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Vice-Chancellor warns Education Secretary

This week has seen Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, publicly disagree with the Edcation Secretary, Michael Gove about his latest comments.

Michael Gove announced that he believes that state schools in England should be more like private schools whilst the row over the Ofsted chair has also been taking place.

Mr Gove described how he would like to see the barriers between state and independent sectors broken down, which could lead to state pupils taking the private school entrance exams with the state schools also staying open longer. He concluded that: “the dominant consensus has been that state education in England [has been] barely satisfactory” for decades.

In the last few weeks, Mr Gove has also been involved in a row over the replacement of the Ofsted chair. He decided not to renew Baroness Morgan’s term in office because although he felt that she had “done a fantastic job”, he believed that the role needed “a fresh perspective”. This has led to Baroness Morgan suggesting that this is a “determined effort from Number 10” to appoint more Tories and she has been a victim in this.

However Sir David Bell, previous Permanent Secretary at the British Department for Education and former Chief Inspector of Schools for Ofsted, disagrees with Gove’s actions and beliefs.

Writing for the academic website The Conversation, Sir David Bell says that: “[Gove should] “not believe his own hype or surround himself with yes men.” His comments come in light of a broader argument where he argues that the Education Secretary needs to listen to advice from across the education sector about how best to reform schools.

In his article, Sir David states that: “The day-to-day grind of policy battles, firefighting and political ding-dong can start to cut you off from outside ideas and thinking.The row over Ofsted’s leadership shows the importance of retaining and being seen to retain independent voices near the top – not simply ‘yes men’.”

Sir David suggests that Mr Gove should not dismiss all critics of his education policy but should engage with those offering an “intelligent critique”, without doing so he warns the Education Secretary of becoming isolated by listening only to supporters.

However, Gove defends his comments regarding the schools by arguing that he wants to push state schools further so that state and private schools could become indistinguishable from each other. He suggests that if schools were to open for longer then this would allow more time for after-school activities as well as providing a place for children to do their homework.

Sir David wants Mr Gove to take his constructive criticism on board and reiterates that he should listen to the education experts.


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