Times article reads like a parody, but leaves unpleasant taste

Janet Downs's picture
I thought the article (Times, 20/5/2013was a parody. It contained all the usual Gove tropes: describing opponents negatively; showering supporters with fulsome praise; telling teachers to man up and stuff about accelerating “reform”.

But the by-line said it was written by Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

He began by showing his football-supporting credentials:

“I’m used to disappointing Saturday afternoons. A season ticket at Loftus Road is rarely a passport to paradise.”

But last Saturday afternoon had been a bitter disappointment, he wrote. He’d gone to speak at the National Association of Head Teachers expecting to hear discussions about “the best in contemporary teaching”, Shakespeare, Eliot (T S not George). But instead of hearing heads talk about what is actually the bread-and-butter of primary teaching, “Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog” or Macavity the Mystery Cat, he was heckled.

The heads were defeatist, he said, they subjected his approach to “apparent criticism”. Wonderful understatement considering they were jeering him.

But he was unrepentant – other countries were reforming their systems, he claimed. Yes, they are, but in the other direction: graduation at 18 and less emphasis on facts.

Gove tried to grab the high moral ground, “I want our young people to be able to succeed”. So does every teacher, but this isn’t enough for Gove. He continues:

“…we’ve accelerated the pace of reform…setting higher standards in maths and English in our new national curriculum”

I love the inclusive “we”. Of course, academies don’t have to follow “our new national curriculum”. Neither do they have to employ trained teachers.

In a typical piece of Gove distortion, he described criticisms as “a direct attack on the principle of setting higher expectations.” It’s “defeatism” to talk of the pressures facing teachers. They should be more like the “genuinely world-beating heads” who embrace his reforms. But he’s worried that the achievements of these plucky few may be “overshadowed by the media amplification of those voices unhappy with higher expectations.”

There followed a list of some familiar names who do Gove’s work “in defiance of the pessimists and fatalists.”

But the only thing that separates these heads from thousands of other successful heads is that they open free schools or run academy chains.

One name constantly praised is Patricia Sowter CBE.. In 2011, Gove wrote this in the Evening Standard:

“Patricia Sowter took over her first school, Cuckoo Hall [in 2002], when it was in special measures and risked closure because it was so bad…”

But here’s the rub: it wasn’t true. Cuckoo Hall was not in special measures (see thread here) and neither was it underperforming. Results in the 2002 Sats were above the local authority and national average.

So why did Mr Gove say something that was demonstrably untrue? This propaganda is more serious than the now infamous “survey after survey”. It’s more serious than taking small sections from exam questions or lesson plans out of context and lambasting them. It isn’t true. It’s fiction.

Which raises the question, how much of what Michael Gove says is equally fictional?

I thought the Times article was a parody – but it leaves an unpleasant taste.

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