Why is Gove using his daughter's struggle with history to influence and then spin education policy?

Allan Beavis's picture
Twitter is buzzing this morning with comments regarding Gove's daughter being unable to grasp history, as it is not taught chronologically. Here is a report in the Guardian of the Times interview

It might be worth reading the full article for greater clarification, but I hope that Gove isn’t exaggerating his daughter’s uncertainties for political purposes in the way that he is milking them to push and illustrate his narrow and incompetent policies. That would be gross, surely, since his statements have already put his own daughter in the firing line of some ridicule - a shame because an innocent ought not to be punished for the sins of the guilty. But this is yet another example of his unfortunate tendency to reveal his own poor grasp of education on top of a cack-handed way of communicating his ignorance. He should have been savvy enough and protective enough of his own child to not put her in the firing line of bullets which critics aim every day at politicians.

The National Curriculum, built up, maintained and developed in line with the changing world may not yet be dead but it will certainly change and will certainly be regressive, if the pronouncements of the Education Minister are anything to go by. Does he not consider that his daughter’s “confusion” (his awful words, not mine) with chronology in history might be temporary and thus not a reason for it to influence his policy on education or the teaching of history? Is this really a good reason to bolster his pronouncements that GCSEs have to get tougher and to encourage new schools to shrink their curriculum? Does it not occur to him that reducing the National Curriculum in all ways is to reduce what is learned in schools?

The grim spectre of profit making companies running schools has been raised again by Gove who says again that he has no ideological objections to them. Not so long, it was reported that the government would not do this, fearful of public outrage, even though the Adam Smith Institute couldn’t recommend it highly enough in it’s highly biased report which we posted about here . This constant teasing then denying by the government goes some way to prove that their critics are right to question their motives in even the most innocuous looking statements and consultations and makes their defenders more and more angry and frightened as we have seen on this site.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 13:45

I am afraid my immediate reaction on reading the report of this interview was to wonder about the quality of teaching at his daughter's school if she is confused about what she is learning. Maybe he should take it up with the head before making national policy on the back of his own personal experience.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 14:50

Politicians should always avoid using their children to reinforce their political views. In 1990 John Gummer, the then Minister of Agriculture, was pictured trying to persuade her reluctant daughter to eat a beefburger at the height of the BSE (Mad Cow) scare. Now we have Mr Gove saying his daughter is confused because her history is not being taught chronologically. I think Mr Gove is projecting his own views on to his daughter, and I rather suspect that she actually enjoyed learning about toys through the ages, the Vikings and the Greeks, and was not confused at all.

Can we now expect another clause in the education bill where Mr Gove enforces his views on how teachers should teach? He's already making it mandatory for schools to teach synthetic phonics despite warnings that to impose it is "potentially damaging".* Can we now expect schools to be forced to teach history in order, starting with ancient history in Reception through to the Arab Spring by Year 11?

I think Mr Gove is underestimating his daughter. He rightly says that high expectations are important (and in this, for once, he agrees with the OECD). He should practice what he preaches, and have higher expectations of the intelligence of his own daughter. Give her a few years, however, and she'll be rolling her eyes at him as saying, "Whatever!"

* http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6087653


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 15:10

The Times front page reported that teachers and students' leaders were angry about the timing of Mr Gove's remarks re a "discredited" exam system. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, was reported as saying:

"There is nothing more demoralising to these young people and their teachers than claims, often based on anecdotal evidence, that undermine the value of these achievements, especially at a time when schools and colleges are reeling at the current rushed pace of government-led reform."

It is only two days since the DfE issued a press release saying that Mr Gove was going to raise the "floor standard" of expected GCSE passes. Now he's promising to scrap the exam system.

Inconsistency, confusion, dogmatism.... Yesterday: lift the floor standard; Today - scrap the exams that form the floor standard; Tomorrow - "Whatever"


Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 16:10

Does anyone know if Gove's daughter is being taught in a private or state school?

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 16:33

Gove and Cameron's children in the same state church school. See reports here and here, from one of our earliest contributors.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 17:24

Thank you, Fiona, for these links. It does sound like the state school they attend is the type of Eton of the State School so coveted by Toby Young. Gove certainly should be questioning the quality of teaching in this "top" state school, unless he is exaggerating his daughter's confusion. Both my kids go to local state schools (one primary, one secondary) where the intake is very mixed in terms of ability, economic background, ethnicity etc. (so not a load of wealthy and upper middle class types pay lip service to state education for political or image advantage) and neither had knew or heard of anyone who had struggled with learning history un-chronologically. Thank God I didn't go private or send my kids to an Eton of the State (Free School in other words) but I suppose I shouldn't paint the totality of education with the personal stroke of my own brush. I'll let Gove do that

Nigel Ford's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 20:28

It would make a refreshing change for senior politicians of all parties to support a state school through their children's attendance which didn't happen to be one that was elite, oversubscribed and outside their catchment area.

On the Telegraph blogs where free schools and academies are endorsed without any caveats, although deemed as a poor second to the much lamented grammar schools, Cameron comes in for stick for using the state sector in any educational capacity.

Because he is a product of Eton, the consensus of posts seems to be that he is letting his children down by choosing the "inferior" state sector and as he and his wife are very wealthy, there should be a moral and financial obligation on them to use the independent sector for their kids.

The fact that the Camerons have paid significant sums of money into the state coffers and that he could claim to be more in touch with the electorate by using the state sector for his offspring's education does not cut any ice with the free market/private fanatics. Had the Camerons chosen a state school with a more mixed intake they would almost certainly take more criticism from the private school zealots.

Privately educated Gove who has made the same choice as Cameron would come under the same fire.

Fiona Lane's picture
Sun, 19/06/2011 - 09:45

Since the introduction of the National curriculum, history teachers in Britain have been made to jump through hoops teaching what government ministers, who have no training in the field other than once having attended history lessons at school, deem to be "proper history". Teachers have faced a massive workload trying to shoehorn a massively inflated curriculum into a few lessons a week, have had to deal with constantly changing subject matter and interpretation, all to please those who, at best, do not know what they are talking about, and, at worst, see history as a way of influencing young minds.

At no point have history teachers been treated as professionals who know their subject and how to teach it. This is sadly indicative of the way all teachers have been regarded in the last few decades, unable to make professional decisions and being rendered down to "classroom managers". I wonder how Gove's daughter's teacher feels about being deprofessionalised?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/06/2011 - 15:07

And it's not just history which has been subjected to constant interference, meddling and change. Since the introduction of the national curriculum in the late eighties, teachers have been subjected to a broadside of initiatives. Each innovation comes hard on the heels of a previous one. A couple of years after the last "reform", lesson plans have to be overhauled, courses rewritten, no time to evaluate anything, just lurch to the next wheeze that some politician, ardent for some desperate glory, has concocted.

And now we have the greatest of follies - a Secretary of State who boasts about unleashing the most radical restructuring of education since World War Two.

Tubby Isaacs's picture
Tue, 16/04/2013 - 22:08

Well, this is apposite. We've got it chronological now.

How old are they doing the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy? 8?

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