It's also clear that the unions won't go down without a fight. In addition to strikes, the NASUWT has recently called, among other things, for teachers to refuse to cover for absence or to supervise pupils during their lunch break. At one conference I attended, activists wanted meetings to be organised around the country to warn parents of the "perils" of academy status.
Who is going to win in this battle over our schools? Again, America offers some idea of where the debate may be headed. Despite her personal experience, Rhee is optimistic about the future of educational reform, especially in the US. "I am very impressed with the President," she says. "He has made it safe to support reform. He has said things that a Democrat would never say" — a reference to Obama's public support for school freedom and competition.
However, it looks as if the rest of his party are reluctant supporters at best. In recent years members of the Democratic Party have voiced their opposition to charter schools (the US equivalent of free schools) in states like Michigan, while in Georgia Democrat members of the State House of Representatives have opposed an amendment that would allow the state to create new charter schools. So are the Democrats really willing to continue to support school reform? "It's still not a majority view," Rhee conceded. "But change is not going to happen in one night."
In England, too, there are politicians who are still uncertain about school reform, not least within the Labour Party. Despite Labour having introduced the academy programme, the current front bench seems reluctant to continue its support. The Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, is known to be cautiously supportive of school reform, dubbing free schools "brilliant", but he has seemingly been pressured to take a more critical view by his sceptical leader, Ed Miliband.
On a local level the opposition to school reform can be vitriolic: in August the Labour-controlled Birmingham City Council refused to allow a free school, despite acknowledging that the proposals met all the legal requirements. Even Lord Adonis, former Minister for Schools and the ideological father of these reforms, has apparently switched sides, recently proclaiming that academy conversions were a "gimmick".
That someone as intelligent as Adonis would be willing to criticise the educational movement that he helped to launch is a sign of the fragility of the support school reform enjoys among the ranks of the potential next government. Gove looks set to remain in charge of English education for the next three years at least. But the militant leadership of the teaching unions looks here to stay beyond the next general election. There is a real danger that Gove will be replaced by someone unwilling to stand up to the unions.
In the meantime, Gove shows no sign of giving up, declaring earlier this year that he wished to confront those who "are putting the ideology of central control ahead of the interests of children". Yet until the Labour Party heeds these words, the prospect of a far-left victory over educational policy remains an unsettling possibility.
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