From praised academic to professor toadying favour with Labour party - this is the fate of experts who fail to give the required answers. What does this tell us about Gove?

Janet Downs's picture
In a speech launching the National Curriculum Review Mr Gove said that the expert panel would contain “some of the most innovative and inspiring education academics currently working in this country.”

One of these experts was Professor Mary James who was quoted by Stephen Twigg, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 18 June. Mr Twigg reminded Mr Gove that Professor James had said the proposed programmes of study for primary schools “fly in the face of evidence from the UK and internationally and… cannot be justified educationally.”

Professor James is an academic who, along with other members of the panel, prepared a report giving advice about a possible new curriculum.  This was underpinned by DfE research into the education systems of some of the world’s top-performers in education league tables. One would expect, therefore, that Mr Gove would take her comments seriously.

He did not. Instead he mocked Stephen Twigg for reading the professor’s words instead of learning them by rote. He then issued his stock soundbites about bringing back “rigour” and “aspiration” to schools before dismissing the expert he had once praised as one of “a few professors and some individuals seeking to curry favour in Ed Miliband’s Labour party.”

Three days later, Gove returned to discuss examinations. He said he would, “above all, make sure that academics are engaged in the debate to ensure that the qualifications can become the world’s best.”

But Professor James’s experience should act as a warning to anyone engaging with Mr Gove – he doesn’t really want honest debate, he wants to hear his own opinions echoed back. And those who do not tell Mr Gove what he wants to hear will be dismissed or derided.

Mr Gove says he is on the side of excellence and anyone who disagrees with him are, according to him, a bunch of “Trots” who are “happy with failure”, pursuing a “bigoted, backward, bankrupt ideology.” It’s a pity that Mr Gove has forgotten what he wrote in 2000 when discussing the Northern Ireland peace process: that democracy rests on the freedom to oppose.

“Those who oppose the direction of ministers’ actions are not considered honest dissenters exercising the right fundamental to democracy. They are held to be guilty of ‘opposing peace’.

Change “opposing peace” to “being enemies of promise” and these two sentences describe the situation at the DfE. Gove has changed from a supporter of dissent to one who would quash it.

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Francis Gilbert's picture
Mon, 02/07/2012 - 15:54

It's quite shocking that Gove has denigrated Mary James in this way. She's the President of the British Educational Research Association, BERA, ( which prides itself upon its scholarship and painstaking analysis of evidence. The trouble is that Gove probably does know in his heart of hearts that James is right and he's wrong, but he's a politician with a bunch of right-wingers to keep happy in a mutinous party and now is resorting to trollish personal remarks to get himself off the hook. This attack on James is a sign of desperation really; he's starting to lose his magic touch, backtracking on his plans for O Levels, finding very little support for free school from his favoured private schools, and giving the impression that he's at war with his self-appointed advisers.

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