GOVE-BELIEFS:  the ideology of former Secretary of State for Education: as seen by Michael Bassey  ARCHIVED on 10 November 2015
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Apart from the highly contentious objectives of Michael Gove’s proposals, their sheer number and timing should be ringing alarm bells throughout the high command of the coalition.  If we only lived in a democracy, all the main partners would have to be consulted – teachers, parents, employers and students.  In our elective dictatorship, successive secretaries of state since 1988 have simply imposed their policies on those who must enact them.  In doing so, however they fatally weaken any claim they have to democratic legitimacy.

Professor Frank Coffield (Ref 1)



Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education since May 2010, has shaken and changed the English school system more than any previous holder of that office since Kenneth Baker introduced the Education Reform Act of 1988.  What ideas drive him?  What is his ideology?

He is a prolific speaker and many of his speeches are available on websites.   Critical analysis of some of these leads me to give the following account of what seems to make him tick.  Reading what he has said to a variety of audiences I am impressed by his gracious remarks to the convenors of the meetings he addresses, his command of rhetoric and fluency of expression, and the range of ideas that he focuses onto his theme.  While a few of his pronouncements are ones that I, and many others, would laud, most of them leave me gravely worried as to where he is taking our education system. 



In summary these seem to be twelve of Michael Gove’s major beliefs about education and its reform. 

1.   Education is the hall-mark of civilisation, an entitlement for all, and the route to successful lives.

2.   Teaching is the noblest calling.

3.   Every school should be a good school.

4.   Schools are failing if the poverty of children inhibits their educational development.

5.   Our schools must be world-class in the face of global competition.

6.   The curriculum must reflect the best of our culture particularly in terms of English, mathematics, science, history, geography and  a language.

7.   Our expectations for schools must be “continuously” raised.

8.   Examinations – written and time-restricted – are essential;   failure gives an incentive to succeed.

9.   League tables are an essential tool for state management of schools. 

10.  More than half of our young should go to university.

11.  Monetary rewards give enhanced performance by teachers.

12.  The best method of defence is attack: castigate ‘the enemies of reform’.



The evidence for these statements is contained in the following extracts from Mr Gove’s speeches since becoming secretary of state. 

To these I have appended my own comments arising from the practice and experience of a life-time of teaching, training teachers, and researching education.  Yes, I belong to that ‘left-wing establishment’ that Mr Gove chooses to ignore and villify.  Most of his beliefs I challenge vigorously.  Of course, as is anyone, he is entitled to hold his own beliefs, but I question whether he is entitled to stamp these onto our education system. 


Govian belief 1  Education is the hall-mark of civilisation, an entitlement for all, and the route to successful lives.

Gove:  On 14 November 2012 Michael Gove set out his views on education in a speech to the Independent Academies Association. (Ref 2)  He said:

“It is important to emphasise that education is a good in itself - beyond - indeed above - any economic, social or political use to which it might be put. Because education properly understood - a liberal education which includes the disciplines of language, literature and mathematics, science, geography and history, music, art and design - introduces children to the habits of thought and bodies of knowledge which are the highest expressions of human thought and creativityEducation - properly understood - allows children to become citizens - capable of sifting good arguments from bad, the bogus from the truthful, the contingent from the universal. These intellectual capacities are vital if we are to keep democracy healthy, social relations civilised, economic behaviour honest and cultural life enriching.

“But these abilities can only come from the initial submission of the student's mind to the body of knowledge contained within specific subjects. And these traditional subjects are the best route to encouraging the techniques of thinking which mark out the educated mind.”

MB comment:  There is much in the first paragraph to agree with, but it is insufficient.  Gove focuses on disciplines of the mind and ignores disciplines which unite body and mind – craftwork, gymnastics, sports, dance, for example. He is strong on cognitive thinking but ignores practical thinking.  The second paragraph is intellectually arrogant and highly arguable.

If a professor of Education may dare to put his head above the parapet in the Govian world I will refer to my ‘framework’ definition of education based on nurture, culture and survival. It is a ‘framework’ because it leaves others to identify what they see as worthwhile.

 First: education is the experience and nurture of personal and social development towards worthwhile living;  second: education is the acquisition, creation, development, transmission, conservation, discovery, and renewal of worthwhile culture; and third: education is the acquisition, development, transmission, conservation, discovery, and renewal of skills for worthwhile survival. (Ref 3)

In terms of culture, Michael Gove clearly sets out his views, but it is worrying that he does not seem to recognize the nurture of personal and social development as an essential element of education, nor the importance of the skills of survival.


 Govian Belief 2   Teaching is the noblest calling.

Gove:  Addressing the Conservative Party Conference on 5 October 2010, the new secretary of state said:

 “Teachers transform lives as very few others can. … We honour the work our teachers do, we salute the sacrifices they make, we applaud their commitment to our children.”
(Ref 4)

MB comment: Well on this we all agree, except, perhaps for a few readers of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph since these papers regularly report on the rare cases of misdeeds by teachers!

Gove:  At a Department conference for teachers in Birmingham on 26 June 2011 Michael Gove again praised the teaching profession:

“I am uniquely fortunate to be secretary of state at a time when we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools and the best generation of heads leading them.” (Ref 5)

MB comment: Whether schools are equally fortunate in the present secretary of state is no doubt a matter debated in many staff rooms!


 Govian belief 3   Every school should be a good school

Gove: “We should demand that every school is a good school because of the potential of education to power economic growth, advance social mobility and make opportunity more equal.” (Ref 2)

MB comment: I agree with the NUT slogan of ‘every school a good school’ as a matter of social justice, but, as expressed elsewhere (Ref 6), I am opposed to ‘economic growth’ in an already rich country like ours because it accelerates global warming. Education should be seen as a means of gaining intellectual wealth, not financial wealth!

I also agree about education making ‘opportunity more equal’ if this refers to ‘equal opportunity to learn’, but ‘social mobility’ is a problematic concept in a country like ours because of the gross inequality between rich and poor and its consequences for a meritocracy (Ref 7).


Govian belief 4   Schools are failing if the poverty of children inhibits their educational development.

Gove: “The scandal which haunts my conscience is the plight of those students from the poorest backgrounds, in the poorest neighbourhoods, in our poorest-performing schools who need us to act if their right to a decent future is to be guaranteed.” (Ref 5)

MB comment: Years ago, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Sir Keith Joseph as secretary of state for Education was saying the same.  Sadly too little has changed.

Gove:  “I can’t rest when more than 800 primary schools can’t even get half their children reading, writing and adding up properly. 

I can’t rest when nearly 600 secondary schools can’t get more than 35% of their pupils to secure decent passes in GCSE Maths and English.” 
(Ref 4)

MB comment: So, it is schools that ‘can’t get’ the achievements because of their faltering efforts, not the consequence of the pupils’ home environments.  Here is the strong hint of blame. Yet a moment earlier he was honouring the work that teachers do. Gove presumably dismisses the phrase ‘Education cannot compensate for society’ of Basil Bernstein in 1970, no doubt seeing him as one of the ‘ideologues’ whom he denigrates in the speech quoted below. In these speeches, Gove gives examples of the few schools that have succeeded against the odds:  argument by selected instance!

Gove:  “The same ideologues who are happy with failure – the enemies of promise – also say you can’t get the same results in the inner cities as the leafy suburbs so it’s wrong to stigmatise these schools.  I utterly reject that attitude. It’s the bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left wing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity. And it’s an ideology that’s been proven wrong time and time again.”  (Ref 8)  

MB comment: Yes.  There are a number of inner city schools that have made substantial gains in their GCSE results after becoming academies.  Michael Gove regularly cherry picks these examples in his speeches.  There may be a variety of reasons for their success. But many schools in areas of deprivation, notwithstanding the hard work and commitment of their teachers, continue to struggle to reach the targets set by the DfE – and are stigmatized because of not reaching the arbitrary targets which have been set irrespective of the school context.

Gove: “Whatever hand fate deals you, schools should give every child an opportunity to make their life anew. (Ref 4)

MB comment: Agreed in principle but ‘fate’ in terms of poverty and deprivation is often more powerful than schools.  As Professor Colin Richards wrote recently: “Only a massive shifting of socioeconomic ‘tectonic plates’ will suffice to create genuine educational equality and no major political party is offering even the prospect of that.” (Ref 9)  Or, as President Clinton said, in a different context, “It’s the economy, stupid”. (Ref 10)

Gove: “I do not believe that who you are born to should determine who you become and I hate the idea that an accident of birth should limit any child’s opportunities.”   (Ref 4)

MB comment: This sounds more like the obiter dicta of a socialist than a conservative! But it flies in the face of the reality of not just our society but the whole world.

Gove does not accept that the problem of a school getting only low grades, for example in GCSE, is usually an inevitable consequence of the socio-economic problems of the school community.  Instead he appears to blame schools for not overcoming the socio-economic problems!   

His phrase “who you become” deserves close analysis.  Does he mean what jobs you can aim for in adult life?  In which case many would endorse his view while recognizing it as a pious hope.  But “who you become” could also mean the sort of person you become, for example how your personality develops, how family-oriented you become, what hobbies you enjoy. I wonder whether Michael Gove also ‘hates the idea’ that the accident of birth can also advance a child’s opportunities?  Would he want to distance children from well-to-do or caring and home-loving parents?  


Govian belief 5  Our schools must be world-class in the face of global competition.                                  

Gove: “Our children will never outstrip the global competition unless we know our exams can compete with the best in the world.

Which is why I have insisted that the maths exams and science exams our 16-year-olds sit will, in the future, be every bit as tough as those they sit in Massachussetts, South Korea or Singapore.  (Ref 4)

MB comment: ‘World class’ seems to mean to Gove doing well in the PISA international tables and so rivalling Singapore, South Korea and the state of Massachussetts.  Perhaps this explains why his junior minister, Elizabeth Truss, announced on 30 January 2013 that “Formal structured education needs to start at the age of three if Britain is to keep pace with top-performing Asian countries”. (Ref 11)

To me, ‘world class’ is an empty concept.  Countries differ and are at different stages of development.  I believe we in the UK (and many other old industrial countries) are at the stage when we should eschew further economic growth (perhaps we are already there with the ‘flat-lining’ of our economy) and aim for more or less self-sufficiency with a minimum of international trading as our contribution to reducing global warming. Accordingly we should educate for conviviality (Ref 3), not wealth creation.  But this is at present a minority view.

Gove:  “This Government, at this time, has been called to restore hope to our nation

This, Government, at this time, can at last ensure we have world class schools for the next generation.

This Government, at this time, has the chance to liberate our poorest children from the shadow of ignorance and the chains of dependency.

It is a fight I feel privileged to be part of – it is a fight, with your help, we will win.”
 (Ref 4)

MB comment: Is this the rhetoric of Churchill or Karl Marx?  I am sure Gove will have read The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone (Ref 12).  Among the many social variables discussed is the evidence that the greater the income inequality in a nation the greater spread in educational attainment. Perhaps if Michael Gove had become chancellor of the exchequer and put his fireball energy into reducing the income of the rich and increasing that of the poor, he would have been nearer to achieving his educational aims.


Govian belief 6   The curriculum must reflect the best of our culture particularly in terms of English, mathematics, science, history, geography and a language.

MB comment: This belief is manifest in Gove’s baccalaureate proposals where he plans to replace GCSEs in these subjects with more demanding baccalaureate certificates, while leaving other subjects as GCSEs.

Gove:  “A national curriculum designed by ideologues and policed by bureaucrats has demoralised and demotivated our teachers and downplayed the vital place of knowledge. 

Which is why we need radical change.” (Ref 4)

MB comment:  Surely he can’t have forgotten that it was a Conservative administration in 1988 that created the national curriculum.  Whether it ‘demotivated’ teachers is arguable, many found it helpful. If ‘radical change’ means getting rid of central control, bureaucracy and obsessive inspection, I’ll agree with him.  But it is unlikely to happen.

Gove: “We need to reform English: the great tradition of our literature - Dryden, Pope, Swift, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Austen, Dickens and Hardy - should be at the heart of school life.

 Our literature is the best in the world – it is every child’s birthright and we should be proud to teach it in every school.”
 (Ref 4) 

MB comment: Yes, this is what he actually said. The list of an ideologue wanting his own literary delights to be shared with every child. And did he deliberately omit Chaucer and Shakespeare?

Gove:  “And, more than that, it is every child’s right to be taught how to communicate clearly.

Thousands of children – including some of our very brightest – leave school unable to compose a proper sentence, ignorant of basic grammar, incapable of writing a clear and accurate letter.”  (Ref 4)

MB comment: 
Yes. This is probably true.  We can agree here.  It is a consequence of societal change in communication:  mobile phone texts, emails, twitter etc are ‘clear communications’ between young people
- who rarely need to write letters.

Gove: “Under this Government we will insist that our exams, once more, take proper account of the need to spell, punctuate and write a grammatical sentence. (Ref 4)

MB comment: Which few excel at under the pressure of a two or three hour written examination.

Gove:  “How many of our students are learning the lessons of history?

… Children are given a mix of topics at primary, a cursory run through Henry the Eighth and Hitler at secondary and many give up the subject at 14, without knowing how the vivid episodes of our past become a connected narrative. Well, this trashing of our past has to stop.

… We will put British history at the heart of a revived national curriculum.” (Ref 4)

MB comment: This is highly contentious.  What is taught in school history should not be defined by government but chosen by history teachers in terms of their own expertise, their judgement of what is appropriate for their pupils and, in terms of examinations, what they select from what should be a wide range of possibilities offered by the exam boards.]

Gove: “Every school now has the opportunity to take complete control of its budget, curriculum and staffing by applying to be an academy.” (Ref 8)

MB comment: What is confusing is that the academies (which now include over half of our secondary schools) can be in ‘complete control’ of their curriculum, as he said in this speech extract.  Except, of course, that in the later years of secondary education, the syllabuses of the exam boards inevitably determine what schools teach.

He takes what seems to be an old grammar school view of what really ‘counts’ as worthwhile study.  When he says, “We need to reform English: the great tradition of our literature - Dryden, Pope, Swift, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Austen, Dickens and Hardy - should be at the heart of school life”, in one speech and then “We will put British history at the heart of a revived national curriculum” in another we may wonder whether he has a grip on today’s world. 


Govian belief 7  Our expectations for schools must be “continuously” raised.

Gove: “To compete with the best in the world, we have to raise our expectations not just once but continuously.” (Ref 5)

MB comment: For ever and ever. Amen ?

Gove: “I don’t believe that 35 per cent of kids getting five decent GCSEs should be the limit of our ambition.
 So next year the floor will rise to 40 per cent and my aspiration is that by 2015 we will be able to raise it to 50 per cent. There is no reason – if we work together – that by the end of this parliament every young person in the country can’t be educated in a school where at least half of students reach this basic academic standard.
… A GCSE floor standard is about providing a basic minimum expectation to young people that their school will equip them for further education and employment.”  (Ref 5)

MB comment: This was in June 2011, but in September 2012 he announced that maths, English and 3 other subjects at GCSE would be replaced by more demanding baccalaureate certificates to be first examined in 2017.

'Continuous’ improvement is a bureaucratic concept not a practical one which puts problematic levels of pressure on teachers who may be already overworked and struggling and threatens the career prospects of headteachers whose schools fail to meet these thresholds.


Govian belief 8  Examinations – written and time-restricted – are essential;  failure gives an incentive to succeed

Gove:  “First, exams matter because motivation matters. Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges". (Ref 2)

MB comment: Some are strongly ‘hard-wired’, others less so and perhaps some not at all.  Gove gave a Bible to every school in the country:  what does he make of ‘blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’?

Gove: "And our self-belief grows as we clear challenges we once thought beyond us. If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning.”  (Ref 2)

MB comment: Agreed.  But this is a half-truth.  What of the experience of failing to clear the hurdle?  For some it is an incentive to try harder.  But for many it results in loss of self-confidence and the disillusionment with self that leads to switch off.]

Gove: “Second, exams matter because the happiness I have described sustains future progress. We know that happiness comes from earned success." (Ref 2)

MB comment: And unhappiness from failure.

Gove:  "There is no feeling of satisfaction as deep, or sustained, as knowing we have succeeded through hard work at a task which as the upper end, or just beyond, our normal or expected level of competence. The craftsman's contentment in an artefact fashioned more elegantly than he could ever have hoped, the singer's joy when she has completed an aria which stretches the very limits of her range, the athlete's joy at his personal best, all of these are examples of the deepest human happiness which any of us can achieve for ourselves.”  (Ref 2)

MB comment: Curiously these examples are all from disciplines that he omitted from his account of liberal education as described earlier.

Gove: “Third, exams help those who need support to do better, to know what support they need. Exams show those who have not mastered certain skills or absorbed specific knowledge what more they need to practice and which areas they need to work on.” (Ref 2)

MB comment: This is an argument for coursework not examinations.  Properly organized coursework enables the student to receive detailed comments on work submitted and the opportunity to revise it, improve it and learn in the process.  By comparison it is rare for examination papers to be returned to students and even rarer for them to be annotated in detail as to how the work could have been improved.

Gove: “For all these reasons exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all. Unless there is stretch in the specification, and application is required to succeed, there will be no motivation, no satisfaction and no support for those who need it.”  (Ref 2)

MB comment: This is a dangerous argument.  In effect Gove is saying that exams must be pitched at such a level to ensure that some candidates will fail.  The alternative is to eschew the terms ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ but instead to give a mark or grade on a continuum, as happens, for example, with GCSE and some other public exams.

Gove: “The fourth reason exams matter is that they ensure there is a solid understanding of foundations before further learning starts. … Subjects are nothing if they are not coherent traditional bodies of knowledge, with understanding and appreciation of basic facts and simple concepts laying the ground for understanding of more complex propositions, laws, correlations and processes.” (Ref 2)

MB comment: True, it is needed when students move from one institution to another so that the new teachers hopefully can know where the students are ‘at’.  But within institutions this is the role of teachers, not examiners, as explicated by the ideas of ‘assessment for learning’. 

Gove: “And that takes me to the fifth reason exams matter - they signal to those who might admit an individual to a position of responsibility that the individual is ready to take on that responsibility. Whether it’s the driving test that allows an adult to take to the road or a completed apprenticeship which allows an electrician to rewire a building or the pre-U examination that confirms a candidate is ready for the rigours of a physics degree, the examination is a guarantee of competence.” (Ref 2)

MB comment:  Agreed.  Michael Gove speaks from the experience, revealed in a Parliamentary debate on 16 January 2013, of having taken the driving test six times before being able ‘to take to the road’.

Gove: “Now I’m aware that some will argue that the problem with exams as a preparation for deep thought and rounded study is that exam preparation involves dull memorisation, stress and an excessive concentration of mental effort and at the end we forget everything we learned the moment the test is over.  But the precise opposite is the case.” (Ref 2)

MB comment: Both the ‘problem’ and the denial are meaningless generalities.  Such arguments can only be resolved instance by instance.

Gove: “Which brings me to my sixth reason to support exams. They facilitate proper learning and support great teaching.  Because tests require students to show they have absorbed and retained knowledge – and can deploy it effectively – they require teachers to develop the techniques which hold students’ attention and fix concepts in their minds. That will mean deploying entertaining narratives in history, striking practical work in science and unveiling hidden patterns in maths. Tests drive creativity at every level.”  (Ref 2)

MB comment: Exams ‘require teachers to develop techniques which hold students’ attention and fix concept in their minds’?  Surely irrespective of exams this is the very essence of what teachers do when they are teaching a subject?  It is what they are trained for and it is what they strive day by day to do.

Gove: “And more than that – they drive equality. The seventh reason we need exams is to ensure our society is ordered on the basis of fairness. And merit. … [In modern society there is] a basic contract between the state and individuals - access to positions of influence depends on objective measurement of merit.  Examinations are, we can see, a key weapon of progressives everywhere. In place of privilege they supply talent, rather than office being dispensed by arbitrary and unfair means, it is distributed to those who show application and merit.” (Ref 2)

MB comment: In January 2011 Andrew Neil on TV reported that 10 per cent of the Government’s ministers (12 individuals) had been educated at Eton (Ref 13). The proportion has dropped since then.  Does provides outstanding talent based on the privilege of going there?]

Gove: Critics sometimes talk about certain schools as exam factories – dull Gradgrindian institutions which churn out great GCSE and A-level passes but which are otherwise joyless prison houses of the soul where the cultivation of whole child is neglected if not actively scorned." (Ref 2)

MB comment: Rubbish. This is not what critics mean by ‘exam factories’.  But certainly I am one who has castigated governments of both left and right for treating teachers as knowledge-transmitting and skills-training technicians who need to be given a manual and rule book in order to operate in a pupil factory and who need rigorous inspection and regular assessment in order to ensure that they are working at maximum efficiency and obeying the employer’s rules.  Micromanagement by ministers has done enormous harm to the spontaneity, creativity and flexibility that were once the hallmark of good practice in English schools and it has severely lowered the moral of many classroom teachers.

Gove:But I have to say I have never encountered such a [Gradgrind] school – either in visits or Ofsted reports. Because they don’t exist. (Ref 2)

 MB comment: On this we agree. But if he listens to the concerns of individual teachers, and indeed their union representatives, he should worry about the low morale in many schools and ask to what extent it centres on his office.

Gove:And that brings me to my final argument. Schools that take tests seriously take students seriously. Schools that want exam success want their students to succeed. And schools that pursue academic excellence give their students the potential to beat the world.”  (Ref 2)

MB comment: All schools take their students seriously:  it is part of every teacher’s ethic. Likewise they all want their students to succeed.  They do not all believe that testing is the key to this success.  ‘The potential to beat the world’ is a pious phrase that deserves detailed discussion.]


Govian belief 9   League tables are an essential tool for state management of schools 

 Gove: “We know that the sorting of test results into league tables is another progressive [help!] development in education.  In the past, before the clarifying honesty [help!] of league tables, schools were judged on hearsay and prejudice. Testing and league tables don't just help us to overcome prejudice - they actively advance equality. League tables enable us to identify high-performing schools and the factors that generate their success. They allow us to capture and then disseminate innovation and good practice. They allow us to identify those schools which are falling behind and failing their pupils and provide them with the support they need to do better. More often than not that support is coming from those schools we have identified - through testing and league tables - as successes. Without tests and league tables we would have no effective means of helping poor students succeed - we would be grappling in the dark for tools whose design we could not replicate to solve problems we could not identify for students we did not know how to locate.” (Ref 2)

MB commentWhere to begin?  It reads like what the Education Ministry might have said in George Orwell’s 1984. League tables are not needed for government to identify either high-performing or struggling schools - it is performance data that does that.  League tables certainly do not need to be published.  The result of publication is that struggling schools aren’t supported: they are pilloried and bullied.

The assumption that schools with lower exam results are ‘failing their pupils’ is a gross denial that local factors such as family poverty, joblessness and deprivation strongly affect pupil performance.  If teachers were to blame (as Gove implies) surely Ofsted, over the 20 years of its operation, would have sorted them out by now? 

Gove: “Now, I know that league tables can be corrupted. Too much reliance on one measure as a target – however well-designed that single target may be - will mean gaming can occur.  But we can limit – if not entirely eliminate – gaming by reforming our exams and accountability system. Which is what we are doing. (Ref 2)

MB comment: There is a simple way of avoiding corruption.  Stop publishing league tables! Stop judging schools with unfair performance measures and success criteria that encourage people to bend the rules.


Govian belief 10  More than half of our young should go to university

Gove: “We should believe our society capable of ensuring many more than half our young people are capable of going to university. … There are clearly many more children capable of enjoying what university has to offer, if only they were all properly taught.” (Ref 2)

MB comment: This is glib. It begs the question as to what universities are for.  Clearly they could take larger or smaller numbers of students, but for what purposes?

Gove: “In Poland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand more and more students are graduating from school and going on to university. …
So if we are to aspire to a world-class education system then we need to raise our sights.” (Ref 5)

MB comment: What if ‘world-class education’ is a chimera – as I suggested earlier?


Govian belief 11  Monetary rewards give enhanced performance by teachers

MB commentIn December 2012 the Department for Education announced that from September 2013 pay increases based on length of service will end. Currently virtually all full-time classroom teachers on the main pay scale automatically progress to the next pay point; henceforth all teachers’ pay progression will be linked to performance, based on annual appraisals.

 This is a very unfair decision. Many jobs in the UK are categorized by the total of a one-year wage that can be expected year after year unless there is promotion to a higher wage.  That is the basis of the contract between employer and new employee.  But teaching has been categorized by a starting year wage and progression to the top of the main pay scale after a number of years – and that has hitherto been the basis of the contract between employer and new teacher.

Gove: “These recommendations will make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job. They will give schools greater flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers. (Ref 14)

MB comment:  Fundamentally Gove does not understand that teaching would be ‘a more attractive career and a more rewarding job’ if the meddling of ministers, the bullying of Ofsted, and the corrosive consequences of performance management and league tables were dropped.  Everybody wants to be paid a fair wage for a job done well but few go into teaching looking for high financial rewards.  When you are working full tilt, as is the case with nearly every teacher, extra pay will be welcome but is unlikely to enable you to enhance your work.]   

Gove: "It is vital that teachers can be paid more without having to leave the classroom. This will be particularly important to schools in the most disadvantaged areas as it will empower them to attract and recruit the best teachers.” (Ref 14)

MB comment:  This is, of course, part of Gove’s myth that the existing teachers in ‘disadvantaged areas’ are not succeeding because they are not ‘the best’.


Govian belief 12  The best method of defence is attack: castigate ‘the enemies of reform’

Gove: “We’ve faced a good deal of opposition in the last year and a half. … It’s ironic, if you think about it. The popular critique of our reform programme has most often been of its underpinning motives. The talk was of … ‘ideologically-motivated school reforms.’ We’re supposed to be the ideologues. And yet the truth is rather different. The new ideologues are the enemies of reform, the ones who put doctrine ahead of pupils’ interests. Every step of the way, they have sought to discredit our policies, calling them divisive, destructive, ineffective, unpopular, unworkable – even ‘a crime against humanity.’  (Ref 8)

MB comment: Surely all reforms are ‘ideologically-motivated’ unless just random proposals?  Poor logic but strong rhetoric!

Gove: “Some [local authorities] however, are being obstructive. They are putting the ideology of central control ahead of the interests of children.  They are more concerned with protecting old ways of working than helping the most disadvantaged children succeed in the future. Anyone who cares about social justice must want us to defeat these ideologues and liberate the next generation from a history of failure."  (Ref 8)

MB comment: Really?  Are there actually local authorities not ‘helping the most disadvantaged children succeed in the future’?  Mr Gove endeavours to enlist the support of all who ‘care about social justice’, but who doesn’t? 

Gove: "We’ve heard a lot of arguments, a lot of excuses from those who don’t believe in giving children a better education. It’s time we called them what they are: ideologues. It’s the same old ideologues pushing the same old ideology of failure and mediocrity. Who sought to cow anyone with a desire for change by accusing them of 'talking down' the achievement of pupils and teachers. The same old ideologues who strove mightily to make the world fit their theories - and damaged generations in the process. (Ref 8)

MB comment: Soap box oratory.



Michael Gove has a trait that must be judged dangerous in government ministers: he expects everyone to respond to circumstances in the way that he has.  Thus being a successful journalist leads him to believe that time-restricted examination written papers are the best way to measure attainment; being adopted as a child seems to lead him to argue (in ways that are unclear) that schools must completely overcome any disadvantages that are attributable to their parents and home environments; retaking the driving test six times shows that he treats failure as a challenge rather than a defeat; and having a deep appreciation for what may be termed high-brow culture leads him to insist that schools should instill the same in their pupils.  

Gove doesn’t recognize that his modus operandi and life style are not universal.  He wants every child to succeed as he has and doesn’t understand that there are many, if not infinite, variations on the idea of the successful person.  In the process he praises teachers on the one hand and bullies them on the other.  Knowing that his period of office will be limited he looks for rapid change and declines to seek democratic consensus from all who have a stake in education: parents, teachers, employers, academics, public figures and young people themselves. 

Like most people today he believes that the UK needs economic growth, should compete aggressively for world trade, and that education is the future powerhouse for this.  Yet, more than any other government minister we might expect the holder of the education portfolio to be aware of fears for the future.  What will the world be like when today’s children are in the prime of life?  Economic growth means greater consumption, increased burning of fossil fuels, more greenhouse gas, and acceleration of global warming.  Global warming leads to climate changes; sea level rise; agricultural disasters; drought, starvation and malnutrition in parts of the world; and consequent population migration.  Peak oil – when oil wells begin to run dry - will result in massive cut-backs in freight and personal transport, in the many industries which use it as raw material, and in oil-based home heating.    Economic chaos and civil unrest are unlikely to diminish while vast inequalities continue between the greedy haves and the impoverished have-nots. 

These are the reason why in my ‘framework’ definition of education I include education for survival.  But Mr Gove chooses to ignore these matters, at least in his public speeches.  He is preparing our young for life of the 19th century, not the 21st.


Michael Bassey  January 2013



(Some may be no longer accessible: Jan2016)

Ref 1   Coffield, Letter to Guardian 29 January 2013

Ref 2    Gove, Independent Academies Association 14 November 2012   (27 January 2013)

Ref 3    Bassey M, (2011) Education for the Inevitable: schooling when the oil runs out, Book Guild Brighton

Ref 4    Gove, Birmingham 5 October 2010, Conservative Party conference {No longer available]          

Ref 5    Gove, Birmingham 16 June 2011 (27 January 2013)

Ref 6    Bassey M,  (2012) Convivial Policies for the Inevitable: global warming, peak oil, economic chaos, Book Guild Brighton

Ref  7   Bassey M, (29 January 2013)

Ref  8   Gove, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College, 11 January 2012 (27 January 2013)

Ref  9   Richards, Letter in Observer 27Jan13

Ref 10  Clinton, presidential campaign slogan 1992

Ref 11  Truss, The Times 30 January 2013

Ref 12  Wilkinson R and Pickett K, (2009) The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone  Penguin

Ref 13  Neill, “Posh and Posher. Why Public School Boys Run Britain” BBC1 19 Feb 2011

Ref 14  DfE'-pay (28 January 2013)


This page was created on 31 January 2013.