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Are Guardian readers coming round to Michael Gove?

BaldJohn Bald says slowly but surely the Education Secretary is winning over his critics

Praising Michael Gove, Fraser Nelson writes in the Telegraph that in just two and a half years, state education in England has changed, utterly. I wish. The reality is reflected in the two and a half years' hard work that preceded Elizabeth Truss's ban on the use of calculators in maths tests for 11 year olds, and the further eighteen months that it will take to come into effect. There was another hard dose of reality about the academies programme from Neil Macintosh, retiring chief executive of the organisation CfBT, who pointed out in an unusually forceful retirement speech that many new academies had simply changed their status for financial reasons, and that quality was more important than quantity.

There was, though encouraging news for Michael from the bandit territory of The Guardian's comments columns. These kick off like Old Faithful at the mention of his name, but this time, following a botched leak of Wednesday's speech on the curriculum and testing - the speech was still being written - the two-minute hate -eg Michael Gove is a dangerous idiot determined to destroy state education copied fifteen times - was mingled with something not unlike support. Egs:


I teach the very rigorous A level in computing by Cambridge:to get a high grade there is a huge amount of memorizing but also application. I taught the "vocational " rubbish previously.I am with Gove on this much as i hate him.If you memorize it you understand it better because to do so you have to process it, break it down and put it back in a form you can remember: no room for cheating by getting the teacher to do it for you. It is motivating too.Problem is it require s discipline and putting aside self impulsive gratification which puts the middle class at a huge advantage.


Whilst Gove's rhetoric is perhaps unfortunate, he does have a point, when 100,000 British pupils leave school each year functionally illiterate. We have fallen far behind many of our European neighbours and obviously have to do something. So, when the current UK education system is clearly deficient, why the vociferous and borderline hysterical opposition to a more rigorous system?


I'm no fan of Mr Gove, quite the opposite, I don't trust him an inch. However, now having had the time to read the speech the above article is reporting on I have to say he has been badly misrepresented.

He makes no mention of rote learning and talks much about his love of the liberal arts.

I still disagree with his unswerving belief in the power of testing, but feel very disappointed that Peter Walker has so badly misled me and many other people who have made comment on this thread.

Don't make the same mistake I did, read the speech before making a comment

Particularly if you going to write something rude or insulting.

Nevertheless, I haven't changed my view, Mr Gove is ignorant of most pedogogical research, ideologically driven and politically motivated and should leave education to the professionals.

Disappointed with the Guardian though.

"The professionals" are largely the people who have caused our problems in the first place, and their "pedagogical research" predates the evidence provided by neuroscientists such as Daniel Willingham in his book Why Don't Students Like School?, and by our own medical research council's applied psychology unit.  This work is giving us a clearer idea of the role of working and long term memory in the mind, and will revolutionise our understanding of teaching, which is above all a process of creating, reinforcing and developing networks in the brain that speed up what we can do and leave more of its capacity free for solving new problems. Multiplication tables are a prime example of this, as they let us move around the grid of number quickly and precisely. Chess is another, and very well illustrated in Professor Willingham's book - chess masters study the game, from openings onwards, and the more they know, the more successful they tend to be.

Professor Willingham does not have all of the answers, and his chapter on slow learners is based on an oversimplified idea of "catching up" which is not always a realistic goal. Children do, and don't, like school for a variety of reasons, not all of them related to neuroscience. The most important thing slower learners need, and I speak as one myself, is to be given work closely matched to their learning needs, backed by clear explanation and plenty of practice, both of which are entirely consistent with Professor Willingham's evidence.


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