How will I remember Mr Gove?

Janet Downs's picture
I will remember him as the most disliked education secretary whose combative manner polarized opinion between those who entered his charmed circle - the "outstanding" ones who happened to agree with him and publicly supported his views - and the rest - the "enemies of promise", "the Blob".

He was a man of contradictions. He said his policies were supported by evidence. But it was cherry-picked or distorted evidence. He ignored the warning not to use the PISA results for the UK in 2000 because the data was flawed. Instead, he used the discredited statistics to underpin his education policies. He rightly said the most successful school systems tended to give a great deal of autonomy to schools and that's why he offered "freedom" to schools which became academies. But the Academies Commission (2013) found English schools already had a great deal of autonomy, the extra freedoms offered by academy status didn't amount to much and non-academies could do most things academies could do. The freedom was an illusion.

He was effusive with his praise: "outstanding" generation of young teachers; "brilliant" education bloggers; "fantastic" principals; the "magnificent" seven. But these superlatives were overused and became mere hyperbole.

But mostly I will remember him for the incalculable harm he has done to education in England:

1Fragmenting the school system.

2Paving the way for schools to be run for profit (50 approved academy sponsors are education businesses).

3Increasing the already excessive emphasis on exam results in England and missing a valuable opportunity to reform England’s already out-of-date exam system by moving gradually to graduation at 18.

4Saying that anything that can’t be assessed is mere “play” thereby diminishing the importance of play in children’s lives.

5Encouraging a system whereby academy governors/trustees can go beyond their remit and interfere excessively in the running of a school and where trustees are able to give contracts to companies linked to trustees.

6Encouraging competition between schools while promoting collaboration. But schools in competition are less likely to collaborate.

7Elevating academic subjects over creative ones. Both are needed.

8Refusing to accept that poverty does handicap children. This attitude lets the government off the hook – there’s no need to take steps to reduce poverty if the blame for underachievement by children living in poverty can be heaped on schools. Yet successful school systems tend to link social policies (health, poverty reduction) with their educational systems.

9Promoting one way of teaching children (traditional) while mocking other ways (progressive). But both methods are appropriate: teachers should be allowed to use their professional judgement over which methods to use and when to use them.

10 For using bullying tactics to force schools to become academies.

11 For deprofessionalising teachers by allowing into academies people with no training in pedagogy and no requirement to ever receive such training.

In short, I will remember him for promoting the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and GERM is the virus that is killing our schools.
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agov's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 12:14

I remember him as the man who abolished the 'discredited' KS2 SATs.

Oh wait, that's only what he said before he got into government. -

Phil Taylor's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 16:34


Now which of the 11 can we be entirely certain Labour will not support in any way? For instance, I trust we can be fairly sure they will be O.K. in reversing no 11.

Norfolk Teacher's picture
Thu, 17/07/2014 - 04:47

I will remember that thanks, in part to his input, judgement of teaching and learning has moved away from pointless jazzy shows and towards actually looking at how effectively studentsearn; that there has been a concerted effort to try to move schools away from the "outstanding lesson template"; that, although sometimes not well communicated, an effort to genuinely improve the fortunes of disadvantaged students, rather than funnelling them through a package of pointless BTECs that did nothing except artificially inflate school performance.

He did not do everything well, certainly I disagree strongly that dismantling the LEAs and encouraging competition over collaboration was the way to go, however he was not anywhere near as bad as some people try to suggest.

Brian's picture
Thu, 17/07/2014 - 07:11

You seem to be confusing Gove's input with changes iin the Ofsted inspection process in terms of assessing effective teaching and learning.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/07/2014 - 09:10

Gove "was not anywhere near as bad as some people try to suggest". No, he was worse.

Most of the media supported Gove even when Gove used incorrect statistics to underpin his so-called reforms. His entire policy was based on the much-publicised "fact" that the UK was "plummeting" down international league tables which showed an apparent fall between 2000 and 2009. But as we on this site (and others such as FullFact) have repeated endlessly - the comparison was invalid because the 2000 data was found to be flawed and the OECD warned it should not be used for comparison.

Yet Gove did make the comparison - brazenly and cynically. He ignored the fact that the PISA results for 2009 were not as dire as presented. UK pupils were at the OECD average in reading and maths and ABOVE average in Science (this performance was repeated in 2012). And he brushed aside the Trends in Maths and Science Results 2007 because they showed England as the top European country in Maths and Science for 10- and 14-year-olds.

Again and again Gove has used dodgy data and misrepresentation to push through a GERM agenda.

Sadly, much of the supposedly independent and robust English media supported him by uncritically churning DfE press releases and even, in some quarters, writing obsequious articles praising him.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 18/07/2014 - 09:14

As with Blair and so many "leaders' like him, it will only be possible to judge Gove's legacy over the longer term. As also with Blair et al, I am personally confident that in due course, when the scales come to rest, there will be no room for doubt, Gove will be remembered for his distortions of truth, his arrogance, his poor judgement and for the damage he inflicted on the vulnerable and needy.

I anticipate, however, that his removal from power will not lead to wholesale revisions of his damaging education reforms. For any who imagine his demise might herald the beginning of a more intelligent, enlightened approach to the governance of education by our political classes, I advise you not to hold your breath. Our politicians are failing the young.The educational opportunities of generations of young people will suffer unless ordinary people accept responsibility for insisting that education governance is taken out of the hands of short-sighted, highly partisan politicians and vested in a National Commission for Education.

You are right, Janet, the role of the media in general throughout Michael Gove's reign of terror as Secretary of State for education has impoverished our democracy. Few others have managed quite so successfully to cement the link between lies, damn lies and statistics than he did with such unflinching, unthinking support from the 'supposedly independent' media in England, much to their shame and discredit.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/07/2014 - 15:32

John - I agree there is no way in which Gove's "reforms" will be reversed. That's why Nick Gibb has returned to the DfE to whisper in Nicky Morgan's ear. Cameron's attempt to relaunch Brand Gove as Brand Morgan is just a tweak in the marketing strategy. The promotion of the brand in the form of a younger, prettier and female alternative to Gove does not alter the toxicity of the product.

FJM's picture
Sat, 19/07/2014 - 22:00

I shall remember Michael Gove as the man who so obsessed some people that they couldn't stop talking about him even after he had resigned.

agov's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 08:10

Brian's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 09:00

I read the article before I noted who had written it. And then I came to:

' In order to reverse 50 years of decline in England’s public education system ...' and I thought,

'Here's someone who is as well acquainted with evidence based statements as the subject of his article.'

So I checked authorship. I should have known.

… How will I remember Mr Gove …

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 09:23

Brian - I too read the article. There was the usual cliché about Gove's opponents who have a "vested interest in defending the status quo" and the hyperbole of "the fate of the nation's school children is in the balance" as if Gove's demotion is a national emergency.

To reinforce the latter point, there are numerous bellicose phrases such as "war footing", Gove being in the "command bunker" and a faux French phrase which allegedly describes Gove's attitude, "joie de guerre".

This might more accurately be described as "la testostérone guerriere" or "L'amour du culte de la guerre". In which case, we must pray Gove never has his finger over the nuclear button.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 09:26

"resigned"? No, demoted. And on his first day in his new job he gets stuck in the loo in the wrong lobby.

FJM's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 09:45

Of course, Gove's opponents never resort to hyperbole, do they?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 10:53

FJM - Please post examples of exaggeration. Are you sure you're not talking about understatement?

FJM's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 12:17

In one of the first posts I read from the LSN, Michael Gove was described as 'having psychopathic tendencies'.
"Attacking proper high quality teacher-training helps to fix the idea that teachers are just low-skill curriculum-deliverers." This is contradicted by Gove's plans: "Education Secretary Michael Gove has said the government should only pay to train graduates as teachers if they have at least a 2:2."
"State education is being smashed to pieces..." Something of an exaggeration, whatever one may feel about academies.
"The drive to make teachers technicians rather than professionals is implicit in educational policy, regulatory framework (Ofsted), and in what is considered effective teaching and learning. I came into teaching because my teachers were unique and diverse but now we are all expected to teach in exactly the same way."
This is not the case, see Wilshaw's comments:
Thees are a few examples of hyperbole. It doesn't take long to trawl through LSN discussions and find this sort of ranting.

agov's picture
Mon, 21/07/2014 - 10:25

Wilshaw's letter to his own staff was pleading with them to stop expecting that all teaching should be done in the same way. That was the point - so it was the case.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 21/07/2014 - 12:23

FJM - OK, I'll admit that "state education is being smashed to pieces" is an example of hyperbole. But wouldn't you agree that it's a deliberate use of hyperbole to highlight what the Academies Commission in more sober language described as the "fragmentation" of the education system in England?

Not sure whether Gove having "psychopathic tendencies" is hyperbole or not. It does seem rather OTT and yet... his black/white view of the world, his enthusiasm for a scrap...even Toby Young said if Spitting Image were still produced it would represent Gove as "barrelling into the cabinet room, pint of lager in hand, and shouting ‘What you staring at?’ to no one in particular." And an early question asked of Mr Gove on "Today" was "Are you a libertarian or a Stalinist?".

As I said above, he's a man of contradictions.

There is no hyperbole in the statement about deprofessionalising teachers.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/07/2014 - 18:59

FJM - Gove deserves credit for pulling the plug on the vocational scam. This was introduced by Tony Blair and no Labour spokesperson ever criticised it to my knowledge. I also think he was right to try to insist that all pupils of all abilities should receive a broad and balanced education even though his formula for achieving it (Cs in EBacc subjects) was deeply flawed. Labour are still unclear on this as I wrote in my New Statesman article.

However Janet and others are right about all the negatives, which end the end come down to being driven by flawed ideology.

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