Fiona Millar: Let’s turn the page on Michael Gove and aim for happiness in schools

Writing in the Guardian, Fiona Millar says social and emotional learning is as important as academic achievement and, with Nicky Morgan and Lucy Powell in education, maybe things are looking up.

The last six months have been an unsettling time politically…

On the bright side we have two women, Nicky Morgan and her shadow, Lucy Powell, speaking for education. The fact they are both working mothers with young children shouldn’t matter, but in the sea of grey suits it is a relief of sorts.

Both have an opportunity to reshape their party’s priorities. Morgan has the levers of power – but a host of problems heading her way. Funding cuts, teacher shortages and the implementation of changes to exams, curriculum and accountability will make for a bumpy ride. But she could still lay down some markers of her own.

Powell, by contrast, has a blank canvas, since the new Labour leadership seems to be casting off everything that went before the party’s general election defeat…

So far, each with a conference behind them, there have been no fireworks. Morgan has a more consensual style than Michael Gove. (Though isn’t it interesting how many people still talk and write endlessly about him?) There may be no obvious big ideas, but don’t dismiss her interest in child mental health and wellbeing.

Powell has a punchier rhetoric than some of her predecessors, but dig deep into what she has said so far and it is barely different from the last Labour manifesto: prioritising local oversight of schools, investing in early years, and voicing disquiet about teacher recruitment and retention.

But maybe these priorities will take them both into new territory. If we look beneath the day-to-day politicking about schools, it is clear that there is growing concern about stress and the wellbeing of teachers and pupils…

Of course, one doesn’t want to saddle Morgan and Powell with any gender stereotypes… But now may be time to turn the page on the Gove view that anything unrelated to core academic learning is “peripheral”, and that social and emotional learning is “ghastly”, in the words of schools minister Nick Gibb.

Why not make a virtue out of happiness? When the headmaster of Wellington college, Sir Anthony Seldon, made his name this way no one described him as wishy-washy or feeble…

More at: Let’s turn the page on Michael Gove and aim for happiness in schools


Is Fiona Millar right to feel some optimism that Nicky Morgan and Lucy Powell might be set to make an impact on the acceptance of social and emotional learning in schools?

If they are, would you welcome any such developments?

Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Policy and Teaching.



    SchoolsImprove Sounds like a plan! Happy pupils within school will naturally be more engaged & motivated.They are in school not the army…

  2. Busy Mum

    SEAL is only necessary for children who are already unhappy because their parents have neglected them. Time to separate the school system. One lot of schools for children whose parents do the SEAL and want schools to do the academics. Another lot of schools for children whose parents want schools to do both.

  3. peterabarnard

    SchoolsImprove I fear it is all too late and something teachers are walking away from as they become more disenchanted.

  4. Busy Mum And another lot of schools for parents who want girls and boys educated separately.  And yet another lot for those who want Steiner, Montessori etc methods.  And another lot for those who want transcendental meditation.  And some more for parents who want their children taught via the medium of Latin, Ancient Greek or minority languages.

  5. Unfortunately Gove casts a long, dark shadow.  Not much to be happy about.  
    Nicky Morgan may be more emollient but is willing to distort statistics and promote academies as the golden bullet.  And as for Nick Gibb….  Anyone who thinks it’s appropriate to use Pythagoras to discover whether a fridge will fit in a low-ceilinged room is delusional.

  6. Busy Mum

    Janet2 Busy Mum I think that is already happening simply because the government, rather than parents, are dictating the agenda for schools.

  7. Busy Mum

    Janet2 Busy Mum I think that is already happening simply because the government, rather than parents, are dictating the agenda for schools.

  8. Busy Mum Janet2 You are right that the academies and free schools programme risks segregating children.  International research (OECD) found that when market forces such as parental ‘choice’ enter school systems the system becomes more segregated.

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