Parents want changes—but don't much like Michael Goveby Peter Kellner / January 23, 2013 / Leave a comment
Michael Gove has pursued education reform. Parents don’t share his view that the system is broken (© John Stillwell/PA Wire)
Were Michael Gove a student taking his GCSEs, he would struggle to get a decent grade from Britain’s parents on his favourite subject: education reform. He would need to spend extra time on his coursework, especially on the topic labelled “persuasion.” Few parents think he is doing well—though a great many have yet to make up their minds about his performance.
YouGov’s survey for Prospect has found that parents, and the wider public, want changes. It’s just that their agenda is not quite the same as his. They back his wish to make it much easier for headteachers to sack underperforming teachers, but not for restricting GCSEs and A-levels to exam-only challenges. They would welcome a return to “traditional” history, in which pupils learn dates, events and pride in Britain, but oppose Gove’s long-term ambition to give private, profit-making companies the chance to take over failing state schools.
Were Gove to seek a popular agenda for the next stage in his reform programme, he would make school uniforms compulsory for all pupils and restore grammar schools and the 11-plus exam throughout Britain. In fact, it’s not so much that parents and public want an innovative future as a return to the days of Mr Chips—or, to be more precise, a version of the past as seen through rose-tinted memory spectacles. The one common feature of the past that parents don’t want to resurrect is corporal punishment.
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However, all these findings must carry the qualification that Gove’s reputation, and views about his reforms, could well change. When we ask the public how he is doing as education secretary, we find that 23 per cent say “well” and 36 per cent “badly”—but the largest number, 41 per cent, don’t have a view either way. The proportion of “don’t knows” is far higher than for David Cameron or George Osborne.
Perhaps that’s not surprising: polls have long found that few cabinet ministers beyond prime minister and chancellor have a strong reputation with the majority of voters who pay little day-to-day attention to politics. More striking are the figures for the parents of children at…