Guy Fawkes and Neil Carmichael, the new chairman of the Education Select Committee, may have been educated at the same school but there the similarities appear to end.
Certainly Fawkes developed somewhat more revolutionary instincts at St Peter’s, York, than Carmichael, who toed the party line throughout the last Parliament, not rebelling against the Government once.
Carmichael was also one of the more gentle inquisitors when he was a mere member of the same Select Committee in the last Parliament, and was a keen supporter of the Government’s education reforms, notably on giving teachers’ greater freedom and on increasing the number of academies.
But if the Tory Government expects to be given an easier ride by Carmichael than they were by his predecessor and fellow Conservative, Graham Stuart – who provided strong challenge to former Education Secretary Michael Gove on exam reform and free schools, among other issues, even describing some of the reforms as”rushed and ill-thought-out” – then they may be in for a nasty surprise.
For Carmichael has said that among his priorities is a promise to examine the remit and brief of the Regional Schools Commissioners (RSC), whose oversight and intervention role will be increasingly important when the new Education and Adoption Bill is passed. Under the Bill, RSCs will have a central role in deciding which under-performing schools will be tackled, and how. Carmichael has expressed his concern that not enough is known about the role of the RSCs, especially when there are increasing numbers of schools leaving local authority control to become academies (now well over 4,000, compared to just 203 five years ago).
School governance and accountability may not be the most glamorous of subjects but many in education have been increasingly concerned that not enough has been done by the Conservatives, while encouraging autonomy, to ensure there remains appropriate oversight of academies. Carmichael is among them – one of his first acts as an MP was to establish an All-Party Parliamentary Group on governance and leadership in education, and he has co-authored a report on school governance.
He has also promised to work with Iain Wright, the Labour MP who is the new chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, on a new report on productivity, not least investigating the failure of our qualifications system to produce enough engineers in recent years.
Carmichael’s record and demeanour suggests we should not expect too many fireworks from him – but, quietly, he may perhaps put the odd rocket under the Government.