THE INDEPENDENT asked: "What is it about Michael Gove that makes
people hate him so much?" Most of the ire seemed to come from head
teachers, but I have felt somewhat detached, having left such a
post more than two years ago.
That was, until the Secretary of Education's recent comment, at
the launch of the Inspiring Governors Alliance: "The thing about
being a governor is that it's not just a touchy-feely,
sherry-pouring, cake-slicing exercise in hugging and singing
Having checked that the date was not the First of April, I
discussed it with a governor colleague. We were both outraged. It
reminded us of the furore in France, earlier in the year, when
President Hollande went on a scooter to a midnight tryst with an
actress. The French were appalled - by the scooter.
Sherry, indeed. Neither of us has drunk the stuff for at least
20 years. As for hugging my fellow governors - has he seen them? I
last sang "Kumbaya" when I had long hair and thought I was
Barnsley's answer to Bob Dylan; and as for "touchy-feely" - not the
most felicitous allusion in any context connected with schools, I
would have thought.
ALTHOUGH the exact extent of the alleged Muslim infiltration of
some Birmingham schools (News, 25 April)
is not known, Margaret Holness's recent carefully worded reports
suggest that the scale of any perceived problem does not merit the
hysteria in some of the popular press.
The story has, however, at least highlighted that there is a
problem with governance around the country. (Bizarre, incidentally,
that the first four letters of the word bring us back to the
Education Secretary again. The man is everywhere. Perhaps we should
change our name: govespeople perhaps. Ouch.)
Bath University, and the National Governors' Association have
just completed a survey of 7500 school governors. The conclusion is
sobering: "There is a shortage of potential recruits in all
categories. The more challenging the setting, the harder it is to
to recruit governors." That is most certainly the case in Bradford,
and I dare say Birmingham is not that different.
The problem has been exacerbated by the focus that OFSTED now
places on governance in general; the part played by the governors
in holding a school to account; and the extent to which governors
understand the bewildering range of data emanating from the
If you think that attainment and achievement are the same thing,
if you cannot cope with "issues thrown up from the unvalidated
RAISEonline", and if you have no idea what the SPAG test is - you
have failed. Because of you, the school requires improvement. You
will need something a lot stronger than sherry.
Only the most committed, or the prevailed on, or, sadly, those
with a different agenda of whatever kind are putting themselves
into the OFSTED firing-line in tough areas. This is the issue that
Mr Gove must address.
I CAN'T talk about other faith schools, but it isn't much of a
danger in Church of England schools," the Archbishop of Canterbury
said when asked about allegations that fundamentalists were
targeting schools in Birmingham.
Admittedly it was not so much Operation Trojan Horse as
Operation Wallace and Grommit when Christian fundamentalists ganged
up on St Aidan's School, in Harrogate, after governors decided to
change the school uniform to trousers for both genders. (It is
strange that girls wearing trousers is a must in one religious
community, and anathema in another.)
Our bête noire at St Aidan's was "Arnold". Leaving
aside the rather dubious interest that "Arnold" appeared to have in
the subject of girls and skirts, his regular emails attacked us for
our wilful ignorance of scripture. Didn't we know that "the woman
shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man . . . for all that
do so are an abomination unto the Lord"? (Deuteronomy 22.5).
A PLYMOUTH-BRETHREN childhood had prepared me well for the
"Arnolds" of this world. I knew the script as well as he did.
Stoning drunken youths to death is also required in Deuteronomy - a
somewhat extreme remedy for sixth-form high jinks.
And I recall a fiery Welsh evangelist at a conference, berating
the women who, in his view, were not covering their hair to the
Lord's satisfaction. At the end of his address, with no sense of
irony or shame, he informed us that "the sisters will now wait on
us through the ministry of the tea urn."
I did notice that the next time he spoke, the sisters left
suspiciously early, clearly preferring the tea-urn's company to
his. If either he - or "Arnold", for that matter - ever managed to
inveigle themselves on to a church-school governing body, then the
Archbishop's view might look somewhat complacent.
But, for the moment, Archbishop Welby is right. It is to the
Church of England that we must turn. Now the largest sponsor of
academies in England, the C of E sees its salvation in its schools.
Congregations swell where there is a good church school and the
prize of a place. It is a running theme in the TV series
Rev, where the hapless Adam Smallbone has precious few
other cards to play.
"In praise of mild faith" was how Bryan Appleyard drew attention
to the phenomenon in The Sunday Times. "Religion
is most attractive when it is weak, because it doesn't handle power
better than anybody else." Amen to that.
SCHOOL is church, it is sometimes opined. No, it is not; school
is school. There are educational issues in all schools, not just
faith schools, where outmoded religious fundamentalism, of whatever
stripe, has lost the argument. Equality of opportunity and
treatment for girls is a non-negotiable part of the 21st-century
English landscape in all schools. As is zero tolerance for all
forms of homophobia and racism, and the encouragement of healthy
At St Saviour's C of E Primary School, Birmingham, only five out
of the 420 pupils are not Muslim (News, 11
April). The chairman of the board of governors, the Revd Alan
Thompson, says: "We don't play theology: we do it. We only
celebrate what unites us, and that is a very great deal." How
Anglican is that?
The school is outstanding, and is ranked among the best in the
country. And there isn't a bottle of sherry in sight.
Dennis Richards is chairman of governors at St Oswald's C of
E Primary Academy, Bradford; a governor at David Young Community
Academy, Leeds; and a former head teacher of St Aidan's C of E High