And so the Cabinet reshuffle happens. Farewell “voice of reason” Ken Clarke (although if your idea of “reason” is fag-smoking, Hush Puppy-wearing and jazz-listening, then you need to have a good hard look at yourself). And farewell, too (from the Department for Education) for Michael Gove, architect of some of the most significant changes to teaching in the UK in my lifetime.
New Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan has some tough times ahead. Putting aside the possibly deeply sexist-stereotyping of her maintaining her role as Minister for Women as well as the new brief in Education, September sees the roll-out of the new National Curriculum across schools in England. Gove is inextricably linked to these changes, pushing through despite widespread opposition across the teaching profession. Losing the figurehead of the initiative now is a risky step.
Getting people to change is an art. One challenge that I’ve seen many times in business is that the instigators of the change are emotionally and temporally distant from those who need to actually do something to make the change happen. Put simply, a bunch of people have been working at it in detail for months or even years, so assume everyone else is at the same stage of understanding. Astonishment is then the reaction when the subjects of change don’t do the things that have been so meticulously planned.
Changing the leader at this point has challenges. In this case, Morgan will be behind the curve in terms of understanding of what has come to pass so far. Sure she’ll be briefed, but she won’t have lived and breathed this stuff for the past 4 years. Secondly, the ownership of this vision becomes blurred – the curriculum changes are completely associated with Gove (in fact, there is possibly more association with the individual politician than in any other area for the current government). It’s Gove’s plan, without Gove to deliver.
I’ve got a vested interest here – my eldest starts school in September. I don’t know at the moment if I have a view on the new curriculum – my innate political compass tells me I shouldn’t like it, but my mind was opened a great deal when I recently read Ian Leslie’s book Curious. What I fear, though, is chaos. Chaos because the changes haven’t yet happened and without clear leadership run the risk of becoming a hotch-potch of stuff that nobody quite believes in or can deliver. It’s not to say that Morgan can’t be a good leader – it’s just it’s really hard to lead on what was someone else’s brainchild.
Change doesn’t happen at the issuing of a policy or the publishing of a curriculum, no more than in business does it happen from the publishing of a strategy or the issuing of some corporate values. The proposed changes in education are seismic, and shifting the delivery onto a new Secretary of State at this crucial time is deeply worrying.