David Lammy Talks Downhills Primary, Michael Gove As Stalin And Defending Inner-City Schools

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David Lammy Talks Downhills Primary, Michael Gove As Stalin And Defending Inner-City Schools
David Lammy Talks Downhills Primary, Michael Gove As Stalin And Defending Inner-City Schools

Describing your political opponent as devious and sly are both relatively acceptable adjectives in the cut-throat world of politics.

Likening the secretary of state for education to a mass murderer whose regime of terror saw millions perish under his rule, however, is another thing entirely.

But the MP for Tottenham David Lammy did just that when responding to Gove's recent comments about a north London school.

"Michael Gove says to parents 'You're a bunch of Trots and I'm Stalin and you've got to have the model I want'."

We are of course discussing Downhills, Lammy's old primary school. The school made headlines after accusing Gove of illegally forcing it to convert to academy status - and the battle is still raging.

"The truth is the school has had problems over the past few years," Lammy admits. "Standards have slipped, there's no doubt about it.

"But I was very surprised Gove just disregarded the fact Ofsted were coming back into the school. He literally gave them three weeks to find a sponsor and become an academy. You can't talk about localism and local determination and then foist a particular solution on a group of parents.

"It's wrong to say to some parents 'why don't you go and set up a free school' and to others 'right this is what you are going to have'."

According to Lammy, the head at Downhills has already sacked six teachers and is in the process of "turning it around".

"It takes a strong head who's really committed and not burnt out to run a school. And in the tougher parts of the country they do burn out. What you too often find is it's a merry-go-round between the best heads.

"The pass-the-parcel system in Britain is not the answer to better standards in education. It can't be."

Far from being against academies, but then Labour could never turn against their brain child anyhow, Lammy insists the model is the right choice for some schools, just not all.

"I am worried about a situation where all schools become academies. If they all have that autonomy then it's not clear which ones are failing. An academy in Poole is one of the worst schools in the country. Where do you go from there?

"I don't think Gove has an answer to that.

"I think he believes in competition and thinks some schools should succeed and some should fail," he adds.

Unsurprisingly, the North London MP is defensive of inner-city schools.

"The ones really struggling are those beyond London yet Gove is choosing to wage his battles here in London. I think probably for political reasons. It's quite easy to kick Haringey Council, isn't it?

"That happens traditionally, when we get a Conservative government."

Lammy adds he predicts a future "postcode lottery" as a result of Gove's academies policy "exaggerating the gap between successful and failing schools".

In his utopian world, "labels don't matter".

"I think Britain finds itself too often obsessed with structure in education. When actually the real debates are about substances and quality."

But Lammy soon comes crashing back down to earth: "I think to simply say 'right it's an academy and it will be fine'...I wish it was that simple."

"I think the government will be facing a lot more challenges," he adds, referring back to the school he is championing in its fight against "Stalin".

"I've been surprised from the letters I've been receiving from all around the country - teachers reporting being scrutinised unfairly, and of force.

"I have a lot of respect for the professionalism for this generation of teachers and heads. Gove seems not to understand that. I think there's a way to treat people and he is treating people with a 1950's approach to education.

Regardless of his political motives to discredit Gove, it is evident Lammy has real empathy for his old school. "That spotlight, that pressure, that tension Gove has thrown on the school just before their Ofsted inspection is a really surprising move. He should have waited."

And the students?

"They don't want to be educated amidst petitions and strikes. Unfortunately that's the road down which Gove is set on going."

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