On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove was invited to discuss the twenty-four free schools opening this month. The free schools are a Conservative invention: centrally funded, outside of local authority control and run by anyone who wants to run one. Except those with “wackoidal theories” of course; Mr Gove isn’t keen on them.
Wackoidal.  As education buzz words go, this one appears at first glance somewhat bizarre. However, if one considers its source…
The “fairy godfather of the free schools,” as Marr so delightfully called him, has certainly not endeared himself to many teachers since taking up his post as Secretary of State for Education. Why? Well I’d argue it’s down to his own wackoidal theories which, unfortunately, he has the power to turn into policy that have done for him.
Let’s recap on the Gove revolution to date. There was the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme, described by one High Court judge as “an abuse of power.” Then there was the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance which helped pupils afford to stay in post-16 education. Not forgetting, of course, the subsequent U-turn on EMA. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate was another headline grabber from Mr Gove and his coalition pals. Having blamed Labour and their league tables for squeezing the “fun and enjoyment” out of education, all of a sudden here was Mr Gove saddling us with yet another measure to meet. (I’m glossing over hikes in university fees and cuts to public sector pensions as I don’t think I can place the blame for those wackoidal theories entirely at Mr Gove’s door!)
And what of Free Schools?
I’m all for raising standards, giving pupils the skills and experiences they need to succeed in our 21st century world. And yes, like many a teacher, I’ve played the ‘if only I was in charge’ day-dreaming game. But are free schools really the answer? The schools, twenty four opening this month and 280 more applying to open, are free to teach broadly what they want and their teachers don’t have to be trained as teachers. I watched Jamie Oliver’s Dream School experiment on Channel 4: some of the experts made fantastic teachers, others not so much. I’m not saying a teacher’s training gives them a divine right to teach, in fact I find I rely heavily on skills I learned in my previous career in my own classroom. However surely some training is better than none?
Andrew Marr questioned the Education Secretary on what would stop free schools going down ideological routes, giving creationism or Islamic fundamentalism as examples. Apparently we shouldn’t worry; MI5 are being used to check the backgrounds of those who apply to set up a free school and Mr Gove promises to root out those with “wackoidal theories.” So that’s ok then.
Marr probed further, asking Gove about his recent ‘defeat’ at the hands of coalition partner Nick Clegg on the issue of schools being run on a profit-making basis. We’re safe “for the moment” was his attempt at reassurance, but Gove admitted to being a “pragmatist not an ideologue” when it comes to the profit argument, which says to me that the idea is sure to be mooted again in the not-too-distant future.
Personally I think the idea that companies may be allowed to make a profit from running a school is one of the most dangerous and highly ‘wackoidal’ theories to date, but what do I know, I’m only a teacher. If I ran my own school I wouldn’t be looking to make a profit. But that’s not going to happen… or is it? Really Actually Free School 281? Now, where did I put that application form.
 Wackoidal (adj.) is likely to make it into the OED in its next round of inclusions, given the flurry of interest its use in this interview has sparked, and will no doubt make its way into one of my A Level English Language lessons on language change and the formation of new words. So for that and that alone, Mr Gove, I thank you.
Written for the Huffington Post UK.