Gove's "fervently aspirational message" is revealed as the "patter" of a salesman

Janet Downs's picture
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What a difference a couple of years makes.   In 2011, Education Secretary Michael Gove gave a “fervently aspirational message” based on the alleged dramatic decline in UK education in international league tables. 

Conservative Home described Gove as “a big hitter both in terms of presentation and substance.”

But we know the substance was wrong.  We know it was based on comparison with the flawed UK PISA results for 2000.

But the “plummeting” down league tables propaganda was relentlessly plugged until the UK Statistics Authority intervened last year. 

So it was a less bombastic Gove who addressed Parliament yesterday.

He began by thanking teachers but diluted the praise by singling out the best-generation-of-young-teachers-ever (a gobbet that appears regularly in Gove speeches).  As most teachers are not in this category, it implies they aren’t the “best”.   

Gove particularly praised heads taking part in Schools Direct: they recruit “more superb new graduates”.   But Schools Direct is not a “runaway success” and there have been warnings about a potential teacher shortfall.   And perhaps Gove is not aware of the Leeds academy which recently advertised for a trainee-teacher with just 4 GCSEs.

“Since the 1990s,” Gove said, UK performance in international league tables is “stagnant, and, at worst, declining”.  But the first PISA tests weren’t taken until 2000: the first reliable PISA tests for the UK were from 2006.

Other league tables show a mixed, but less gloomy, picture: TIMSS 2011 still ranks England among the top ten countries for primary maths although performance at 14 is now average.  The performance of English 14 year-olds in TIMSS science has been consistently high since 1995. Only five countries scored significantly more in 2011: Singapore, Chinese Tapei, Korea, Japan and Finland.

And PIRLS 2011 reading tests showed a relative rise in the performance of English 10 year-olds in reading comprehension since 2007.

Gove seems to have missed these more positive tests just as he forgot the 2007 TIMSS results which put English pupils at the top of the European League for Maths and Science three years ago. 

Gove quoted the latest PISA rankings but didn’t stress this had risen slightly in Reading and Maths since 2009.  Neither did he say UK students still perform at above the OECD average in Science.

Germany and Poland have “significantly improved their performance”, Gove rightly said.  They had the “courage radically to reform”.   But the radical reform was moving towards a more comprehensive system.  Poland also added extra requirements before licensing teachers; Gove, on the other hand, says Qualified Teacher Status is not important.

“Stretching maths content” was essential, Gove said.  He seems to have forgotten academies don’t have to follow the National Curriculum.   And Gove’s ideas for maths have been criticized by a former president of the Mathematical Association for “basic flaws”.

But the praise continued to flow.  Schools Direct got another plug.  So did two well-known academy chains.  But he avoided mentioning Learning Schools Trust academies (not good according to Ofsted) or AET‘s warning lettersAnd he’s apparently oblivious to research which shows sponsored academies do no better than similar non-academies.

PISA showed performance-related pay (PRP) was the way forward, Gove said.  That’s because they use it in Shanghai.  But the OECD PISA in Focus report 2012 said nothing about performance-related pay and Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s deputy education director, said there’s "no relationship" between PISA results and the use of PRP.  And OECD’s detailed analysis of Shanghai education didn’t mention PRP either.

Three years on, after constant misrepresentation, dodgy surveys, visits to phantom schools, misleading comments about sponsored academy results and ad hominem attacks on anyone who disagrees with him, Gove’s “fervently aspirational message” is revealed for what it is: the “patter of an annuity salesman”.
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