Working in an educational establishment and knowing a fair few teachers elsewhere, I saw some ecstatic people yesterday when the news of Michael Gove’s departure from the Department of Education was announced. It’s been incredible witnessing the levels of joy some have expressed at seeing him go. It’s no secret that when education secretaries push through reforms they tend to upset the teaching profession. Gove pushed through a great deal during his four years in charge and also managed to do it in a way that put a lot of people’s backs up.
Without wanting to turn this post into a full-blown discussion on the pros and cons of what Michael Gove achieved, from the viewpoint of someone who has now been teaching for over a decade, change has desperately been needed in schools. We have had children leaving education with their hands stuffed full of qualifications that suited the schools because they were easy to gain good results in and looked good in the league tables, but meant little to universities and employers. Students have become expert hoop-jumpers learning the art of crafting the ‘perfect’ answer in exams. However, as a consequence of the nature of syllabuses imposed upon schools, children have come away with limited knowledge bases and a lack of ability to think for themselves. Gove has tackled this head on, but in doing so, many teachers have seen their workloads and stress increase.
Part of the issue is that the fruits – both good and bad – of educational reform can take years if not decades to be fully seen. The implementation of Gove’s policies have caused headaches often without immediate reward or obvious benefit and there are still more in the pipeline waiting to be introduced. Whatever our opinion of Michael Gove, I suspect in ten or fifteen years time we will be talking about the legacy of his time in office differently to how it is being perceived right now.
Anyway, the Secretary is dead (sort of), long live the Secretary! Only we don’t really know who the new Education Secretary is. It was easy to see that the newspapers had very little idea yesterday after Nicky Morgan’s name had been announced. Trawls through Google produced headlines such as ‘Who is Nicky Morgan? 9 things you need to know’.
Although I’ve never met Nicky Morgan, I’ve been aware that she is a Christian and also involved with Christians in Parliament and the Conservative Christian Fellowship as a trustee. Being pleased to see a fellow Christian, who is well respected by people I know, promoted to a senior position in government, I posted this tweet a few minutes after the announcement:
Within a minute the National Secular Society (NSS) had retweeted it and then for the next half hour or so, my Twitter account produced a steady stream of notifications as I received all sorts of ridicule and disparaging comment. According to those kind enough to reply to my tweet, a Christian Conservative is an oxymoron, this was anything but good news and we should be very afraid that such an extreme fundamentalist should be placed in such a position.
The fact that Nicky Morgan has been quite open about her faith, was enough to get the NSS worked up. After a few more tweets drawing attention to her beliefs they published a news article on their website which implicitly gave a number of reasons why they didn’t like her followed a quote from Stephen Evans, their campaigns manager, effectively saying that they didn’t believe that she was capable of doing the job well.
In the meantime the papers had focused in on her decision to vote against same-sex marriage in 2013. Her reason had been that:
“I think that was one of the issues people, especially those who asked me to vote against, found hardest to accept and it also tied in with my own Christian faith too. I totally support civil partnerships and that same-sex relationships are recognised in law. But marriage, to me, is between a man and a woman.”
She had also backed Nadine Dorries’ 2011 amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill, to require independent advice be made available to women requesting an abortion. Given that both of these were free votes, it would seem perfectly reasonable for Mrs Morgan to have voted in these ways, but apparently according to some commentators helpfully listed in an Independent article, there are now major doubts about whether she is the sort of person to be Education Secretary and also Minister for Women which she retains having taken it on earlier this year when Maria Miller resigned over her parliamentary expenses.
If all of this is to be believed, Nicky Morgan is a terrible choice to be Education Secretary because (a) She is an active Christian with strong religious convictions and (b) she allegedly has a problem with gay people.
Clearly this would mean that she will want to use her position to promote her personal penchant for Christianity and allow homophobic discrimination to be encouraged in schools.
She has only been in place for less than a day and already the character-assassination knives are out and what looks like a subtle campaign to discredit her has begun simply because she is a Christian who voted against same-sex marriage. So much for tolerance and respect towards those you disagree with then…
Almost nothing has been made of the skills she brings to the role. You don’t rise from a parliamentary newbie to senior government minister in four years unless you are extremely competent and the Prime Minister trusts you and your abilities to do the job well, especially with the election looming. It is almost inevitable that teachers and their unions will like her more than Michael Gove bearing in mind the animosity felt towards him, but some would have her out because of her perfectly legitimate views and beliefs that she shares with millions of others in this country. But some have decided that is not good enough even before she takes on her role.
I actually feel sorry for Nicky Morgan. Up until very recently if you mentioned that you were a Christian in politics, no one would have thought anything of it. Is it not better to be open and honest about your beliefs when you are in a position of authority rather than suppressing them and leaving others guessing what motivates you? The public are crying out for more genuine politicians. Having the likes of the NSS attacking you just because you aren’t a fully committed liberal secularist is not going to encourage politicians to display their true colours.
Nicky Morgan has described her role in Parliament as not only to serve her constituents, but “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.” I say good on her. Now can we please grow up a bit and judge her on what she does rather than stirring up trouble and taking cynical pot shots simply because we don’t like her face.