I came across Michael Gove one day last week. I don’t like to bug famous people when they meet me – not since that Vanessa Redgrave incident anyway – so I didn’t make an opportunity to talk to him about anything more than the (yellow DHL) cardboard box he was carrying. He said it had sandwiches in it. It was quite a big box so he must have been hungry.
But there is something I’d like to ask him about (given an appropriate opportunity).
He cut the Building Schools for the Future program saying, “Throughout its life it has been characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy.” I’m not going to argue with that; he’s the Education Secretary after all. It’s his call. He’s opened the door for Free Schools like the one Toby Young’s setting up in Acton. They’re interesting and might work for the children who attend them. I’d let that lie. But I’d like to know more about his view that school buildings make no difference to educational attainment; that it’s all just about the management, the culture, the discipline, the teachers and the teaching. There’s some truth in that from what I see myself but why does Mr Gove think it’s a universal truth?
In this week’s Spectator James Forsyth makes the point that when MPs decided in 1943 that the blitzed House of Commons chamber would be rebuilt in its original two-sided, oblong form they limited the potential for coalitions, and hence third parties, to succeed. He reminds us that Winston Churchill said during the debate that ‘we shape our buildings, and our buildings shape us’. Does the Education Secretary take issue with Winnie or does he feel that, while politicians might be affected by the surroundings they inhabit, school pupils are unaffected by theirs?
A man in his position could do a lot worse than visit the new Southwark Primary School in Nottingham and meet the dinner ladies and playground supervisors I met there. These are women whose children and grandchildren have moved from the old to the new school and who describe such a positive change in them. Not just in their appetite for learning but also in their out of school behaviour. I’d be interested to hear his view of that.
If I had kids I’d want them to go to a fantastic, fit-for-modern-purpose school like the new Southwark Primary.