Michael Gove: Apologise for expecting the best? No chance

Following his encounter with head teachers at the NAHT conference this weekend where he was jeered during participation in a panel discussion, Michael Gove has launched a fierce attack on school leaders, labelling them “defeatists” who are resisting higher standards. This is from the Times…

The defeatism I heard from some head teachers only encourages me to press on with reform

I’m used to disappointing Saturday afternoons. A season ticket at Loftus Road is rarely a passport to paradise. But I was particularly disappointed on Saturday afternoon by the attitude of some of the professionals I’d hoped to cheer on.

I was in Birmingham for the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers. I had hoped to hear about the best in contemporary teaching — primary school children learning to appreciate Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot or master the stepping stones to algebraic fluency. I see achievement like that every week and imagined the conference would want to showcase such excellence.

But I’m afraid that too much of what I heard was defeatist. The most disappointing was an apparent criticism of my approach from the NAHT President, Bernadette Hunter. I was acting like a “fanatical personal trainer” because I demanded higher and higher standards every year. To which I can only reply: guilty as charged, and what’s the problem with that? Other countries are reforming their education systems, the world grows more competitive every day and I want our young people to be able to succeed.

That’s why we’ve accelerated the pace of reform in our schools — setting higher standards in maths and English in our new national curriculum, recruiting more top graduates to teach maths, physics and chemistry and introducing computer programming and coding, 3D printers and tablets into many more of our classrooms.

These reforms are designed to ensure children are liberated from ignorance in a world where low attainment at school means increasingly limited opportunities throughout life. That’s why it’s so depressing when the response from someone affecting to speak on behalf of the profession is a direct attack on the principle of setting higher expectations. And it’s equally disappointing when others join in, as some heads did at the weekend, to criticise the tests that help to drive up standards, the inspectors who help ensure every child is making the maximum level of progress and the academy schools that help poor children aspire to greater things.

I’m always happy to discuss, with anyone, how we can set expectations fairly. The quality of inspection is still sometimes inconsistent. That’s why Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new chief inspector, is rooting out weak inspectors and recruiting more serving heads to monitor other schools. We’re also changing league tables so there’s more emphasis on the progress children make, allowing schools with disadvantaged intakes to be better recognised for their achievements.

But what I won’t do is compromise on standards to appease the defeatists. The tests that they object to are there to ensure schools get children reading, writing and adding up properly. Far from being too tough, I fear the minimum expectations we set are still too low — we only begin to consider a school might be underperforming if more than 35 per cent of children fail to reach the basic standard. This is hardly a regime of Prussian harshness.

So when I encounter people in the education world who reject the drive for higher expectations as a cause of “stress” and “worry”, I’m afraid I’m not impressed. I do worry about children, but what I worry about is the stress children will feel at the age of 11 if they arrive at secondary school unable to read properly. Or the stress they will feel at 16 or 18 when they don’t have exam passes to secure a good job.

Encountering defeatism only underlines how important it is to press ahead further and faster with reform. And what encourages me is the determination of a growing number of heads and teachers, especially more recent recruits to the profession, to fight for higher standards. Hundreds of outstanding head teachers such as Andrew Carter, Anita Warwick and Dana Ross-Wawrzynski now lead “Teaching Schools” — like teaching hospitals in the NHS — places where professionals pass on excellent practice to others wishing to improve.

Last month another 100 joined them. This month we’ll be announcing an acceleration of our free school programme, with more outstanding teachers opening new schools to help drive up standards in our poorest areas. Genuinely world-beating heads like Patricia Sowter, Liam Nolan, Barry Day and Alice Hudson are embracing these reforms in defiance of the pessimists and fatalists.

I worry that their achievements may be overshadowed by the media amplification of those voices unhappy with higher expectations. Which is why I will take every opportunity I can to be the champion of teachers committed to excellence. It’s what any trainer — or manager — from Loftus Road to Old Trafford, Whitehall to the chalkface, should do. Salute the professionals who’ll do everything for success — and refuse to be diverted by those who won’t.

More at:  Apologise for expecting the best? No chance (subscription required) 

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Categories: Policy.


  1. BarryNSmith79

    suzibewell there are an awful lot of defeatists out there. Morale is often low. Due, in part, to: poor leadership & behaviour. Lots issues!

  2. amusedpenguin

    SchoolsImprove As a teacher you push for high standards every day, but #Gove trusts the inspectors more than the teachers. #stupididea!

  3. nhanak80

    suzibewell we are not defeatist just that the leadership needs to wake up and stand on the right side of righteousness.

    • andrew_1910

      emmaannhardy chrishildrew oldandrewuk Interesting about rooting out weak inspectors. Clear message to inspectors to downgrade regardless.

  4. kennygfrederick

    Graham_IRISC – exactly! He is making his own headlines! Surprised he has time what with writing the History NC himself!

  5. SteveIredale

    Graham_IRISC He could almost have written it himself! Surely not!! It’s certainly not a description of the conference I attended. Deluded!

  6. fyasmin

    SchoolsImprove so many points to pick on, but mainly WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN??! Pathetic, blinkered, middle-class values. #swiveleyedloon

  7. Hels62

    SteveIredale Sounds manic to HTs but plausible to voter parents? Need to show parents great practice and point to evidence gaps eg SPAG.

  8. biscuitsarenice

    SchoolsImprove twist it and turn it around but the fact still remains that Gove just doesn’t relate to professionals in an effective way

  9. tracykewley

    SchoolsImprove who disagree are all ‘defeatists’, ‘fatalists’ and ‘pessimists’. This is the language of a dictator.

  10. edujdw

    SchoolsImprove what he proposes will not enable the best to be delivered. E.g unqualified teachers and very poor curriculum reform.

  11. tracykewley

    SchoolsImprove So teachers who disagree with Gove are defeatists, fatalists and pessimists. This is the language of a dictator #govemustgo

  12. Alan Stanton

    Benjamin Franklin made fun of the two blockheads: “Blame-all and Praise-all”. 
    Mr Gove achieves the status of of double blockhead. All academies must be automatically and continually praised. Anyone who so much as questions this view must be blamed as a defeatist, a pessimist and an enemy of higher expectations.Academylujah!

  13. Mr_Haines

    ThatIanGilbert Gove & his shield of evidence-less change & feigned “best4all” rhetoric, swings a scythe at those who really know & care.

  14. PSW26259

    SchoolDuggery SchoolsImprove Gove is good example of someone who only considers own view – and not prepared to listen to other views 1/2

  15. PSW26259

    SchoolDuggery SchoolsImprove 2/2 Is this the skill we want to instill in our people? Young people need the skills to consider all views

  16. artmadnana

    SchoolDuggery typical Gove response to ridicule the people who have to implement his ridiculous 1950s curriculum.

  17. johnnield2

    ThatIanGilbert 11yo on level 5a goes on to get a B at GCSE = 11yo on a low level 2 getting an E grade? On what planet?

  18. draper_tony

    SteveIredale the old story from Mr G-you’re either for me or against me. Actually, NAHT is for what is best for the futures of the children

  19. cwcomm1

    SchoolsImprove Bizarre that Gove thinks denigrating teachers is way to proceed. But it’s politics not education.

  20. gllgtt

    SchoolsImprove alanpeat I’ve yet to meet 1 defeatist teacher who strives for low standards. We just want to be consulted and acknowledged.

    • alanpeat

      gllgtt SchoolsImprove ?.he just doesn’t get it…or if he does we’re seeing a supreme example of bluff & bluster. Either way:inappropriate

  21. mattharding007

    SchoolsImprove “Tests drive up standards”. Er….no! Teaching drives up standards. Gove shows his ignorance again.

  22. muppetmasteruk

    Just another piece of pseudo political waffle to undermine the professionalism of teachers and reinforced parents and students views that teachers are to blame for all wrongs. All for personal political gain #goveMUSTgo

  23. coombe9

    SchoolsImprove alanpeat But still no one working at the coal-face of education agrees with him! And still he carries on!

  24. kccv1

    You continue to underestimate Mr #Gove.
    He understands our points he just doesn’t care! It’s all about him not the pupils!

  25. acet2001

    SchoolsImprove does Gove not realise that driving down take home pay is not the way to motivate staff to do as he asks. He hates teachers.

  26. acet2001

    SchoolsImprove RealGeoffBarton Gove’s strategy is to throw so much at teachers that we’ll lose the will to fight on so many fronts.

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