Birmingham, the Country and the Powers of the Secretary of State

The disastrous and destructive situation in the “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham has been highly reported over the last few weeks. Stories of extremism, control for power, bullying, manipulation of the truth, imposition of ideologies that don’t consider the all-round wellbeing of all pupils and so on and so forth – all allegedly done in the name of religion.

Newspapers Trojan Horse

Yet, isn’t that all rather familiar to anyone who has endured and scrutinised the four year reign of Michael Gove?

  • Mr Gove didn’t like the Every Child Matters agenda. So he found a power to eradicate its potential effectiveness without requiring legislative changes.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like the alleged power of the local authority. So he invented allegedly autonomous free schools and upped his own power to intervene and force schools to become academies.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like those pesky teachers teaching children how to read by using a range of cues – onset and rime, picture cues, prediction. So he insisted on synthetic phonics and exams for six year olds on how to create and spell nonsense words.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like the GCSE exams. So he changed them, with little consultation with the profession and with no regard for research on how teenagers live and learn.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like child-centred learning and choice for pupils. So he introduced the EBacc so that all pupils had to learn set subjects, and if they didn’t their school would “suffer” under the exposure of league tables.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like the multicultural focus of the National Curriculum. So he changed it to an anglicised doctrine of facts.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like those namby-pamby left-leaning literature classics from outside the UK. So he manipulated the curriculum to ensure that the examination boards had little choice but to eradicate them from the GCSE syllabus.
  • Mr Gove didn’t like anything other than didactic learning. So he subverted the curriculum with fact-fodder that meant teachers felt that this was the only way they could teach – ably assisted by some less insightful Ofsted inspectors.

Gove pointing

The list could go on but the point is this. Can’t Mr Gove, or anyone else for that matter, see the gross hypocrisy of his criticism of the Birmingham schools when anything they’ve been accused of is only a mirror image of what he has done to education in this country?

Furthermore, it was his new powers of intervention that enabled schools to get rid of governors. It was his new powers that enabled schools to remove themselves from the local authorities and all that the good authorities had to offer, and allow the sort of extremism that has been reported (although we still don’t know this is factual, despite the condemning nature of the Ofsted reports).

Now that may not be as exciting a headline as the one claiming that schools are inculcating the next generation of Islamic proselytes, but this is the truth. Mr Gove wants us to think, to teach and to examine in a certain way – his way, and what he effectively did with the 2011 Education Act is enable this to happen.

Why isn’t that headline news, day in and day out, for the entire country to see that extremism, indoctrination, manipulation, bullying and the imposition of the whim and beliefs of one person actually controls what is happening in schools – not in the name of religion but in the name of political ideology?

What, pray tell us, is the difference between what Gove has done to the country with his fifty plus additional powers and what the schools in Birmingham are alleged to have done?


Mr Gove likes facts. Well, let’s look at the facts and see precisely how he has used his powers to infiltrate, to impose, to indoctrinate, to curtail, to manipulate. Let’s look at school autonomy, at the curriculum, at the teaching of phonics, at the demise of creative subjects, at the false dichotomy of localisation from a centrally run academies programme, at the changes made to the history curriculum, at the creation of academy hounds who pounce on a school that has been placed in special measures offering them no alternative than to become an academy – because Mr Gove says so.

So who are we most afraid of? And what should we do when we finally realise the extent of the indoctrination and manipulation with which we are faced?

Protest. Vehemently.

In an article in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins concludes with the view that Whitehall meddling in schools is problematic.

“As long as Whitehall tries to run all England’s schools, they will be awash with bad news and there will be Birminghams galore. Gove may pose as an enemy of the state; he is truly its most dogged imperialist.”

Simon Jenkins also says that when he was a teacher, he didn’t care about who was the Secretary of State for Education but that was a long time ago – a time when the Secretary of State didn’t have as much power and influence as the present one.

He says,

“I am still puzzled at the failure of teachers to come to the defence of their profession…….

…….But the idea of a professional teacher answering to a boxticker with a clipboard is absurd. Would a GP admit such oversight in his surgery, or a don in a tutorial?

……..Teaching is a vocation, a calling to human service, whose members should aid colleagues under pressure. Education is now slithering, like the NHS, into a state of constant upheaval, the political reorganisation of failure. Yet through every novelty – mergers, chains, sponsors, contractors – runs the steel of national control………

Well said Mr Jenkins, and well said for this too.

“Gove, as education secretary, is a master of paradox. He wills a world that is born in liberty yet he puts it forever in chains. He is for independent academies, faith schools and “free” schools, places that roam independent of hated local councils. They should have no rules, no financial curbs and, in the case of free schools, no national curriculum. Gove even approves of “tailored faith-based” teaching in faith schools, such as the Tauheedul institutions whose dress codes are more draconian than anything at Birmingham’s Park View.

Yet Gove is also dirigisme personified. He sacks governors and boards. He has four inquiries running in Birmingham alone. He lives in a whirl of reading lists, tests, targets and league tables. One head, Melvyn Roffe of Wymondham, speaks of running a Gove academy as facing a “monolith” of control. For the education secretary to run 24,000 schools from his office desk has led not to the Statue of Liberty but to the Burghers of Calais.”

Now isn’t this the real story of indoctrination and control? (Note to Mr Jenkins – academies don’t have to follow the National Curriculum either).

Our answer has always been that we need a reinvention of education and the very first step in a new model for education is to take these ridiculous and frightening powers away from the Secretary of State.

Birmingham happened, if it did happen, because of Gove’s powers. There will be more problems. More free schools will be deemed inadequate but more importantly than that, more children will suffer stress and disillusionment with learning because of the imposition of Gove’s determined belief in what is right for them.

Such manipulation and indoctrination must not be tolerated – not in the name of religion, not in the name of political ideology.

Mark Twain Religion and Politics

What we should all remember is that education should be about children and young people first and foremost, and until we get back to this as an absolute starting point for reinventing education, we (and they) are doomed.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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