Bellicose Gove incites Mail readers to join battle against “Enemies of Promise”

Janet Downs's picture
“I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell bent on destroying schools” thundered Michael Gove in the Mail on Sunday.

Gove uses provocative language in his confrontational article to smear those he describes as “Enemies of Promise”. He raises the spectre of Reds under the Beds to attack the 100 academics who savaged the proposed National Curriculum. He described them as “a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.”

He says the education system “should give all children the tools they need – mastery of English, fluency in arithmetic, the ability to reason scientifically, a knowledge of these islands and their history – to take their place as confident, modern citizens.”

Yes, pupils should be skilled in the use of English. No-one has suggested they should not be. But Maths is more than “fluency in arithmetic”. Being able to do sums doesn’t necessarily demonstrate mathematical understanding. And, yes, pupils should be proficient in using the Scientific Method. But why should history be confined to “these islands”? The history of Britain can’t be disentangled from world history.

Gove quotes “surveys” to support his argument that many children leave school without these accomplishments. He says businesses complain about school leavers’ lack of literacy and numeracy. What he didn’t say was the CBI found that employers’ dissatisfaction with these skills was lower in 2012 than in 2011. Most businesses were satisfied (65% with literacy skills, 70% with numeracy). Neither did he say that the greatest concern, cited by 61% of businesses, was school leavers’ lack of self-management – a skill which is not developed by spoon-feeding for exams.

“Survey after survey*,” he wrote, “has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character…” This makes a change from the oft-cited claim that children think Churchill is a nodding dog (Oh, yeesss!) which has been doing the rounds for years.

He goes on: “Expectations in science have been so dumbed down that children could be asked if grilled fish is healthier than battered sausages in their GCSEs.” Channel 4 FactCheck looked at this statement when Gove made it in 2009. It found Gove’s claim was based on a genuine GCSE science question but the actual question wasn’t as simple as Gove suggested. FactCheck added that picking on this and similar questions didn’t necessarily say much about the full range of standards being examined because there were examples of harder questions on the same paper.

Fired with his own rhetoric, Gove mounts a virulent attack on the 100 academics who savaged the proposed National Curriculum. They are the real “Enemies of Promise”, “guilty men and women who have deprived a generation of the knowledge they need”, he wrote. They are members of the “Blob”**.

According to Gove, “Enemies of Promise” oppose performance-related pay “because they resent the recognition of excellence.” No, Mr Gove, they oppose performance-related pay*** because, according to the OECD, “making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge”. Andreas Schleicher (OECD) has admitted that there wasn’t any clear evidence that introducing performance-related pay into schools had any benefit. This view was endorsed by the Sutton Trust which wrote “the evidence of impact on student learning does not support” performance-related pay.

And “Enemies of Promise”, he says, “hate academy schools because heads in those schools put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards.” But those who oppose academisation are not inspired by hatred of certain schools but by a variety of reasons including:

1 By making schools “independent” it makes it easier for schools to be run for profit.

2 Academies give undesirable freedoms such as being able to employ unqualified people as teachers or to ignore school food standards.

3 Academies risk fragmenting the education system with academies acting in their own best interest (see faq above about the Academies Commission 2013).

4 Academy chains can impose uniformity by prescribing particular resources or teaching methods.

5 Academy chains can exert more control over their schools than local authorities have done for more than 25 years (see faq above about the Academies Commission 2013).

6 Academies can impose unacceptable conditions of service.

Gove ends his article with a call to arms:

“The fight against the Enemies Of Promise is a fight for our children’s future. It’s a fight against ideology, ignorance and poverty of aspiration, a struggle to make opportunity more equal for all our children. It’s a battle in which you have to take sides.”

But it’s Michael Gove, with his fiery rhetoric, his divisive tactics, his misrepresentation of evidence, his contempt for the professionalism of teachers and his ignorance about the way children learn who is the real Enemy of Promise.


*Gove didn’t reveal details of these surveys so I’ve put in a Freedom of Information request to the DfE. When I receive a reply I’ll post them here.

**The “Blob” has been variously described as a mix of trades unions, the Educational Establishment, “local authority advisers or quangocrats”.

***ATL voted unanimously to reject performance-related pay at its Conference this weekThe

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