Tweets Four

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, became Secretary of State for Education in May 2010 when the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition came to power.  He changed English education more than any holder of that office since Kenneth Baker introduced the Education Reform Act of 1988.  

He was sacked by the Prime Minister on 15 July 2014: (The Daily Telegraph reported that "private polling showed Gove had become a toxic liability among teachers")  

He is a prolific speaker and many of his speeches are still available on websites.  Critical analysis of some of these identified his major beliefs about education and its reform and I comment below on each of these. (See    His successor in office, Nicky Morgan, at first seemed keen to listen to teachers' views, but now seems as ideologically entrenched as Gove was.  

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

MB comment.  Agreed

#Govebelief … that needs submission to disciplined study of traditional subjects that promote the thinking of the educated mind.

#Govebelief  Curriculum must reflect the best of our culture particularly in English, maths, science, history, geography and a language.

MB comment.  This focus on 'traditional subjects' and ‘worthwhile culture’ ignores the ‘nurture of worthwhile living’ and the development of ‘worthwhile survival skills’: which I see as essential parts of a balanced education. (See #content_42240457)


#Govebelief Teaching the noblest calling. “We honour their work, we salute their sacrifices, we applaud their commitment to our children”

MB comment.  Agreed and so teachers should be respected and their judgements  valued.


#Govebelief Every school should be a good school …

MB comment.  Agreed – but I argue that good schools grow from the inside – from the efforts of teachers, pupils, parents, governors and community, not from government dicta.


#Govebelief because of the potential of education to power economic growth, advance social mobility and make opportunity more equal.

MB comment.  I am opposed to ‘economic growth’ in an already rich country like ours because it accelerates global warming. Education should be seen as the growth of intellectual wealth, not financial wealth!   ‘Social mobility’ is a problematic concept in a country like ours because it is gross inequality between rich and poor that is the grave social problem.


#Govebelief  Our schools must be world-class to face global competition, our expectations continuously raised to compete with the world.

MB comment.  Michael Gove, like most politicians in this country, and around the world, believe that economic success in the global markets of the future will depend on the education of their young now.  Expressing it more succinctly they believe that economic growth will depend upon examination achievements.  This is because they expect the future to be a straight-line extrapolation of the past. 

They fail to recognize that there will soon be a major dislocation in that line.  There will massive and global social disruption from climate change due to global warming caused by the fossil fuels that drive economic growth. The Earth will be warmer; the climate more disastrous; energy resources, food and water in short supply; and the world militant with starving people. Not during the next five years of most politicians’ horizons, but most likely during the life-time of today’s school children. Listen to the predictions of the climate scientists: global warming due to human activity is happening.

Michael Gove himself said, in 2006, “How we deal with climate change is one of the principal challenges policy-makers face. We have a duty to the next generation to protect our planet.”  Did he forget this when in office at the Department of Education?


#Govebelief  Schools are failing if the poverty of children inhibits their educational development. Sack heads and replace governors.

MB comment.  No. No. No.  As Prof Basil Bernstein argued in the 1970s, “Education cannot compensate for society”.  Nor can education ministers legislate for it!  There are 4.2 million children in 16,818 state-funded primary schools in England and they spend about a sixth of their waking lives in school.  They come from well-to-do families and from the financially struggling; from both-parents-in-work families to job-less families, from culturally rich homes with lots of books and discussion with parents, and from culturally impoverished homes with little intellectual stimulus. Some have stories read to them at bedtimes, others not; some have nutritious meals, others too much junk food; many are loved at home, a few brutalised.  Schools try hard to ‘compensate’ but in most cases are unfairly damned if they do not reach arbitrary government ‘floor standards’.


#Govebelief  Regular and rigorous examinations – written, time-restricted, external – are essential; failure gives an incentive to succeed.

MB comment.  Michael Gove misused his own experience.  He was a journalist (one of the few professions requiring rapid writing).  He failed the driving test six times (and each time became more determined to succeed – but how many of us are so determined?).

Few students give of their best in timed exams.  Question spotting, swotting up possible answers, hasty writing, possibly memory drugs, anxious candidates and neurotic parents – these are all negative aspects of examinations.  On-going teacher assessment supporting the learning process is much better.


#Govebelief League tables of test results are an essential tool for state management of schools identifying high-performers and failures. 

MB comment.  The nonsense is that these tables are published, setting one school against another and resulting in heads gaming to win and sometimes engaging in corrupt practice. Identifying schools that need help does not require league tables.


#Govebelief More than half of our young should go to university and should aim for places at top colleges.

MB comment.  Why ‘more than half’?  Of course we need engineers, doctors, teachers, scientists and scholars etc but we also need skilled and educated crafts people – plumbers, electricians, mechanics, builders, farmers etc. who may get a better preparation for work from proper apprenticeships as well as nurses, carers, police.  And is a university degree the best training for industry and business – or is it simply used as a rather expensive selection tool by potential employers?   And why the elitism?  Is it simply another selection tool?  Teaching quality is variously found across the whole university sector.

#Govebelief  Monetary rewards give enhanced performance by teachers and make it a more attractive career and a more rewarding job.

MB comment:  Fundamentally Gove did 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 cause you to be able to enhance your work.   

#Govebelief  The best defence is attack: castigate ‘the enemies of reform’, the ideologues of mediocrity, and ignore their opinions.

 MB comment.  Soap box oratory.  When 100 academics co-signed a newspaper letter expressing concern about the new primary curriculum Mr Gove, in the Mail on Sunday, said we were ‘militant Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools’ and later called us ‘bad academia’. He did not respond to our actual concerns about the likely impact of these changes on young children. 



Tweets One:    THE EXCELLENCE OF OUR SCHOOLS     #content_42240406                   

Tweets Two:   EDUCATION UNOTADICE NOTACUIDE    #content_42240457                  

Tweets Three:  THE POLITICAL CORROSION OF EDUCATION   #content_42240699          

Tweets Five:   CHALLENGES TO MICHAEL GOVE #content_42241446                               

Tweets Six:     IF …  BUT SINCE NOT … TIME TO GO! #content_42241478

This page was posted on 3 August 2013 and modified on 17 November 2014 and 3 February 2015.  Although Michael Gove is now no longer Secretary of State for Education his problematic legacy remains.