Michael Gove did even more severe damage during what Polly Toynbee calls his “thunderous four years” as education secretary than she lays out (Too many pupils miss lessons, says Ofsted, and that’s right. Call it the Michael Gove effect, 28 November). He created a radical but unsustainable change to the architecture of the system.
There are now 2,500 academy trusts. Many are individual schools, but nearly half of them are organised into chains, so-called “multi-academy trusts”, containing up to around 60 schools. They are all contracted directly to the government via “funding agreements”, their ownership having been decided without public involvement. In addition, a number of schools still operate under the old local authority arrangements.
The system has been shown to generate unjustifiably high costs, particularly in relation to management, and provides minimal local accountability. It is a completely random and incoherent setup which cannot be left as it is.
Prof Ron Glatter
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
• Think back to your memories of school. What stands out? The school play that helped to keep the rebels in school? The annual theatre trip? The outdoor education experience? The range of sporting activities? Playing in the orchestra? Or repeating GCSE maths three times?
Polly Toynbee rightly talks about the Govian curriculum teaching children to fail. The government has made it difficult for many schools to keep the arts in the curriculum (despite the fact that the UK continues to be respected for the quality of its dancers, musicians and actors), preferring instead to focus on traditional learning for testing. Children are voting with their feet: staying away from school has become all too common.
The arts help young people understand their place in the world and develop empathy. Schools that have retained the arts are exciting places in which to learn. Pupils are motivated to come into school, and success in arts subjects can foster a more positive attitude to learning.
• Polly Toynbee prompts a difficult question: what were the greatest crimes committed by Michael Gove during his time as secretary of state for education? Near the top of the list must be his destruction of the school sports partnerships established by the Youth Sport Trust. These highly successful collaborative networks ensured that most pupils participated in regular meaningful physical activity that met or exceeded the health department’s recommendations for children. Many adults who exercise regularly today owe it to the habits inculcated in them when at school during the early 2000s, because of this visionary, well-funded government programme. Is it a coincidence that we have seen such an increase in children’s obesity and mental health issues since 2010?
• Polly Toynbee is right to describe Michael Gove’s term as education secretary as “thunderous” in fixing subsequent government policy.
I was one of the first of many headteachers to lose their jobs after the introduction of the disastrous Ofsted framework devised by Gove and his then special adviser Dominic Cummings, when my school went overnight from “good with many outstanding features” to “inadequate”. After Gove’s appearance at the Covid inquiry, is it too much to expect him to repeat the apology he made to Covid victims and families for their “pain and loss” to the family of Ruth Perry (Ruth Perry ‘amazed’ more heads did not kill themselves, inquest hears, 1 December)?
• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org