Maurice Sharp believes Education Secretary Michael Gove has caused a two-tier school system.
Despite attempting to change the image of his party and get away from the old stereotypes that haunt it, David Cameron still seems unable to shake off those fetters.
Whether it’s howls from the backbenches over Europe or cuts in the NHS, the Prime Minister is unable to wipe the slate clean and start afresh.
A shifting to the centre ground on some issues, spearheaded by a whole hearted embrace of same sex marriage, has still not quelled the critics of his administration.
As ever, the Conservatives has its fair share of pantomime villains to get everyone riled up.
George Osborne’s crimes include stealing pensions, eating at a yuppie burger joint and stealing Silvio Berlusconi’s hair stylist while Iain Duncan Smith is apparently reintroducing National Service. In Poundland.
Of course, much of that hyperbole on display is just an easy way to smear political opponents in an age that seems to take particular delight in hoisting politicians by their proverbial nethers.
But there is one Minister who does have a particularly high toxicity rating amongst a sizeable chunk of the population.
With a golf club chairman’s loquacious drawl, a stark feline poise and a hand clap slower than a Soviet death march, Education Secretary Michael Gove is the man who is on a mission to deliver Britain an educational system it can be proud of.
His implementation of Free Schools, where educational establishments can be set up, have independence from the local authority but still receive state funding, has been widely criticised by teaching unions.
And he seems to take a great delight in knowing that he is upsetting those he views as his ideological enemies.
However, intransience has consequences and on October 17 the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of School/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) staged a walkout.
The dispute was officially about pensions, pay and workload but it would be hard not to speculate that the unions are building up for a fight to the end with their boss.
This affected nearly 3,500 schools in London, South East, South West, Cumbria and the North East and saw a march of 12,000 upon Central London.
In Merton alone, 12 schools were closed due to the strike while a further 29 were open with only partial staffing levels.
And it appears likely that could be repeated before Christmas. Both the NUT and NASUWT have the mandate to call another strike if they feel their concerns have not been properly met by the Department of Education.
President of Merton’s NUT branch, Maurice Sharp, thinks that Gove’s tenure has caused a two-tier structure to grow within the state system.
“The normal comprehensive schools are bursting at the seams while the middle-class are hunting down the free school places. How is this new system any fairer on poorer pupils?” asks Mr. Sharp, who still continues to teach as a part-time supply teacher.
It’s an opinion made frequently in anti-free school circles. Instead of a system that Cameron and Gove claimed would allow working class pupils to gain an excellent education, it appears the sharper elbows of the middle classes are making that a much tougher reality.
“We do not agree with privatisation and we want to stop the devastation caused by a rich versus poor system,” continued Mr. Sharp.
“Several have closed down already and he (Gove) has overspent his budget by a billion pounds. He doesn’t seem to grasp the facts laid out before him.
“There are a lot of concerns that Free Schools get better budgets than a state school would. It has created division and it’s a worrying situation.”
That doesn’t mean that Gove is out in the wilderness, though. In fact, he’s seen as one of the few bright sparks in the Cameron administration by many in the Tory party and traditional education campaigners are just as happy to laud the man’s policies.
Recent reports have indicated that the need for reform is great. Great Britain is bottom of the class in terms of basic literacy and numeracy amongst industrialised nations and youngsters today are less competent in the 3Rs than those in the 55-65 age group.
Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, Chris McGovern, has no sympathy for the striking teachers and thinks they set a poor example to their students.
“It is going to cause incredible disruption to working parents, most of whom will be working all hours in the private sector and with pensions that are not as good as the teachers,” he said.
“It also sets a bad example to children who are being shown that if they don’t get what they want in a dispute they should walk out rather than try to resolve it.”
But as both sides prepare for a further skirmish it seems unlikely that there will be a settlement before Christmas.
“He doesn’t seem to realise what is going on around him and he will end up being found out eventually,” remarked Mr Sharp.
And the unions will be looking to help that happen as long as Michael Gove has the keys to the school gates.
Photo courtesy of Regional Cabinet, with thanks.
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