Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Is this 'freedom from control' Michael Gove?

Michael Gove in his arguments for academies and free schools always emphasises that they will be 'free of local authority control' and further can make their own decisions about the curriculum. Of course the real situation in local authority schools is that strategic direction is decided for each school by a representative governing body with elected parent and staff representatives alongside members or nominees of  the democratically elected local authority.  He fails to mention that academies and free schools, directly funded by the government, are in the final analysis under government control - in effect 'nationalised' schools.

His advocacy of 'freedom' is limited however. He is keen to put foward his own ideas about what should be in the curriculum, including British narrative history, and exposed his nascent authoritarianism last week by putting pressure on schools in Islington and Haringey to cancel pupil trips to the weekend's Tottenham Palestinian Literacy Festival where children's writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen was due to speak.Children were going to take part in workshops on human rights and living under occupation and encouraged to enter a creative writing competition.

Schools decided not to take part after being contacted by the Department for Education officials who asked them if they were meeting their responsibilities under the 1996 Education Act (Section 407) to provide both sides of opposing political views. The festival was organised by a branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn MP for Islington North, who supports the festival, said: "It was a great opportunity for children to understand the wealth and joy of Palestinian literature and a little of the history of the region. It's not in any way biased, but a festival which encourages children to broaden their horizons. The children were looking forward to it."

There are some interesting comments on the Evening Standard's website about the decision LINK including this one with which I strongly agree::
I find it astounding that the Education Secretary has stepped in to prevent schools having access to a literary festival. It's a repressive and frightening decision, and also a breach of the Human Rights Act.

To quote from article ten.

"Everyone has the right of freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises."

By not allowing schools to take part, Michael Gove is denying the right of freedom of speech, which is a matter of great concern, given he's a government official.
This comment gives the literary background:
Poetry has always been the Arab world's dominant literary form. When Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish died in 2008 he was honoured with a state funeral and three days of national mourning. (I recommend the long poem 'The Siege' for starters) Mourid Barghouti is another Palestinian poet of international stature - try 'Midnight' (Arc Press). Lately, Palestinians writing in English have distinguished themselves in the field of memoir: you could start with Ghada Karmi's beautifully written 'In Search of Fatima'; Raja Shehadah's personal guide to the West Bank 'Palestinian Walks' (Winner of the George Orwell Award), and Karl Sabbagh's Palestine: A Personal History' Ghada and Karl were key speakers at the Festival, as was Selma Dabbagh, whose first novel 'Out of It' is due to be published by Bloomsbury this winter. I do hope you explore these writers, whose stories fill in the huge gaps left by our media when it comes to the Palestinian narrative. As a member of PSC - an anti-racist organization - I myself will be working to help challenge Gove's outrageous and potentially slanderous decision.
The curriculum of our schools has always been a contested area and the clash was probably at its sharpest when Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit  abolished the progressive Inner London Education  Authority. Tebbit accused ILEA schools of  driving children to truancy by teaching  'anti-sexist, anti-racist, gay, lesbian, CND rubbish' in schools. Margaret Thatcher said, 'You know about political indoctrination in some of the inner cities. Well, I could show you examination papers.... I sometimes look at the Continent, where they have not only a core curriclum but a core syllabus. That would be an enormous leaps for us to take, because my generation still recoils from having a system that any government could manipulate...What we are considering is whether we should take that leap.'

Both Conservative and Labour governments did take that approach and Gove is moving towards imposing his own control under the guise of opposing that of  local authorities.

Interestingly on March 31st  2010, before the General Election, Liberal Democrat Friends of  Palestine warned about a Conservative win:

If the Conservatives win the election, the influence of the Greater Israel lobby –those extremists who believe Israel has a right to add to its territory by swallowing up land it conquered in 1967, rather than by negotiating fair boundaries with thePalestinians on an arms-length basis - will increase. Extreme Conservative views are exemplified by those of Michael Gove MP. Find out about them at http://www.ldfp.eu/gove.htm
Needless to say that link no longer works - the page has been removed.

No comments: