice over which languages they could teach, 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 schools in England. Academies and free schools could choose to ignore it, while independent schools had never been required to teach the National Curriculum.

    Concerns were expressed about the timetable for its implementation. Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the 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 (The Guardian 8 July 2013).
    From GCSE to EBacc - and back

    As the new school year got under way, Gove announced his intention to phase out GCSEs and replace them with an English Baccalaureate (EBacc) with the emphasis on traditional end-of-year exams in English, maths, science, history, geography and languages. He told MPs:

    Critical to reform is ending an exam system that has narrowed the curriculum, forced idealistic professionals to teach to the test and encouraged heads to offer children the softest possible options. It is time for the race to the bottom to end. It is time to tackle grade inflation and dumbing down. It is time to raise aspirations and restore rigour to our examinations (The Guardian 17 September 2012).
    Some wondered whether there was a connection between the summer's marking fiasco and Gove's EBacc proposals. Ben Morse, for example, 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 (The Guardian 17 September 2012).
    There were many other concerns.

    Former Tory education secretary 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 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 (31 January 2013) the CESC warned that the government risked destabilising the entire school exam system by rushing through its plans, and challenged almost every justification Gove had given for phasing out GCSEs in favour of the new qualification. It was particularly concerned that the change could disadvantage less academic pupils (The Guardian 31 January 2013).

    A week later, amid rumours that Downing Street had intervened, 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, confusingly also called the English Baccalaureate (The Guardian 7 February 2013).

    A Level

    Having proposed replacing GCSEs with the EBacc, Gove then moved on to A Levels. In October it was revealed that he was proposing to make them more like 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 he published a new form of A Level league table which detailed the number of sixth-formers achieving AAB in three 'facilitating subjects'. These were the same as those in the English Baccalaureate: English, maths, sciences, modern foreign languages, history and geography. No other A Levels counted (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 exam boards (The Guardian 22 March 2013).

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

    Other curriculum matters

    In August 2012 Gove suspended the National Curriculum for ICT, describing it as 'demotivating and dull'. The DfE said a new ICT curriculum would be published in September 2014, but it did not advise teachers what to teach until then (The Guardian 20 August 2012). In October 2012 Gove said ICT training courses would be axed: instead, graduates would be offered scholarships to train as computer-science teachers (The Guardian 19 October 2012).

    The White Paper Reform of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs was published in September 2012. Its recommendations would form the basis of Part 3 of the 2014 Children and Families Act (see below).

    Having already stripped most GCSE-equivalent vocational courses from school league tables, Gove now removed thousands of courses offered to 16-18 year olds, in line with the recommendations of Alison Wolf published in 2011 (The Guardian 7 March 2013).

    Gove's school sports initiative, replacing the School Sport Partnerships he had scrapped in 2010, was criticised for its emphasis on competitive team sports. A committee of MPs warned that it risked becoming little more than a 'gimmick' that would fail to deliver a legacy from the London Olympics (The Guardian 22 July 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 (DfE 11 February 2013); more than half of school literacy coordinators believed the government's new phonics test for five and six year olds was pointless (The Guardian 21 May 2013); and Clegg announced a consultation on whether to introduce a 'baseline' test for five year olds starting school (The Guardian 17 July 2013).


    Pay and conditions, morale

    Members of the NASUWT continued to take industrial action over jobs, pay, pensions and workload, and NUT members voted to take similar action from 1 October (The Guardian 26 September 2012).

    In December 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 - even in academies and free schools only 13 per cent of teachers approved of the government's education policies (The Guardian 2 January 2013).

    Gove announced that performance-related pay for teachers in England and Wales would be introduced from September 2013 (The Guardian 15 January 2013). The two biggest teaching unions, 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 ATL annual conference, delegates overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in Gove and 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 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 six 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, NAHT delegates passed a vote of no confidence in the government's education policies, raising concerns about the new National Curriculum, major test and exam reforms, and schools being forced to become academies (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 School Direct 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 (The Guardian 8 July 2013).
    His words were prophetic. A fortnight later Bath University announced that it was proposing to close its 'outstanding' 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 fell well below the government's targets (The Guardian 6 September 2013).

    Higher education

    Alan Milburn, the government's adviser on child poverty and social mobility, called for the reintroduction of some form of 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), 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 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

    There was confusion over the fate of Sure Start centres. Labour claimed that 400 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 Cameron, asking him to intervene to stop a proposal they said would lead to 'disproportionate cuts' in preventative social programmes (The Guardian 24 October 2012).


    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 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 Clegg objecting to Gove's proposal to cut funding for further 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


    As the new school year began, there was no let-up in the problems and hostility surrounding academies:

    • Ravens Wood Academy in Bromley faced allegations that pupils' performance in a BTec course had been falsified (The Observer 14 September 2013);
    • parents' objections to academisation were ignored at King's Stanley Primary School in Gloucestershire (The Guardian 16 September 2013);
    • parents at Snaresbrook Primary School in South Woodford protested as DfE brokers arrived. 2,000 signed a petition and the school received a last-minute reprieve (The Guardian 23 September, 28 October, 4 November 2013);
    • a second head teacher in Lord Nash's Future Schools group - Susan Rankin-Reid, acting head of Churchill Gardens Academy in central London - agreed to resign her post. Parents accused Nash's charity of forcing her out (The Guardian 18 October 2013)
    • the governors of Cavell Primary School in Norwich were sacked after criticising the county council for seeking to impose academy status on the school. Parents raised a 1,000-signature petition against academisation (The Guardian 4, 18 November 2013);
    • Barnfield College Academy near Luton was warned by the DfE about its 'unacceptably low standards of performance' (The Guardian 15 November 2013);
    • Camden Junior School in south London opened as Harris Junior Academy Carshalton despite opposition from 98 per cent of parents (The Guardian 9 September 2013);
    • South Leeds Academy advertised for a maths teacher with 'a minimum four GCSEs (A*-C) including English and maths or equivalent' (The Guardian 22 November 2013);
    • Gove ordered that Warren Comprehensive School in Chadwell Heath should be academised despite 85 per cent of parents voting against the change (BBC News 16 January, 18 May, 10 July 2014);
    • Nottingham University Samworth Academy was told to raise 'unacceptably low' standards or face further action (BBC News 20 February 2014);
    • E-Act lost control of ten of its 34 schools after Ofsted classified five as failing and six as requiring improvement (BBC News 25 February 2014);
    • Oldfield School Academy in Bath, previously rated as outstanding, was put in special measures (BBC News 15 April 2014);
    • data from Ofsted showed that in 2012-13 24 per cent of academies and 18 per cent of other schools saw their inspection judgements lowered, while more non-academies than academies improved (The Guardian 7 October 2013);
    • Melvyn Roffe, head of Wymondham College, said he regretted his school becoming an academy (BBC News 2 June 2014); and
    • The Observer reported that three academies in Norfolk had had advance warning of inspections. Ofsted investigated (BBC News 20 August 2014).
    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:
    • two private schools having their debts paid off before becoming academies;
    • a police investigation into the Lincoln Priory Federation leading to a file being handed to the Crown Prosecution Service;
    • the EFA concluding that the Education Fellowship Trust operated some 'highly unusual financial practices';
    • the financial controls by Barnfield Education Trust being investigated by the Further Education commission, the DfE and the EFA; and
    • the Public Accounts Committee reporting that the financial management in some free schools was inadequate (Eades 2014:423).
    Meanwhile, civil servants at the DfE suggested abandoning attempts to force schools to become academies because doing so was very expensive. 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:

    • Annaliese Briggs was appointed principal of Pimlico primary free school despite having no teaching qualifications. A month after the school opened she resigned saying she couldn't cope with the workload (The Guardian 9 October 2013);
    • another unqualified head, Lindsey Snowdon, resigned from the Discovery Free School in Crawley after a stinging Ofsted report (The Observer 19 October 2013). The school was later closed (BBC News 19 December 2013);
    • Ofsted reported that the al-Madinah Islamic free school in Derby was in chaos, that female teachers were required to wear Islamic dress and that pupils were segregated, with girls sitting at the back of the classroom (The Guardian 15, 17 October, 22 November 2013). It was later banned from teaching secondary pupils (BBC News 7 February 2014);
    • the EFA reported financial mismanagement at Kings Science Academy in Bradford, one of the first free schools to open. 26,000 in multiple claims and 10,000 in fabricated rent invoices were included among nearly 60,000 of spending not supported by evidence (The Guardian 25 October 2013);
    • Ingleby Manor Free School in Stockton and Durham Free School were both undersubscribed (BBC News 26 June 2014); and
    • Anand Primary free school in Wolverhampton received 220,000 in government funding for just 20 pupils (BBC News 24 January 2014);
    Meanwhile, the NAO's report
    Establishing Free Schools (11 December 2013) said the 174 free schools opened in England between September 2011 and 2013 had cost 1.5bn - more than three times the original Treasury grant of 450m. The shortfall had been made up with extra Treasury funds and money from other DfE building projects.

    And a confidential document prepared for academies minister 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 the warnings, Gove nonetheless approved cutbacks in the checking of free school proposals (The Guardian 23 October 2013) and the DfE announced it had approved 38 more (BBC News 19 June 2014).

    Faith schools

    Following an inspection in May 2014, Ofsted rated Olive Tree Primary, an independent Muslim school in Luton, as inadequate, and said the school's library contained books which suggested stoning and lashing as appropriate punishments and promoted fundamentalist views which had 'no place in British society'. The inspection had been abandoned when parents complained 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

    LGA chairman David Simmonds 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 a further 2.35bn to create more places in England - in addition to the 5bn already committed (BBC News 18 December 2013), but as the pressure continued to rise, Liberal Democrats rounded on Gove for pouring money into his pet free schools policy (BBC News 11 May 2014).

    School meals

    At the Liberal Democrat annual conference in September 2013 Clegg announced free lunches for all infants in England. 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 school food in state schools, to apply from January 2015. Based on The School Food Plan (see above), the regulations included:

    • one or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day;
    • at least three different fruits and three different vegetables each week;
    • an emphasis on wholegrain foods in place of refined carbohydrates;
    • an emphasis on making water the drink of choice;
    • limiting fruit juice portions to quarter pints (150ml);
    • restricting the amount of added sugars or honey in other drinks to five per cent;
    • no more than two portions a week of deep-fried, batter-coated or breadcrumb-coated food;
    • no more than two portions a week of food based on pastry;
    • a portion of milk (lower fat and lactose reduced) to be made available once a day.
    The regulations would be voluntary for schools that became academies between 2010 and 2014. NUT general secretary Christine Blower said it was a 'missed opportunity' because it would not be mandatory for all schools. '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).


    Gove introduced new guidelines on behaviour in schools. Teachers should dispense 'tough but proportionate' punishments, he said, which might include weeding school grounds and tidying classrooms. Unions said many of the deterrents were already used and teachers did not need 'one-size-fits-all advice' from the DfE (BBC News 2 February 2014).

    During June 2014 both Gove and 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 continuing criticism of the new curriculum, primary school tests and 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, said successive governments had 'emasculated state schools with targets and league tables' (The Guardian 3 October 2013).

    Gove's answer was even more testing - he said he hoped to introduce formal assessments for four and five year olds (BBC News 2 February 2014).

    Special needs

    The wide-ranging Children and Families Act 2014 replaced the previous statementing procedure for SEN pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCs) (Section 37). It also included provisions relating to:

    • adoption;
    • family justice;
    • childcare;
    • welfare of children; and
    • the Children's Commissioner.
    The Act received the Royal Assent on 13 March 2014.

    Early years

    In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, 127 teachers, writers and academics including Lord Layard, director of the wellbeing 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 wellbeing. 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).


    As proposed by Alison Wolf in her 2011 review of vocational education, from September 2013 16 year olds were required to get 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).

    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 new A Level exams in mathematics would not be ready until 2016, while many new GCSEs would not be prepared in time to meet Gove's target for them to be taught in 2015 (The Guardian 6 September 2013).

    Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws told the Commons that, from 2016, pupils' progress would be measured across eight subjects, with their attainment at age 16 benchmarked against what they were forecast to achieve when they left primary school at 11 (The Guardian 14 October 2013).

    In a written statement to parliament, Gove outlined new GCSE syllabuses to come into force in September 2015:

    • Maths would include a section on ratio, proportion and rates of change, as well as vectors and conditional probability. Students would have to learn key formulae, such as the quadratic formula, sine and cosine rules.
    • English literature would include the study of at least one Shakespeare play, at least one 19th century novel, a selection of poetry written since 1789, and British fiction or drama from 1914 onwards. The revised exam would require the analysis of unseen texts, which the DfE said would reward students who had read widely.
    • In English language the proportion of marks awarded for accurate use of spelling, punctuation and grammar would be increased from 12 to 20 per cent.
    Ofqual gave details of the new GCSE examinations in maths and English to be set from 2017. 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. Ofqual also confirmed that 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 Gove's call for more British works to be studied, the exam board OCR dropped a number of US literary classics - including Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - from its draft GCSE English Literature syllabus. In response to protests, Gove denied 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

    Gove's plans for almost entirely exams-based A Levels suffered a setback when Ofqual recommended that coursework should count for up to 20 per cent of marks in English literature, English language, history, geography and computer science (The Guardian 25 October 2013).

    In April 2014 Gove announced new 'tougher' GCSE and A Level exams with a stronger emphasis on maths skills and 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'. Ofqual's decision to mark practicals separately in physics, chemistry and biology was criticised by science organisations (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 left 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 Tories to head public bodies. Gove denied that he had dismissed her (BBC News 1 February 2014).

    In its report Watching the Watchmen, the Policy Exchange think-tank said that many Ofsted inspectors did not have the skills needed to make fair judgements of schools. It recommended that Ofsted should abolish or radically reduce the number of inspectors it used from private firms and that inspectors 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 ASCL in Birmingham, 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 NUT and NASUWT confirmed that strikes would go ahead unless 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.

    As the teachers' conference season got under way, a Guardian/ICM poll 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 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 a smokescreen for taking more teacher-training places away from higher education (BBC News 1 May 2014).

    The Blunkett Review

    In April 2014 Labour published David Blunkett's Review of education structures, functions and the raising of standards for all. The Review 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 local 'Directors of School Standards' to monitor schools.

    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, argued that the Blunkett review was a missed opportunity. While it recognised that there was now a 'chaotic and unsatisfactory situation in the English education system', its response was 'ambiguous and self-contradictory'. It 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

    There was now growing concern about child poverty.

    Out of 24 nations, the OECD ranked English young adults 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy, and suggested that the situation had worsened over four decades. It 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 (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
    • to introduce an Early Years Premium, extending the Pupil Premium into early years education;
    • to make participation in 'extra'-curricular activities a formal aspect of teachers' contracts of employment; and
    • to create a respected, official 'School Leaving Certificate' that reflected a child's achievement across a broad range of activities rather than just exam outcomes (APPGSM 2014:8).
    In its report Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children, (18 June 2014), the 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 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, sex education banned, and in one case 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 an assembly (BBC News 28 April 2014).

    In a letter to the head of every school and college in England, Gove urged schools to be aware of signs of radicalisation, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation among students and 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).

    Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt wrote to 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. 'The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements', she wrote. '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?' 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).

    Michael Wilshaw took personal charge of Ofsted's investigation into the affair. He announced its findings in June. Head teachers, he said, had been 'marginalised or forced out of their jobs' and there was evidence of an 'organised campaign to target certain schools'. 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.

    Among Ofsted's concerns were:

    • an organised campaign to alter the 'character and ethos' of schools;
    • the breakdown of trust between governors and staff, with teachers 'bullied' and 'intimidated' and fearing loss of their jobs;
    • female staff complaining of unfair treatment;
    • family members being appointed to unadvertised senior leadership posts;
    • the phrase 'white prostitute' being used in class assemblies;
    • private investigators being hired to check staff emails;
    • a teacher who was so afraid that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket car park;
    • governors exerting far more influence than was 'appropriate or acceptable';
    • the curriculum being narrowed to reflect the 'personal views of a few governors'; and
    • an exclusively Muslim culture in non-faith schools, where children were not being encouraged to 'develop tolerant attitudes towards other faiths'.

    Ofsted recommended:

    • mandatory training for governors;
    • a review of the monitoring of the governance of free schools and academies;
    • a review of whistle-blowing procedures;
    • changes to funding agreements for academies and free schools; and
    • an end to free schools' and academies' exemption from the national curriculum (BBC News 10 June 2014).
    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).

    Gove ignored the criticisms 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 and Richard Hatcher disagreed:

    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 in chaos.

    Morgan replaces Gove

    As the Trojan Horse affair reached its climax, Gove lost his job as education secretary. He was replaced by Nicky Morgan (pictured).

    Morgan's rise had been swift. 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 in 2010, she had been appointed economic secretary to the Treasury in October 2013, and had been given the right to attend cabinet 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.
    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).

    In July 2014 Morgan announced that the new chair of Ofsted would be David Hoare, who had worked at the struggling AET academies chain. He replaced Labour peer Sally Morgan, and the NUT said his appointment was 'a politicisation of school inspection' (BBC News 31 July 2014).

    2014-15 New face - same old policies

    The schools


    Gove had gone but his academies continued to cause problems:

    • Ofsted accused AET of 'low expectations' with schools 'left to flounder' (BBC News 1 September 2014), and The Observer revealed that AET was seeking to outsource all non-teaching posts to a profit-making organisation (The Observer 20 September 2014);
    • DfE figures showed that academic standards were increasing at a slower rate in schools which had become academies under Gove's new rules than in schools which had changed their status under the previous Labour government (The Guardian 6 September 2014);
    • a report by the IoE for the CESC highlighted flaws in the system for dealing with potential conflicts of interest and the inability of the system to pick up on 'intangible conflicts that do not involve money', like those that emerged in the case of the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham. It noted that
      • one academy head had spent 50,000 on a one-day training course run by a friend;
      • a chair of governors had told staff that if they discussed abortion or contraception with pupils they would be dismissed;
      • the Grace Academy Trust, which ran three schools in the midlands, had paid more than 1m to or via companies owned or controlled by its founder Robert (Lord) Edmiston or members of the board of trustees and their relatives (The Guardian 17 September 2014);
    • Ofsted inspectors revisited the five Trojan Horse schools which had been placed in special measures and reported continuing concerns (BBC News 14 October 2014);
    • Morgan turned down Wilshaw's request that Ofsted should inspect academy chains (BBC News 22 October 2014);
    • Hanson Academy in Bradford sent more than 200 pupils home because they were not wearing the correct school uniform (The Guardian 5 November 2014);
    • Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney introduced selection according to students' aptitude for rowing (The Guardian 24 November 2014);
    • Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws argued that councils should be given back their powers to intervene in struggling academies (The Guardian 26 November 2014);
    • Wilshaw said struggling schools were no better off in academy chains than under local authority control (The Guardian 10 December 2014);
    • Ofsted said primary schools were flourishing but progress in secondaries - most of which were now academies - had 'plateaued' and was in danger of going into reverse (The Guardian 10 December 2014);
    • DfE figures showed that in March 2014 the 4,400 academies had cash reserves of 2.47bn - more than all the remaining 18,700 local authority schools (The Guardian 18 January 2015);
    • the NAO said the multibillion-pound academies programme had thrown the DfE's finances into disarray (The Guardian 21 January 2015);
    • the E-Act academy chain, which had hoped to open 200 academies and 50 free schools, now had just 24 schools and said it had no plans for expansion (The Guardian 3 February 2015);
    • Ofsted cleared three Norfolk academies of having advance knowledge of inspection dates, but the ATL claimed that vital evidence had been missing from the inquiry (The Observer 7 February 2015);
    • Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, was paid 375,611 in 2013-14, a 13 per cent increase on the previous year and more than any council chief executive earned, despite the fact that the Harris chain ran only 28 academies and eight free schools (The Guardian 10 February 2015);
    • the government tried to force the transfer of the Hewitt School in Norwich to the Inspiration Trust, an academy chain headed by Theodore Agnew, close associate of academies minister Lord Nash. Norfolk County Council sought a judicial review and 800 people signed a petition against academy status (The Guardian 10 March 2015);
    • the academy trust Aspirations Unlimited International paid a US company founded by its chairman Russ Quaglia 125,000 for 'intellectual property and materials plus consultancy support' (The Guardian 14 April 2015); and
    • parents and teachers were denied a ballot on whether three schools in south London should become academies (The Guardian 12 May 2015).
    On top of all these problems, there were concerns about alleged irregularities and potential conflicts of interest at the Durand Academy in south London. The NAO's
    Investigation into the Education Funding Agency's oversight of related party transactions at Durand Academy (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. Fifty-four cases, involving 8.6m, were assessed by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) as 'posing a risk to value for money' (NAO 2014:19). Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge said the EFA, responsible for funding and monitoring academies, needed to get a grip of these 'dubious' relationships (The Guardian 13 November 2014).

    Three months later, the EFA served a financial notice warning on the Durand Academy Trust, previously praised by Gove. In January, the Public Accounts Committee had questioned Durand's head, Greg Martin, and had learned that he had earned more than 400,000, and that a dating agency in which he had had an interest had been 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 CESC's report Academies and free schools (27 January 2015) said the government's policies of encouraging schools to convert to academy status and establishing free schools had had little or no effect on raising school performance, and it was highly critical of the DfE's oversight of academies (The Guardian 25 January 2015).

    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 (17 March) which 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 2015:22).
    Free schools

    The problems with free schools continued, too:

    • a new free school in Brixton, an area which already had a surplus of 200 places in year 7, cost the taxpayer 18m and had just 17 students (The Guardian 30 September 2014);
    • Durham Christian Free School had its funding agreement terminated after being put in special measures (The Guardian 19 January 2015);
    • Grindon Hall Christian free school in Sunderland was put in special measures (The Guardian 20 January 2015); and
    • former government adviser Alan Steer said free schools were an example of politicians' interests trumping those of children (The Guardian 10 March 2015).
    Despite the problems, Morgan declared that free schools were a huge success story and Cameron promised that a Tory government would aim to open five hundred more (The Guardian 9 March 2015).

    Faith schools

    Following the Trojan Horse affair, Ofsted had made snap inspections of 40 schools, including Christian and Jewish institutions. The inspections had led to complaints, with schools claiming that they had been 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.

    In response, Morgan issued guidance to private schools, academies and free schools on the new rules introduced by 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 (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. 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 schools admissions code (The Guardian 24 March 2015). The school won a partial victory: the High Court overturned a series of rulings which claimed the school used socially selective admissions procedures to discriminate against children from less well-off families, but it lost its bid to include a family's 'Catholic service' - a points system that rewarded church flower-arranging and choir membership - as a means of 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 the ban on women drivers would be unlawful (The Guardian 5 June 2015).

    Education budget

    After Osborne refused to say whether or not he could continue to protect funding for schools, Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws warned that the Tories would cut 13.3bn a year from the education budget by 2020. (The Guardian 15 December 2014). Cameron's announcement that state school spending 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 10 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 Tories 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 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, the number of pupils in classes larger than 30 had risen from 31,000 to 101,000 (The Guardian 11 June 2015).

    The NAO 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 20 per cent increase in pupil numbers and the government freeze on pupil funding (The Guardian 22 July 2015).


    In opposition, Cameron had warned his party to drop its obsession with grammar schools but now, under pressure from rightwing 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 campus in her Maidenhead constituency (The Guardian 17 February 2015). Meanwhile, successful comprehensive schools in Gloucestershire were under threat from predatory 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 replacing existing school leaders (BBC News 10 September 2014).

    Cameron claimed that 500 schools were still 'failing' and that a future Conservative government would create a National Teaching Service, funded by central government, made up of high-quality teachers ready to be sent out to poorly performing schools. Morgan said it 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 LGA called on the government to scrap the rules on term-time holidays and to 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).

    The NAO's report Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention (30 October) criticised the government's education reforms for creating a confused array of inspection regimes and unclear systems for raising standards. It said that 1.6 million children attended a state-funded school rated less than good by Ofsted, and it questioned how the government measured the effectiveness of hundreds of millions of pounds it spent on oversight and improvement of underperforming local authority and academy schools. It calculated that the inspection systems run by Ofsted and the DfE cost 382m, yet more than half of underperforming schools did not improve after formal intervention, while nearly two thirds of schools - 59 per cent - improved without intervention (The Guardian 30 October 2014).

    Warwick Mansell noted that 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).

    For The Guardian, John Harris interviewed two lawyers about the new system for special educational needs (SEN) provision, introduced by the 2014 Children and Families Act. They said it 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 merely 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).

    Writing in the Sunday Times, Morgan announced a Tory '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. NAHT leader Russell Hobby responded: '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' (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. ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said the strong reputation of GCSEs was being eroded by constant change (The Guardian 23 September 2014).

    Following Gove's multiple changes, 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).

    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 better to get a 'good pass', which would be used to rank the performance of schools (The Guardian 16 June 2015).

    A Level

    Ofqual suddenly announced that the reformed AS and A Levels in maths and further maths would be put back a year to 2017; 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 some other subjects 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 Gove's A Levels Content Advisory Board. 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).

    Other matters


    The 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 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).

    The OECD report Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen 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 - could undermine equality and fairness (The Guardian 19 January 2015).

    Warwick Commission

    The Warwick Commission's report Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, published in February, argued that creativity, culture and the arts were being systematically removed from the education system, with dramatic falls in the number of pupils taking GCSEs in design, drama and other craft-related subjects (The Guardian 17 February 2015).

    Digital skills

    The House of Lords Digital Skills Committee's report Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future (17 February 2015) argued that the teaching of digital skills in schools was as important as lessons in numeracy and literacy and called for digital literacy to be treated as a core subject (The Guardian 17 February 2015).

    PSHE and SRE

    The CESC's report Life lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools (17 February 2015) said sex education should be compulsory in all primary and secondary schools, with sufficient curriculum time devoted to the subject and specialist training for teachers. Committee chair Graham Stuart said there was 'an overwhelming demand for statutory sex and relationship education - from teachers, parents and young people'. In 2013 Ofsted had found PSHE and SRE teaching inadequate in 40 per cent of schools. The CESC warned that the situation was worsening and it condemned ministers' attempts to address the shortcomings as weak and insufficient (The Guardian 17 February 2015).


    In its report Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19 year olds (9 March) the CESC noted that the number of young people undertaking apprenticeships had increased but still remained low. The Committee argued for better quality apprenticeships which would not be seen as a 'second class option'.


    In her first Tory 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 Gove's, critics pointed out that she had pledged to carry on all 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 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 by Gove (The Guardian 9 December 2014).

    Labour's Tristram Hunt said there were now 17,100 unqualified teachers in state-funded schools, a rise of 16 per cent over the previous year. The number in academies and free schools had risen by 50 per cent (The Guardian 29 December 2014).

    A row broke out between the coalition partners about the annual teachers' pay settlement, with Liberal Democrats accusing the Tories of refusing to accept the advice of the School Teachers Review Body (STRB). A Tory spokesperson said there was no disagreement on the issue. 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).

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

    A poll of 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).

    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 (The Guardian 23 June 2015).

    Poverty and social mobility

    With child poverty now increasing for the first time in ten years, concerns grew about its effect on educational achievement.

    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).

    But the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission continued to blame the schools. Its report, Cracking the code: how schools can improve social mobility said schools were letting down many children from poorer families. Teacher unions criticised the SMCPC's conclusions, arguing that schools could only do so much to counteract the effects of poverty and circumstance (The Guardian 6 October 2014).

    Meanwhile, the Child Poverty Action Group said the 3.5 million children already living in poverty would be joined by another 600,000 by 2016, with the total rising to 4.7 million by 2020 (The Guardian 14 October 2014).

    Research by the Sutton Trust showed 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. Wilshaw likened the existing model of partnership between independent and state schools to 'crumbs off your table' (The Guardian 25 November 2014).

    Joined-up thinking appeared to be missing from two government policies - the introduction of free school meals for all infants, and pupil premium payments to help schools teach pupils from poor backgrounds. The pupil premium was paid only in respect of pupils on free school meals, yet parents of infants eligible for free meals no longer needed to apply for them, so schools were missing out on the extra payments (The Guardian 11 January 2015).

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

    Research by Debrett's showed that more than forty per cent of the most influential people in Britain had been educated at private schools, twenty per cent at grammar schools, and just over a third at comprehensives. Debrett's chief executive Joanne Milner said:

    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 (The Guardian 25 January 2015).
    During the coalition government the CESC had focused on the importance of closing the gap between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers. The Committee summarised its work in its report Closing the gap: the work of the Education Committee in the 2010-15 Parliament (16 March).

    Subject to Background, a report for the Sutton Trust published in March 2015, found 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 wealthier counterparts.

    Another Sutton Trust report, Missing Talent, published in June 2015, showed that bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds who achieved top results at primary level achieved poorer results at GCSE than their better-off peers.

    Linda Kemeny, Surrey County Council's cabinet member for schools and education, wrote to Morgan to complain that coalition government reforms were preventing SCC from targeting funding on schools in deprived areas (The Surrey Advertiser 17 July 2015).

    2015 General election

    Education was hardly mentioned during the election campaign.

    The Conservative manifesto (three pages on education) declared that the Tories would 'turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy' (page 33); while 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' (page 38).

    To the surprise of almost everyone - including, apparently, David Cameron - the Tories won the election with a Commons majority of twelve.

    At the opening of parliament on 27 May, the Queen's Speech included just one sentence on education: 'Legislation will be brought forward to improve schools and give every child the best start in life, with new powers to take over failing and coasting schools and create more academies'.


    What conclusions can be drawn from this dismal catalogue?

    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 (page 33).

    These claims were dubious, to say the least. What can certainly be said is that the coalition attempted to change just about every aspect of education in England, including:
    • the destruction of local authorities as strategic planners and providers of education;
    • the handing over of thousands of publicly-owned schools to car salesmen, carpet manufacturers and faith groups;
    • the creation of free school enclaves for the middle classes;
    • the expansion of grammar schools;
    • a new and controversial National Curriculum;
    • changes to SATs tests, league tables, GCSEs and A Levels;
    • the abolition of thousands of vocational courses and qualifications;
    • a new system for special needs assessment and provision;
    • fewer - and more expensive - places in higher education;
    • inadequate provision of teacher training;
    • abolition of the requirement for teachers to be qualified; and
    • changes to teachers' pay and conditions - scrapping the national pay scheme, imposing performance-related pay and diminishing pensions.
    For the children, all this was set against a background of welfare cuts and rising poverty levels, exacerbated by a huge increase in levels of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems, particularly around exam times.


    Several themes can be identified during the coalition period, including the promotion of neoliberal market policies, the damage done to teaching as a profession, the imposition of an outmoded view of education (exacerbated by incompetence), the government's determination to ignore inconvenient evidence, and the concentration of power at the centre.


    The marketisation of education was ruthlessly pursued towards its logical conclusion. In future, the education market would determine who ran the schools, and if that meant profit-making companies, so be it - Gove had no objection 'in principle' to their involvement. In order to achieve full marketisation, Gove needed to destroy the locally administered national service created by the 1944 Education Act - the 'triangular' system of central government, local government and the schools - which provided checks and balances and democratic accountability. Thatcher and Blair had denigrated and weakened the local education authorities, Gove endeavoured to remove them from the picture altogether.

    The teaching profession

    Teachers were told they were real professionals doing a grand job, but Gove never missed an opportunity to dictate exactly what and how they should teach (witness the imposition of 'synthetic phonics' as the only way to teach reading), and they endured a constant barrage of demoralising criticism and denigration, along with multiple changes to their conditions of service.

    As Clyde Chitty pointed out in Forum (Spring 2011), for the coalition government, 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).

    By the end of the coalition period, teacher training was in chaos, there was a looming crisis in teacher supply, and schools were finding it difficult to appoint heads. Perhaps most seriously of all, the abolition of the requirement for teachers to be qualified effectively destroyed teaching as a profession: now, anyone could do it - with or without training.

    An outmoded view of education

    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' (The Guardian 13 April 2010). Schools minister Nick Gibb had 'an unreconstructed 1950s grammar school agenda' (The Guardian 17 May 2010), and 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' (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 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 hardly surprising that such an outmoded view of education prevailed in the coalition. The cabinet consisted largely of ex-public school millionaires who knew little of education other than Eton and Harrow. Even one of their own backbenchers called them 'arrogant posh boys' (The Guardian 23 April 2012).

    They were also incompetent - witness the countless errors and funding blunders. 'This government's blend of incompetence and ideological rigidity would be a fascinating spectacle if we were distant bystanders. The bungling and dogmatism are unrivalled in postwar Britain' (Toynbee 2012).

    In relation to the curriculum, assessment and qualifications, this 'incompetence and ideological rigidity' led to constant and incoherent change, U-turns and impossible timetables. Schools were bombarded with initiatives in almost every area, only to find them later scrapped or delayed. No wonder heads woke up in the morning and wondered what was coming next.

    Inconvenient evidence

    The Tories' claim that converting schools into academies had promoted 'discipline, rigour and higher standards' was simply not borne out by the evidence. Many academies - and academy chains - ran into problems and were severely criticised by Ofsted.

    Morgan defined 'coasting schools' - the phrase used in the Queen's speech - as those where less than 60 per cent of pupils obtained five good GCSE grades. But as NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney pointed out, 'by her own definition, very many academy schools will also be coasting' (The Guardian 30 June 2015)

    And Lee Donaghy, formerly assistant principal at Park View school in Birmingham, argued that the 'Trojan Horse' affair had put Birmingham schools in the spotlight for the wrong reason. The problems, he said, had been caused by 'the flaws in the government's academisation policy'.

    In my school, Park View, the difficulties were nothing to do with religion or extremism, as was alleged. The main problem was one of too much, too soon, when we expanded to take over nearby schools as an academy sponsor. It's this lesson the government should heed. But in Nicky Morgan's new education bill it is clear that it has been missed or ignored, with its intention to convert 1,000 failing schools into academies in this parliament (Donaghy 2015).
    Meanwhile, the free schools' policy was a shambles, with schools - at vast public expense - failing to open or opening with few pupils, using untrained teachers, being damned by Ofsted and then having their funding terminated. Given that their pupils were overwhelmingly from affluent middle-class families, the claim that free schools were 'delivering better education for the children who need it most' was absurd.

    Power to the centre

    In the early days of the coalition, Cameron talked about the importance of 'localism' and the need to create a 'big society'. Sadly, these were just public relations gimmicks. Parents were told they were to have more choice, but when they chose not to have an academy foisted on them, 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. Governors were expected to exercise great responsibility, yet when they tried to do so, they were overruled.

    But perhaps most serious of all was the coalition's destruction of local authorities. This was disastrous for three reasons:

    • first, because local government had 'a proud history' in relation to education, with some LEAs setting high standards in their 'progressive and child-centred practices' (Cunningham 2012:109);
    • second, because 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, because the coalition's determination - despite warnings even 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.


    And what of Michael Gove himself?

    He had no experience of teaching other than his own schooling and as a parent. To make matters worse, he was unwilling to accept advice from those who did have the relevant experience, knowledge and wisdom. As Michael Bassey 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).
    It is tempting to characterise him as lumbering about like a bull in a china shop, smashing everything in sight. There is certainly plenty of evidence to support this view: his political ineptitude in going out of his way to offend the very people whose cooperation he needed; his arrogance in promoting policies which were often contradictory and rarely based on evidence; his poor judgement in trying to change everything at once; his incompetence in managing what, under his leadership, became a dysfunctional department. He was, in Seumas Milne's words, 'a walking disaster-zone of chronic political incompetence', his ministerial career 'a litany of blunders and apologies' (Milne 2013).

    But was he really a vaguely amusing buffoon? Or was he a shrewd operator whose clear aim was to complete the privatisation of education begun by Thatcher and promoted by Blair? In order to do this he needed to destroy 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 other words, anyone who knew anything about education. 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 Bassey warned:

    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).
    Gove is the perfect example of what happens when too much power is concentrated at the centre.

    The new Tory government

    And now we have a Tory government, voted for by less than a quarter of the electorate. As a foretaste of what we can expect, in the first two months:

    • Morgan presented her Education and Adoption Bill 2015 to the Commons, saying it would 'sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes' obstructing the rapid conversion of local authority schools into academies;
    • Cameron, faced with an increase in child poverty for the first time in a decade, announced that the government would redefine poverty (The Guardian 23 June 2015); and
    • Osborne announced that students' maintenance grants would be replaced by loans for those starting in September 2016 (The Guardian 9 July 2015).


    Academies Commission (2013) Unleashing Greatness: getting the best from an academised system

    APPGE (2011) Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy London: All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education

    APPGSM (2014) Character and Resilience Manifesto London: All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility with CentreForum and Character Counts

    Barton S and Hatcher R (2014) 'The Consequences of the Trojan Horse Affair and a Possible Way Forward for Birmingham' Forum 56(3) 457-471

    Bassey M (2014) 'Goodbye Michael Gove' Forum 56(3) 417-420

    Benn M (2011) School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education London: Verso

    Benn M (2012) 'Why Scotland's approach to publicly funded education works' The Guardian 27 August

    Blunkett D (2014) Review of education structures, functions and the raising of standards for all: Putting students and parents first London: The Labour Party

    CESC (2011a) Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training Report of the Commons Education Select Committee London: HMSO

    CESC (2011b) The English Baccalaureate Report of the Commons Education Select Committee London: HMSO

    CESC (2014) Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children Report of the Commons Education Select Committee London: HMSO

    CESC (2015) Extremism in schools: the Trojan Horse affair Report of the Commons Education Select Committee London: HMSO

    CPAC (2013) Department for Education: Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme Report of the Commons Public Accounts Committee London: HMSO

    Chitty C (2011) 'A Massive Power Grab from Local Communities: the real significance of the 2010 White Paper and the 2011 Education Bill' Forum 53(1) 11-14

    Cunningham P (2012) Politics and the Primary Teacher Abingdon: Routledge

    DfE (2010) White Paper: The Importance of Teaching 24 November

    Dimbleby H and Vincent J (2013) The School Food Plan

    Donaghy L (2015) 'Academy over-expansion was the real Trojan horse scandal' The Guardian 16 June

    Eades J (2014) 'Free schools and academies' Forum 56(3) 421-424

    Evans R (2013) 'The headteachers who fought off the academy brokers' The Guardian 11 February

    Liberal Democrats (2009) Equity and Excellence: Policies for 5-19 education in England's schools and colleges (Policy Paper 89) London: Liberal Democrat Party

    Lichman K (2014) 'The Labour Party's Blunkett Review: a comprehensive disappointment' Forum 56(3) 445-450

    Milne S (2013) 'Michael Gove is not just a bungler, he's a destructive ideologue' The Guardian 12 February

    NAO (2014) Investigation into the Education Funding Agency's oversight of related party transactions at Durand Academy Report of the National Audit Office.

    SMCPC (2013) Social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain Report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission London: HMSO

    Toynbee P (2012) 'Clegg and Cameron's cruellest day' The Guardian 14 May

    Wiborg S (2010) 'Learning Lessons from the Swedish Model' Forum 52(3) 279-284

    Wrigley T (2015) 'Gove's Curriculum and the GERM' Forum 57(2) 197-204

    Chapter 12 | Timeline