While Michael Gove certainly came in for a tetchy reception from delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) conference on Saturday, the education secretary was in an equally combative mood.
After delegates took him to task over the stress caused by Sats tests and Ofsted inspections, Mr Gove was less than impressed. “I thank you for your candour,” he told the conference, “but I’m afraid that’s where we’re going to have to part company.”
And Mr Gove seems to have struggled to shake off his ill temper following his less-than-successful visit to Birmingham, if his response is anything to go by.
He was “particularly disappointed” by the reaction he received, he writes, singling out new NAHT president Bernadette Hunter for individual criticism. “It’s so depressing,” he continues, “when the response from someone affecting to speak on behalf of the profession is a direct attack on the principle of setting higher expectations”.
Mr Gove says that he won’t “compromise on standards to appease the defeatists”, before contrasting the jeering delegates at the conference – who seem to have been absorbed into the “enemies of promise” category – with the “genuinely world-beating heads” who are “embracing these reforms”.
Speaking straight after Mr Gove’s comments at the conference, NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby told him: “I think you create conflict where none is necessary.”
And he perhaps has a point. In contrast with the outright hostility displayed by some of the other education unions, Mr Gove has enjoyed a relatively cordial relationship with the NAHT. At last year’s conference, he went so far as to describe Mr Hobby as “brilliant”.
The NAHT has made a point of promoting positive responses to the educational climate, such as the Aspire school improvement programme and its own peer-led inspections.
Indeed, Mr Hobby even provoked the wrath of the other unions by expressing support for Mr Gove’s performance-pay policy for teachers. As he told delegates in his speech yesterday, “unless we ourselves take ownership of standards, we frankly deserve political interference.”
It’s a message that would have been music to the ears of Mr Gove. At a time when allies within the educational establishment are in short supply for the education secretary, creating even more enemies is perhaps not the wisest move.