Michael Gove said he would ‘listen and learn’ in his new job as Environment Secretary.
Speaking on Radio 4 Today (13 June 2017*), Gove said this was ‘the right approach to take as Secretary of State in a new department’.
No ‘appropriate humility’ was evident when Gove became Education Secretary in May 2010. He entered the Department for Education (DfE) with policies fully-formed.
The only voices Gove listened to were those which agreed with him. Many were name-checked in speeches. Many were rewarded with various honours.
Far from listening to debate, Gove vilified those who opposed him. They were ‘enemies of promises’, ‘Marxists’, the ‘education establishment’ peddling a ‘bigoted backward bankrupt ideology’. He told Republicans on a 2013 visit to the USA that if anyone told him his reforms were moving too fast he told them ‘ever so politely’ to get out of his way.
Gove didn’t just refuse to listen to teachers who didn’t agree with him but turned a selectively deaf ear to those usually cited for ‘evidence’ to support his theories when it suited him. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for example. Gove peppered his comments with references to the OECD even when misrepresenting what the OECD actually said. And in January 2011, Gove said the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher was ‘the most important man in English education’.
But when the OECD issued a warning that the 2009 PISA results for the UK should not be compared with those for the UK in 2000, Gove ignored it. On 7 December 2010, he allowed the DfE to publish a press release which used the flawed figures. These were used to claim the UK had plummeted down league tables in ten years.
The press release quoted extensively from an OECD briefing paper. But missing from these quotes was the caveat prominently displayed at the head of the paper:
‘As the PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 samples for the United Kingdom did not meet the PISA response-rate standards, no trend comparisons are possible with these years.’
To repeat: ‘no trend comparisons are possible’ for the UK between 2009 and 2000. But Gove went ahead and sanctioned publication of the flawed comparison. And he built his education reform programme in England on this dodgy data.
Gove’s appointment as Environment Secretary was described by Ed Davey, former Energy and Climate Change secretary during the Coalition, as ‘putting the fox in charge of the hen house.’ Gove’s tenure at the DfE suggests he will only listen to farmers, fishermen, environmentalists or even Countryfile presenters if they agree with him. They’ve been warned.
*Available here at 2:10:17. 22 days left to listen at time of writing.