DfE reveals no basis to two more of Gove's claims

Henry Stewart's picture
Can I try a definition of a "Goveism": Something that the speaker would like to believe is true but actually has no basis in reality. Janet Downs has exposed a few instances of the way Michael Gove has a tendency to invent facts. Here are a couple more to which I have now received replies to my Freedom of Information requests.

1) is there evidence that every Teach First School has improved? No

Michael Gove: "“Teach First, and “Teach Firsters”, who were damned as “unqualified teachers” at the time, are now responsible for securing an improvement in every school in which they operate" (House of Commons, 30 October 2013)

Now Teach First is an admirable scheme. But has the DfE got evidence that it has secured improvement in every school in which it operates? Statistically it seems unlikely.

The DfE responded that Teach First is working with 673 schools in this academic year and quoted evidence from a study by Dr Rebecca Allen that students in these schools did one GCSE grade better than those not involved with Teach First. That is impressive but it is not the claim made by Michael Gove. He claimed that Teach First had secured improvement in "every" school in which it operated. The DfE could find no evidence to back that claim. It seems that Mr Gove invented it, because he would have liked it to have been true, and misled the House of Commons as a result.

2) is there evidence that all Academies collaborate with other schools? No

Michael Gove: "Because all those schools that have taken on academy freedoms are engaged in working with or collaborating with other schools to help them to raise standards more broadly.” (House of Commons Education Committee, 31 January 2012)

Admittedly this is an old speech, but again it was a claim made in the House of Commons, (which has been covered before on this site) and which I came across while researching another topic. So I asked the DfE for its basis.

Michael Gove's comment seems to refer to all academies but the DfE responded only with regard to the converter academies. They revealed there were 2,532 of those, of which 1,680 converted as single academies. (The other 852 were part of chains and were therefore by definition, argued the DfE, working with other schools. I'm not sure they would see the fact that community schools are part of a group of local authority schools as evidence they were working together.)  What was the evidence that these 1,680 worked or collaborated with other schools? The evidence produced by the DfE was that when converting they had been required to name a school they would be supporting.

However Gove did not state that academies had committed to helping other schools, but they were actively doing so. By the DfE's logic you could claim that all Liberal Democrat MPs had voted against increases in tuition fees, on the basis they had promised that they would. In fact there seems to be more evidence that such collaboration is not taking place than that it is. And, therefore, that the Secretary of State misled the Select Committee.

Back in March 2012, shortly after Gove's claim, the TES found that only 3% of converter academies were actually taking up the DfE's request to sponsor a weaker school. The Academies Commission reported evidence from a senior civil servant at the DfE that a focus on school collaboration was intended: "The Commissioners note that, despite this aspiration, the 2010 Act does not actively incentivise collaboration or – although converters had to specify how they would support other schools – hold converters to account for this."

How should we regard statements by Michael Gove?

Janet Downs has previously shown that Gove's claim of "disturbing historical ignorance" among teenagers was based on some very dodgy surveys and his claim to visit primary schools, with high FSM, where "every child manages to perform well above the national average" was simply false because no such schools existed.

Now we expect some interpretation and bias from politicians, we expect that they will spin a story. But shouldn't we expect that when they make a statement of fact, as those quoted here and those previously exposed by Janet, that there be some basis to that statement? It would seem with Michael Gove that his statements should be carefully examined before being assumed to have any basis in fact.
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