An outspoken headteacher has criticised the Education Secretary and the rest of Parliament for wasting time “squabbling” over school policy.
Dr Bernard Trafford, headmaster at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School, has accused Michael Gove of fuelling petty arguments with Labour, rather than having sensible discussions over education reform.
Speaking at RGS’s annual prize giving and speech day, Dr Trafford said: “Education Secretary Michael Gove and his team do battle with Stephen Twigg putting the case for the opposition.
“They don’t debate: they just rubbish one another’s views. Still, since their views are mostly rubbish, perhaps there’s little else to do.
“The squabbling goes on and on. They should stop it, listen to one another and get on with the job. But, frankly, squabbling’s easier. The opposition is feeble: but then, opposition isn’t allowed nowadays. Not even critical comment.
“As soon as anyone – and I include those of us who might know something about education – take issue with any of Mr Gove’s reforms, we’re branded Marxists, lefties, agents of destruction and wreckers.”
Addressing parents and teachers, Dr Trafford accused Mr Gove of trying to introduce change after change without proper consultation with education experts, and without any respect for the teaching profession.
He went on to say Mr Gove was a “man on a mission”, adding: “He’s having a go, all the time. And when he pauses for breath, Sir Michael Wilshaw – formerly a fantastic, miracle-working head, but now turned chief government Rottweiler in charge of Ofsted – does the same thing.
“We’re told heads aren’t kicking teachers hard enough. Teachers don’t care enough about the children they teach, about standards or apparently about anything else.
“And the whole system is in meltdown and, don’t forget, the North East is pervaded by the smell of defeatism, perhaps Mr Gove’s most offensive comment to date.”
Dr Trafford, who is a regular columnist for The Journal, did concede that Mr Gove and Sir Michael “have a point” in saying the education system is not good enough.
“Nothing is perfect: even the excellent can be even better,” he said. “We can’t knock Mr Gove and his acolytes for their thirst for improvement.
“We shouldn’t rest or be satisfied until every child gets fantastic opportunities in every school. That should be the aim, and until we get there (which we never will), there are grounds for saying that it’s not good enough.
“But going round telling teachers they’re not good enough, moaning about them all the time and knocking them, is not a great motivator.”
Dr Trafford also expressed caution over the growing number of free schools and academies, which are free from local authority control and funded centrally by Government.
“There’s no doubt free schools are bringing variety into the system and as an independent school head I’ve always claimed that diversity of provision is a good thing,” he said.
“I’ve been privileged to have been involved in the setting up of the West Newcastle Academy which opens in Benwell in September.
“Shaking things up never hurt anyone. But to rubbish all local authorities? Is that really right? Don’t chains of academies, those new powerhouses in British education, simply recreate local authorities, without the democratic accountability?
“And what of all this independence Mr Gove boasts about? Free schools and academies are free of the fetters of local authority control, we’re assured. They can do what they want.
“What they want? I don’t think so. Actually, they can do what Whitehall wants: or rather, what the DfE in Sanctuary Buildings, Westminster, wants. Or rather, what Mr Gove wants.”
The Department for Education did not respond to requests for comment.