“The King is Dead. Long live the Queen.” Michael Gove was one of the most abrasive and divisive Secretary’s of State for Education in a long time. To his detractors, mainly reactionaries in the teacher’s unions, he was the “worst education secretary in living memory”. To his supporters he was a pugnacious and very welcome reformer, driven by the commitment to impose academic vigour in teaching and thereby improve the job prospects of young people. As usual, however, the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.
The new Secretary of State for Education, Ms Nicky Morgan, is likely to present a very different persona. She is unlikely to seek controversy, if only because of the Conservative party’s need to capture the “women’s vote” at the next general election. It is in Prime Minister Cameron’s interest to dampen antagonism in the public sector and amongst parent groups.
Ms Morgan is the Conservative MP for Loughborough, a University town, and can therefore be expected to have more than a passing acquaintance with academia. She attended Sutton High School, then went on to study Law at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, qualifying as a solicitor and specialising in Corporate Law (not the easiest of legal disciplines). She has also had considerable business business experience, advising both public and private companies in an area of Law demanding diplomatic and arbitration skills.
However, she takes over as Education Secretary at a time of growing dissatisfaction within the profession – particularly over pay and pensions – and she only has 10 months to make her mark. There is therefore likely to be a period of soft peddling until after the general election in May / June 2015. Nor is she likely to be in favour of dismantling Gove’s legacy: 60% of schools are now academies and something like 300 free schools have been established. This structural shift cannot now be changed. Neither is she likely to want to change Gove’s reform of the exam system, aimed at driving up academic standards.
Still, there are issues of Gove’s legacy that Morgan will, sooner or later, have to grapple with. Firstly, the English education system as a whole is now fundamentally different to that of Scotland and Wales and this has complications and hidden consequences for the near future. Secondly, wages and pension arrangements have to be settled as a matter of urgency. She will need all her skills as a negotiating lawyer to manage both issues.
One thing is reasonably certain: such negotiations are likely to be conducted in a less abrasive fashion than they would have been during the reign of the king.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.