Time to slow pace of change

SINCE coming to power last year, the coalition Government has confounded many expectations.

The lack of public division between Conservative and Liberal Democrat Ministers has been striking; their refusal to back down over spending cuts remarkable.

But most surprising of all has been their unexpected zeal for radical change.

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For the past 10 months, the coalition has felt like a Government in a hurry.

In some ways this is understandable. Ministers are well aware that the best opportunity to force real change is often in the early days of government. Tony Blair’s regrets about his underwhelming first term of office will have been ringing in their ears as they entered the halls of power.

But a desire to change things too quickly can be hugely detrimental.

Witness the shockingly ill-thought out plan to privatise the nation’s forests, quickly dropped by a contrite Caroline Spelman.

Witness, too, the gamble being taken with the NHS by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, a man seemingly desperate to make his name by shaking the organisation to its core – without even opting to trial his plans first.

Now we see Education Secretary Michael Gove become the latest cabinet Minister to push blindly ahead with his own pet project – the establishment of so-called free schools.

Unlike Mr Lansley, he at least had the good grace to warn voters prior to the election that this was the course he intended to take.

But he too now risks creating chaos by his insistence on pushing forward with his plans on a wholly unrealistic timescale.

Free schools are supposed to be at the very forefront of the Government’s education reforms, empowering local communities across the land. But the headlong rush to introduce them this year is creating deep uncertainty.

Parents and pupils who opt for free schools deserve the very best standards in education – instead, they face confusion over whether their chosen schools will even get the go ahead.

This is both unnecessary and unacceptable.

Mr Gove’s refusal to listen now leaves him open to accusations that this policy has become a personal vanity project.

And in a wider context, it leaves the coalition open to suggestions that the sheer inexperience of its Ministers is beginning to tell.