Comedy gold with a serious interlude on Bremner radio satire

Janet Downs's picture
Newton’s First Law of Public Relations – if you repeat anything in enough media outlets it becomes a fact.”

Bremner’s One Question Quiz (Radio 4) tackled the subject, “How Should We Educate Our Children?” The “panellists” were Education Secretary Michael Gove and Mary Wollstonecraft (impersonators, obviously, because Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women has been dead since 1797). “Gove” was asked, among other things, whether it was a fact that his fact about teenagers’ lack of knowledge of historical facts was based on surveys from the likes of Premier Inn. “Gove” conceded that it was in fact a fact but he applied Newton’s First Law of PR to justify his use of dodgy surveys.

Should that be Goebbels’s not Newton’s Law? “Gove” was asked.

But the programme wasn’t just satire. There was a serious interlude in which two experts, Tom Bennett, who dispenses advice about behaviour for TES, and Professor of Education, Gordon Stobart. The experts were asked what they would put on the report card of the real Michael Gove. Bennett gave Gove B+ and said he was doing quite well. This was based on longevity (Gove has been in post three years) and on his reforms which were “actually fairly positive for the teaching profession.” “Fairly positive” seems rather damp praise for someone awarded B+.

Professor Stobart thought the reforms were taking English education “back to the future”. Gove’s education had been successful for him so he wanted to impose this type of education on all children. But the aim of education should be to get children to think for themselves.

How did the experts feel about the UK being constantly compared with other countries? Bennett said it was tiresome to be compared with countries like Singapore. It was important to decide what excellent education meant and pursue that. Singapore may be top of the international league tables but it was a driven system – he didn’t think this was desirable. It was, in any case, difficult to transpose one country’s system on another when societies and attitudes were different.

Professor Stobart described the pick-and-mix approach to education systems. Finland had a successful system but when politicians visited and found it was fully-comprehensive with well-paid, well-educated teachers they suddenly became quiet. And the far Eastern countries which did so well in PISA tests were desperate to encourage more free thinking and creativity.

The programme can be heard again here.

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