9th July 2012 Blog
Originally in the Independent, 7th July 2012
Michael Gove has referred to the teaching unions as a “drag on the profession”. What is your response to that?
The best arguments usually win and union leaders, like others, tend to want to be on the right side of the argument. The two most radical reforms I pushed forward – Teach First and the creation of academies to replace failing comprehensives – both had a critical mass of union support because they were so obviously justified. But you have to make the argument. If you treat the unions as the enemy, that is asking for opposition.
Will we ever have a fair education system as long as there are fee-paying schools?
It depends whether the private schools start using their charitable assets to support state education on a much bigger scale than now. I have long been urging the best private schools to join the state system as academies – without fees and without the 11-plus, but keeping their ethos, excellence and independence – and to sponsor and manage new academies in disadvantaged areas. A growing number of independent schools are doing so. Liverpool College, one of the oldest and grandest private schools, decided only last week to become a state academy, and more than 30 private schools are sponsoring academies. This needs to become a national movement to break down the Berlin Wall between state and private sectors.
Do we need an inquiry into the state of school lunches?
Can’t do any harm and it may do some good. It is vital that school governing bodies take their catering duties seriously. A school lunch is the only decent meal many children get.
What should the new Director General of the BBC prioritise?
Democracy. The BBC is the greatest bastion of democracy in the world, through its news, its reporting and its political impartiality. Just look at Fox in the US and despair of the alternative.
What might the discovery of the “God particle” mean for our understanding/appreciation of science?
Hope and confidence in the power of science to explain the universe better and unlock its secrets. The scientific endeavour which discovered the God particle has also pioneered cures to Aids, cancer, mental illness and so many other afflictions of the human condition. The more the better.
Is a further round of quantitative easing welcome?
Perhaps, if it gets banks lending and promotes greater economic activity to end the longest slump in modern times. But QE can’t do it all alone. With the private sector not investing or growing, the state has to take a lead. This is the time to be investing in infrastructure – building the homes, the schools, the roads, the railways, the energy infrastructure we will need for the next generation, and doing so while interest rates are low and unemployment high. Instead, the Government is cutting back. It has learned nothing from Keynes and the 1930s.
What’s the best way to restore faith in UK banking?
Greed has got to be replaced by responsibility and public service. I am waiting for the chief executive of a bank who says they will do the job for, say, £400,000 (more than twice the pay of the Prime Minister), and no bonus or share options, because they want to set an example of duty and public service. That would be the watershed which is so badly needed. If the new Director General of the BBC can do the job for £450,000 – far less than what his predecessor was paid – then it is time for bank chief executives to show some moral leadership too.
How important is HS2 to the future of rail travel?
HS2 is vital. The alternative is yet more patch-and-mend on the main inter-city lines between London and the Midlands and the north, which will end up costing more than a new line and deliver only a fraction of the benefits. The last patch-and-mend of the West Coast Main Line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow cost £10bn and caused chaos to travellers for a decade. Open-heart surgery on a Victorian railway is expensive and hugely disruptive. We will end up spending the equivalent of a high-speed line one way or the other, so let’s act as the heirs of the Victorians and embrace modern technology to give Britain a modern transport system.