After attending the ‘Heads Roundtable’ at The Guardian offices on 12th October 2012 to help inform the Opposition policy to current education reforms, Ian Gilbert put together this alternative to the speech that the Shadow Secretary of State for Education delivered at the recent Labour Party conference:

 “Normally, one would start these sorts of speeches with thanks to various people or family members or former teachers. While I remain indebted to the many people who have helped me on my journey to this stage today there is someone else I would like to thank.

That person is my Right Honourable Friend Michael Gove.

Now, before you all think I have been at the conference sherry a little early let me explain why I think Michael Gove is worthy not just of my thanks but of everyone who is passionate about education in this country. 

Michael Gove has introduced some of the largest, most far-reaching, most impressive, and to give him further credit, most rapid changes to the education system that any Secretary of State has carried out for many, many years. He is a genuinely committed and passionate politician, a remarkable tactician, indeed a visionary, who has the skill and courage to make real his vision for the way he believes education in this country should be.

Mr Gove, we have to thank you, because you have shown – proven – to every child, to every teacher, to every school leader, to every parent, to everyone who has an interest in education in this country, which is everyone in this country, that when a man with all your talents and skills combines them with the powers that you have given yourself to achieve a vision which is fundamentally wrong, then you have shown us that the way education is run in this country, well that too is fundamentally wrong.

You have shown the teachers that the starting point of your vision, its basic premise is, ‘I don’t trust you. Not only that, I don’t want to trust you because if I do, then you might just realise how powerful you are. And then where would I be?’

You have shown to the school leaders that ‘I don’t value you or your experience. I don’t place any importance on your training or your qualifications to be a head because if I trained you properly, you might just realise how powerful you are, how effective you are, how many of you are just so darned good that you could devise and run a system far better than anything I could do. And then where would I be?’

You have shown parents, governors and communities that ‘I don’t trust you to do what is best for your school, for your children. I will decide who runs your school, who your school governors are, even what uniform your children should wear because if I don’t, if I just simply supported you in being better at working as a community to support your community schools, then you could just get on and do it and have wonderfully vibrant schools at the heart of communities being supported to be equally vibrant. And then where would I be?’

You have shown the universities who create the fuel to drive education to greater heights in this country, that ‘I don’t value sound academic research, I don’t value the thorough professional and intellectual development of our teachers and school leaders, I don’t value the development of teaching as a profession, not merely a craft, because if I did, you just might create an intellectually rigorous and effective education system that would be far better than anything I could dream up on the back of a napkin with my mates at the country club. And then where would I be?’

Mr Gove has shown us that a Secretary of State for Education has to give himself the power to ignore, devalue, discredit, stonewall, walk over and steamroll the people who genuinely could make a difference to education in this country because if he didn’t have this power how could he introduce a system that talks of equality but encourages segregation, that talks of opportunity for all but reinforces elitism, that talks of freedoms but that increases restrictions, that talks of educational success for every child but that is quite prepared to let thousands of children ‘fail’ – and yes Mr Gove, that word ‘fail’ is in speech marks. They didn’t fail their GCSEs, you failed them Mr Gove! – that talks of parental choice but that gives parents choice where none is required like the Free Schools of Suffolk or gives them no choice when they are desperate to be listened to as is the case of so many forced academies, that talks of being world-class but that leaves top performing countries bewildered as to why we are moving backwards, and so fast and – and this is what we most have to thank Mr Gove for – that, like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, offers the electorate sweets but, once he has them, pulls back the cloth to reveal his real motive – profit.

Yes, Mr Gove, we thank you for showing us that anyone with the power to give away – not even sell off – to give away our valued state education system to whichever organisation or individual has given the most in Tory party donations, who can single-handedly wipe away one of the best education systems in the world – and I’m talking about ‘education’, not just ‘schooling’ children to pass exam hoops here – in order to open up the system for large organisations, stockbrokers and banks to profit from to the tune of billions at the expense of children’s education as is happening in places like Sweden, anyone who has the power to improve one of the most important foundations that makes this country what it is but instead chooses to destroy it, to carve it up, to give it away to his mates and backers, and to be able to dismiss the people who don’t agree with him as ‘enemies of promise’, anyone with all that power shouldn’t have that sort of power and we thank you Mr Gove for helping us finally come to our senses and help us be clear about what we now need to do to create not a world-following education system but a world-leading education system.

We need to take education out of political control and I propose a new Education Board to achieve this aim.

We need to pass decision making back to the community level so I am proposing new community-based middle tiers of local school families and support.

We need to take accountability back from a process that divorces it from school improvement so I will abolish Ofsted as unfit for purpose and reinvest their millions in cross-phase local family partnerships of schools with combined national and local accountability and a school improvement remit

We need to make the teaching profession exactly that, a profession, so I will reinstate the drive to make the teaching a Masters level profession as it is in so many other top-performing countries.

We need to reintroduce the academic and intellectual rigour to a profession that has been
turned into a trade by Tories scared of dealing with people cleverer than they are so I will reinforce the role that universities play, in partnership with schools – and yes, thank you Mr Gove for that one too – to improve the nature of teacher training and ongoing teacher development.

We need to reinforce what a skilled – and noble – calling it is to be a headteacher so I will expand the powers of heads to make the right decisions for their schools and the families of schools with which they cooperate – that’s ‘cooperate’ Mr Gove, not ‘compete’ – as well as improve the training and ongoing support of head teachers.

We need a curriculum that genuinely educates children, not just schools them in jumping through hoops where there is a quantifiable outcome that makes the process easy to understand by the likes of Mr Gove who just don’t get that schooling a child and really educating them are two different things. So I will open up the possibility of the MYP and the IB to be accepted in state schools. If they are good enough for the independent sector then why aren’t they good enough for all children? I will also look at the creation of a UK-specific version of a curriculum that has all that curricula such as the IB have to offer but that is genuinely inclusive with something for everyone. Yes, Mr Gove, prizes for everyone!

We need to create an assessment system that doesn’t write children off but that includes and embraces not just each and every child but also everything that each child has to offer. That not only assesses what they know but also what they can do. That values and measures a genuinely rounded education. I will draw together an international panel to look at a 21st century replacement to the examination, something that is an anachronism holding education back.

We need to encourage people into the teaching profession not for the money or as a form of missionary work on the way to a career in the City but because it is one of the last truly creative, truly empowering, truly moving jobs anyone can do. Not teach first but teach. Full stop. I will work with schools and universities to create a far better, more cost effective, process of teacher recruitment, initial training and retention.

We need a union body that supports our work to improve education for all young people and works with us to achieve this. I will look again at terms and conditions of our teaching body but, I must be clear, I will not put the demands of the teaching unions before the needs of the children in our schools.

We need to look again and in a brave, radical and informed manner at the way we educate every single child in our society. Now is the time to do that and I am the person who is prepared to raise my head above the parapet in order to achieve it. And we all owe a debt of gratitude to our friend Mr Gove for showing us that, without such a radical rethink, people like him are able to wantonly destroy the hopes, aspirations and enthusiams of millions of young people, their teachers and their school leaders and call it progress.

Join with me in thanking Mr Gove but, more importantly, in starting the fight to take education back from the elitists and the profiteers and put it where it belongs – in the hands of the people who know best.

Thank you.”

Click here to see the speech that was delivered