Monday, 24 February 2014

Gove plan to punish unruly kids with sport backfires.

More than eight thousand people have signed an online petition against plans by Education Secretary Michael Gove to give teachers ‘guidance’ about using ‘extra physical activity’, running around a playing field for example, as a means of disciplining unruly students.

The petition was set up by former head of Conservative Future Gavin Megaw, leading athletes, including former Olympian Paula Radcliffe, who described the proposal as ‘totally ridiculous,’ and teaching leaders have all joined in condemning the new guidance.

Introducing his petition Mr Megaw writes ‘as a father, school governor and keen runner, I was shocked to find out about this guidance suggesting an outdated form of punishment.’

He goes on to say using physical exercise as a punishment sends ‘the wrong message that physical activity is a negative action and not something to enjoy.’

Peter Franklin, a former advisor to the Conservative Party urged Michael Gove to think again and scrap the recommendations saying to, ‘resolution in the face of entrenched opposition to reform is something to be admired in ministers’, adding that ‘when mistakes are made admitting to and putting them right is a sign of strength not weakness.’

Forced physical activity is one of ten new punishments recommended by the Department of Education as part of a drive, as Mr Gove puts it, to ‘get tough’ with unruly students.

It is not unusual for civil servants to describe foolish and potentially ideas dreamed up by the ministers in their care as ‘brave’; with his track record and bull in a china shop approach after almost four years in place Michael Gove must think he’s Hercules by now.

Even by his standards this latest ‘wheeze’ reeks of the desperation of a politician who knows he has risen as far as he ever will. His career has no second act, all he can do is get as much exposure as possible out of his dwindling time in the spotlight.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Michael Gove has given up on making a serious attempt to reform the education system, instead he seems intent on picking fights with the teaching unions and playing to the sillier sections of the tabloid press.

The trouble is by this stage of his career, rather like a heavyweight who could have been a contender back in the day, most of his fights end in inconclusive draws. When it comes to playing the populist card he more often than not ends up looking out of touch and increasingly odd.

As a means of dealing with unruly students extra physical exercise is a non-starter, any teacher worthy of the name will tell you the worst behaved students are often the ones most in need of help. It is hard to see how they will be able to build the bond of trust necessary to get it from a teacher, often the only adult who offers them a semblance of stability and positive values, if he or she is under official instructions to behave like the games teacher from Kes.

Yet again Michael Gove has turned an attempt to play to the gallery into a pratfall. It is starting to look increasingly like to only way to bring about real education reform is for someone to give the current Education Secretary a note excusing him from playing political games indefinitely.

Politics Forum, Monday 24th February 2014.

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