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By Peter Hoskin
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Two
bits of evidence, today, to suggest that Michael Gove is escalating his fight
against the opponents of schools reform, and particularly the teaching unions…

EXHIBIT A is the
letter
that he has sent out to schools about the industrial action
currently being undertaken by two teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, over pay.
This industrial action isn’t a traditional sort of strike, but involves
teachers retreating to only their “core responsibilities” — and refusing to do
things such as supervising pupils during lunch breaks, or covering for other
teachers. In his letter, Gove is scathing about the practice. He calls it “highly
irresponsible” and “threatening to damage children’s
education”. But, most importantly, he also says that schools can — and, in some
cases, should — dock the pay of staff members who take part in the protest. Detailed
advice about the hows, whats and whys has even been published
on the Department for Education website.


EXHIBIT
B
is the interview that my old boss, Fraser Nelson, has conducted with Mr Gove
for the Christmas issue of The Spectator, and which can be read on
Coffee House
. The section on teacher pay is worth quoting in full:

“‘Some
things I never imagined we’d be able to accomplish alone, let alone in a
coalition government, so relatively quickly,’ he says, when we meet in
his office. His Academies Act has allowed most English secondary schools
to be freed from government control. His next mission is to rewrite the
rules for teachers’ pay, replacing the pay-by-time-served system with pay
on merit.

This
would give head teachers the power to poach a brilliant maths teacher, for
example – or sack a bad one. It all sounds perfectly reasonable, but for the
teaching unions it is nothing short of a declaration of war.

‘The
trade unions have regarded this as their apostles’ creed,’ says Gove. “Look at
the way they justify their existence to members. On the one hand, they justify
their existence because they provide protection if you face unfair dismissal or
an unfair allegation. Hopefully, employment law protects you from unfair
dismissal and there are other ways – including a marvellous new organisation
called Edapt – which can provide you with the insurance that you need. 
Okay, what else does a trade union do? Well it guarantees to a significant part
of the profession that they will automatically get a pay increase simply by
staying there, there is automatic or near automatic pay progression at every
stage.’

This national pay
bargaining, he says, is an insult to the skill of teachers.’ If you treat
everyone as though they’re merely an interchangeable widget in a machine,
then that robs the teaching profession of its sacred role.’ And he is supported
by some unions. ‘The National Association of Head Teachers has welcomed these
proposals because they know that we’re expecting them to drive school
improvement. They’re thinking to themselves: ‘The only way we can measure up is
if we reward good staff. So, thank heavens the government is giving us the freedom
to meet that responsibility.’

The National Union of
Teachers is rather less enthusiastic and is muttering about a nationwide
strike. Gove spent 18 months leading up to this point – is he prepared for the
battle royal that the NUT may now attempt to wage?’ I hope I am,’ he says.
‘And I don’t believe that it’s a winning argument for the trades unions to
say: “We do not want to pay good teachers more.”’”

Why’s Gove going so
big on all this? Simple: because it really matters. It’s no accident that Joel
Klein, one of the key figures in American schools reform over the past decade,
regards “merit pay” as one
of the most important ingredients
in a better education system.

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