Conservative Diary


2 Jul 2013 12:40:56

The Independent’s splash is full of holes – but that doesn’t mean that Gove is against for-profit schools

By Peter Hoskin
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MGAccording to physicists who measure such things, Michael Gove moves at hyperspeed. After three years of this Government, there are now over ten times as many academies as there were when Labour left power. Around 80 free schools have been established, with a further 90 set to open this September. And that’s before we consider the minister’s efforts to reform the exam system and to write a new curriculum.

But, on the treadmill that is the British education system, further pace is still required. Thanks to a sustained baby boom and to immigration, there’s now an impending shortage of primary school places. According to the National Audit Office, a further 240,000 places will be required by Autumn 2014. Against that sort of number, those 170 new free schools don’t sound so impressive.

So what will speed things up? One answer emerges above all others: money, lucre, spondulicks. There are plenty of players itching to get into to the free school game, if only they could make a profit from it. They’ve seen what happened in Sweden, where profit-making is allowed and led to a huge expansion in decent schooling, and want to match their supply against Britain’s demand.

Continue reading "The Independent’s splash is full of holes – but that doesn’t mean that Gove is against for-profit schools" »

13 Jun 2013 14:56:01

In praise of Vladimir Ilyich Gove

By Mark Wallace
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GoveIn the latest edition of the Spectator, Toby Young studies the revolutionary tactics and moral zeal of Michael Gove. He cites the Education Secretary's fondness for adopting the language of Communism - be it in terms of "permanent revolution" or Gramsci's long march through the institutions - but crucially sees beyond the jokey surface of such remarks.

Yes, it's amusing to see the Left struggle to deal with a Conservative who cites the slogans of beret-wearing barricade-builders. But the attention Gove pays to Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and Gramsci goes far beyond the self-mocking habit some rightists have of greeting each other as "comrade" - he means it in practice.

He appreciates an often-neglected truth: that in the face of a left-wing establishment, it is the right in Britain who have a revolutionary task to fulfil. In terms of his education brief, that has meant taking on the entrenched power of the education unions, handing power to parents rather than bureaucrats and radically reforming the school system to offer opportunity to those with the least money as well as the most. Almost everything he found on his first day will be abolished or changed by the time this Parliament comes to a close.

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22 May 2013 12:39:21

102 more free schools approved

By Harry Phibbs
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This morning sees another stage in the free schools revolution. 81 are already open. Another 109 were already approved to open, mostly due to start this September.  This morning we have news of a further 102, mostly to open next year.

When full, these free schools will have 130,000 pupils. That is getting to the sort of "critical mass" that would make it hard for the Labour Party to go into the next election with a policy of closing them or  emasculating them. The pupils don't have votes but their parents do - as well as their aunts and uncles. By the next election there will be hundreds more free schools scheduled. Many parents will be interested in the choice they offer.

Yet at the moment Labour councils, while complaining about a shortage of school places, tend to use every trick in the book to obstruct free schools.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson wrote about this in the Evening Standard yesterday:

I have seen with my own eyes how groups of parents and others are now setting up schools that have a universal admissions policy — but a distinctive ethos of achievement and ambition. I have visited schools with smartly uniformed children, and bright, clean buildings, where there is an obvious culture of discipline and respect, combined with a love of learning, sport and the arts.

The majority of these schools are being set up in areas with a severe shortage of places, and nine out of 10 Free Schools are now oversubscribed. Surely to goodness it is obvious that these schools are a good thing and that we need more of them? What is not to like?

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19 Apr 2013 12:13:07

Hard-working children deserve a summer holiday

By Andrew Gimson

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“No.” This was the instantaneous reaction of my 13-year-old son on hearing at breakfast today of Michael Gove’s proposal to cut the length of the summer holiday from school. Many adults will have the same instinctive reaction. We recall our summer holidays as a wonderful expanse of time, the end not even visible when it began, during which we could dream the idle thoughts of youth and refresh ourselves from the rigours of the school year.

Gove dismisses such nostalgia: "I remember half term in October when I was at school in Aberdeen was called the tattie holiday, the period when kids would go to the fields to pick potatoes. It was also at a time when the majority of mums stayed home. That world no longer exists, and we can't afford to have an education system that was, essentially, set in the 19th Century."

Modernisation turns out to mean working longer hours even when we are children. Gove pointed out that in East Asia “the expectations of mathematical and scientific knowledge are more demanding than in this country”, and lamented that “we are running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap”.

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26 Feb 2013 06:48:58

Tory Cabinet ministers and Lib Dems have one message for Osborne: Cut the ring fences

By Tim Montgomerie
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ImagesGeorge Osborne is getting a very similar message from his Conservative and Liberal Democrat colleagues: Lift the ringfences.

Liberal Democrats are telling the Chancellor that they won't accept further cuts to welfare if he isn't willing to cut richer pensioners' benefits and, potentially, also "gently trim" the budgets for the NHS, schools and aid. Unlike the Tories, the Lib Dems' 2010 manifesto did not promise to ringfence key Whitehall budgets or the perks paid to better off pensioners.

And from his Right, Tory Cabinet colleagues are also saying that the next round of spending cuts will only be acceptable if the whole of Whitehall shares in the pain. Cabinet ministers like Theresa May feel that she's already achieved the near impossible. She has cut the budgets of the police for the first time ever and without a breakdown in law and order. On the contrary, crime has actually fallen by 10%. Eric Pickles is equally proud of the cuts he has made. Cuts to local government have been frontloaded but there hasn't been a meltdown for Tory councillors at the ballot box. Public opinion polls suggest that voters are seeing through Labour attempts to 'shroud wave' while, for example, maintaining reserves.

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6 Feb 2013 10:30:15

Michael Gove is redefining what Left and Right mean in education policy

By Harry Phibbs
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The terms of the debate on education policy used to be presented as Labour championing equal opportunity while the Conservatives were defenders of priviledge for the minority. Labour attacked the gramar schools on the grounds that the children who failed the 11-plus were "written off." Labour also attacked independent schools - even proposing to outlaw them in their 1983 election manifesto.

Given that Labour no longer propose to ban independent schools how do they now believe that   equality be achieved? How can the huge gap in standards be reduced between the small minority of pupils who go to such schools and the vast majority who go to state schools. The Labour Government's answer from 1997-2010 was to increase spending on education but that didn't close the gap.

This leaves the Education Secretary Michael Gove as the champion of equality. He is not seeking to achieve this by levvelling down, by dragging down the independent schools, but by levelling up. The result has been that the Labour Party are defending a status quo - a system which gives the children of the rich a huge advantage in their career prospects.

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29 Jan 2013 18:40:55

Strong backing for Liz Truss's childcare reforms

By Harry Phibbs
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Paul has already given a school report for the Education Minister Liz Truss who announced reforms to childcare today in a speech to Policy Exchange.

I give Miss Truss top marks for content - both for the policies she has presented and the solid reasoning she has given to justify them.

My only concern is her intonation. She has that habit (common to Australians) of raising the pitch in the final word of each sentence. Still, apparently people used to find Margaret Thatcher's voice annoying until Gordon Reece got to work on it.

Anyway Miss Truss has had some important backing from her proposed reforms today.

Ros Marshall, the chief executive of Kidsunlimited, the fifth largest childcare provider in the UK, says:

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18 Jan 2013 11:00:59

Loughton "wants to watch the world burn". So Gove's aides burn the forest down.

By Paul Goodman
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I like and respect both Michael Gove and Tim Loughton.  So I can scarcely believe what's happened between them - whether before the last reshuffle or after it.

Earlier this week, Loughton compared Gove, the Education Secretary, to "Young Mr Grace", the store owner in Are You Being Served?

"Most officials have never met the Secretary of State other than when he will troop out a few chosen people for the new year party, Mr Grace-like from Grace Brothers, and tell us we've all done terribly well and then disappear."

Yesterday, a "senior Department for Education" went all Colonel Kurtz on Gove's former junior Education Minister.

‘Loughton spent his time pandering to pressure groups so they would praise him on Twitter. Loughton wouldn’t focus on child sex abuse unless it was all over TV and the DfE now has to pick up the pieces. Loughton was a lazy incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion."

You can be sure that when an MP as experienced as Loughton compares his former boss to a character in a sitcom, he's not exactly making a bid for return to Government. Perhaps Loughton is the bandit from Rangoon in The Dark Knight (see video above):

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1 Jan 2013 09:55:30

Michael Gove is Conservative Minister of 2012

By Tim Montgomerie
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For the second year the Education Secretary Michael Gove wins the highest honour in ConHome's end-of-year awards as voted for by Tory members;

  • 36.1% voted for the Education Secretary - "for his continuing education reforms";
  • 29.1% voted for IDS - "for his continuing welfare reforms";
  • 8.9% for Theresa May - "for cutting immigration, reforming the police and steadiness in a tough job";
  • 8.8% for Owen Paterson (already crowned the One To Watch by members) - "for being a fearless, full-spectrum Conservative";
  • 8.3% for Eric Pickles - "for delivering budget control and reform across local government";
  • 6.5% for John Hayes - "for standing up to the Liberal Democrats on wind farms";
  • 2.2% for Francis Maude - "for cutting the costs and size of Whitehall".

The nominees were chosen just before Christmas. The Chancellor was not nominated.

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24 Dec 2012 08:46:04

Cameron's Christmas message described "as the most Christian of its kind from an incumbent prime minister"

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Telegraph describes David Cameron's Christmas message "as the most Christian of its kind from an incumbent prime minister". The Daily Mail concludes that Mr Cameron "went further than ever last night when he quoted from the Bible, referring to Jesus as ‘the light of all mankind’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’".

Here is the key section of the message that has aroused reporters' interest and is being interpreted as an attempt to woo Christians offended by the Coalition's plans to introduce gay marriage:

"Christmas also gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story – the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him. The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace."

It is certainly more emphatic than the way he described his faith in 2008:

"I believe, you know. I am a sort of typical member of the Church of England. As Boris Johnson once said, his religious faith is a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes. That sums up a lot of people in the Church of England. We are racked with doubts, but sort of fundamentally believe, but don't sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it. I think that is sort of where I am."

Read Mr Cameron's full Christmas message here.

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