Gove: Libertarian or Stalinist?

Janet Downs's picture
Mr Gove was asked on Radio 4 Today programme, 20 January, whether he was a libertarian or Stalinist? His answer: give autonomy to school on an operational level BUT ensure they adhere to a fact-based curriculum. The interviewer asked Mr Gove if he had succumbed to "I know what's best". Mr Gove diverted the discussion by describing his time as a researcher for the Today programme, thereby wasting time.

He said it was not going to be him who changed the curriculum, but the panel that he had appointed. This seems at odds with his widely-publicised remarks about what form the new curriculum should take. He was asked if panel members included representatives from schools who would have to follow the new curriculum. He sidestepped this by saying the Academy heads on the panel were widely respected. It appears, then, the answer to the question is No, ordinary state schools are not represented on the panel.

When pressed on the prescriptive nature of the new curriculum, he said parents needed to know what book their child was reading at school. Can schools expect, then, to be told that in the Spring Term of Year 7 all pupils will be reading "Persuasion"? He said again that the UK was falling internationally and we had to learn from successful countries. He didn't mention Finland, of course, the most successful European country, because their educational system is not what Mr Gove would want for the UK.

His obssession with facts shows that he has not read the advice from the OECD about the knowledge and skills needed for the future. "Educational success is no longer about reproducing content knowledge", wrote Mr Schleicher, OECD Education Directorate.

Mr Gove's Gradgrind approach to education is taking us in the opposite direction to that advocated by Mr Schleicher who was praised by Mr Gove in his recent speech to the Education World Forum. However, he has obviously no intention of following Mr Schleicher's advice.

Libertarian or Stalinist? What do you think?
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Natacha Kennedy's picture
Thu, 20/01/2011 - 10:14

Stalinist. In fact he makes Stalin look like a liberal. The worst thing however, is how he is attempting to portray his Stalinism as liberalism and promotes 'freedom' for schools. This 'freedom' is the kind of freedom found in North Korea.

he wants to turn out clones rather than thinking, creative human beings. This is just a return to John Major's "back-to-basics", only this time with a whole load of nasty bureaucratic coercion.

Gerry Newton's picture
Thu, 20/01/2011 - 13:43

If you equate Gove with Stalinism or North Korea, I an only assume that you don't read much. Perhaps a sense of perspective would be useful.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 20/01/2011 - 15:46

I think Natacha was using a rhetorical device known as hyperbole, Gerry...

I suppose Gove's approach actually highlights the contradictions inherent in modern-day Conservatism; those of paternalism and those of libertarianism. The Conservatives of yesteryear such as MacMillan probably would have had no problem with what he is saying, believing as they did that there was an elite who knew what was best for the nation, who had the right to prescribe by dint of their social position. But this doesn't square with libertarianism which encourages anybody to come up with their own ideas as long as it attracts "customers". Gove's free school agenda doesn't fit in with this; I can only presume that they will be allowed to do what they want, otherwise they aren't very "free". Certainly the Steiner schools that Gove is seriously considering giving free school status wouldn't be very happy with this, nor would the Montessori schools. Gove is playing both ends of his party, trying to keep them happy.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/01/2011 - 15:48

It was the interviewer on the Today programme who asked the Secretary of State whether he was a libertarian or Stalinist. I don't think he was showing a lack of a sense of perspective, but trying to get Mr Gove to explain why he held contradictory opinions: freedom with one hand, coercion with another.

Mr Gove's interview can be heard on for seven days. He came on at 7.50.

W Smith's picture
Fri, 21/01/2011 - 18:11

As Mr Gove extols the virtues of his perceived education "tigers" in countries around the world, I wonder what he thinks of their political, social and health care systems? Surely they are a product of the education systems that he so admires. Analysing them might give us a clue to his grand vision for our country. I would argue that if we sit back and let him do it, it will lead to a very different "big society" to the one that we think we are being sold by the coalition. Mr Gove's tunnel visioned mixture of zeal and contempt could well be the start of much greater misery for our children, well beyond their education. Thank goodness for general elections - unless of course it is decided by the powers that be that we don't need them any more either!!!!

Brian's picture
Mon, 21/07/2014 - 13:11

'Thank goodness for general elections ...'

I wish I had your confidence. Last time people who voted for the Lib-Dems finished up with a right wing Conservative government. They had a leader who described Tory education policy as ' a disaster for English education' before the election and then supported it not just in the Commons but publicly without any sign of 'I'll do anything for power' shame.

So how how about 2015? How about UKIP holding the balance of power with a couple of MPs? How much push would the Tory party need to agree to the UKIP policy of bringing back grammar schools as part of a deal?

Incidentally the UKIP education policy is well thought through. When I asked at one of their 'roadshows' why they always say 'Bring back Grammar Schools' and never 'Bring back Secondary Moderns' I was told I was 'an idiot' who should 'stop spouting rubbish'. What chance do we have against such towering educational thinking?

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