Thursday, 20 February 2014

Gove is a feminist issue

The comedian and actor Robert Webb recently wrote an article for the New Statesman, which asked if readers could picture Ed Miliband doing something so normal as eating a pear. He concluded he couldn’t.

But if Miliband can’t come across as ‘normal’, what does this say about Michael Gove?

Let alone a pear, it is scarcely imaginable to conceive of him even eating human food. More fittingly, I can instead imagine him fulfilling his nutritious needs by munching on musty rugger shorts, old Latin textbooks and pieces of chalk late at night – his personalised King James Bible lying open beside his plate.

Politically, Michael Gove’s agenda seems to be to try to replicate across the country the kind of education he himself received. In doing so, he is surrounding himself by a team of what critics have recently labelled ‘yes men’. To me, the ‘men’ in that statement is as pivotal as what they’re saying ‘yes’ to, the politics of which I will put aside for one moment.

Michael Gove did not himself have a ‘standard’ education. He, like many of his Cabinet colleagues and advisors, attended an elite boarding school. Clearly this is about class too, but though Gove’s wasn’t, what is also true is that many of those most prominent British public schools are male only. And so almost by default in his ideological pursuit, Gove is making education and its governance an elite, male only affair. The recent and unceremonious sacking of Sally Morgan is for some a case in point.

This means the British education system, intended to serve all children in the UK, is being governed almost uniquely by representatives of less than half of the population – and that is a problem.

This is not to say that men don’t know about education, but simply that women do too. In fact, given that women still make up three-quarters of all registered teachers, it might even be fair to say that women know a bit more.

Clearly, this distinct lack of female representation is true of politics in general. Recently in Prime Minister’s Questions Ed Miliband raised the fact that women’s representation in the Conservative party is dramatically declining, not that it ever reached much of a peak.  There were no women on the frontbench to defend the Prime Minister.

Picture courtesy of @fawcettsociety

Incredibly, Miliband pointed out that there are more former pupils of Eton in David Cameron’s Cabinet than women. What this says about the wealth, gender and ultimately the world view of the current government is undeniable.

In the current political climate, not only are fewer women gaining access to the top table to make decisions about the schools they as teachers are over-represented in, but arguably this is already having a knock-on effect on what is decided  – policies that could explicitly address discrimination against women and girls, like introducing compulsory Sex and Relationships Education into schools, are being denied.

No party is perfect when it comes to the representation of women; but to claim any semblance of equality, clearly the biggest decisions affecting our country should not be made solely by member’s of an old boy’s club.