I always defended Michael Gove. Then I met him

My fellow children’s writers hate the Education Secretary. Now I finally understand why

15 March 2014

9:00 AM

15 March 2014

9:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I was a guest at a huge tea party for children’s authors, publishers and commentators at the South Bank, but the atmosphere, over the cupcakes and finger sandwiches, was decidedly frosty. There were three keynote speakers and their speeches all targeted a man so vile and destructive that the audience visibly recoiled every time his name was mentioned. He was, of course, Michael Gove — and I wasn’t sure I should tell anyone that I had always rather admired him and, moreover, was about to interview him for this magazine. It might be better to keep quiet in much the same way that Vidkun Quisling would have been well advised not to mention his wartime visits to Berlin.

You think I’m exaggerating? One of the speakers, Patrick Ness, a brilliant, prize-winning novelist, described Gove as ‘appalling, ignorant and damaging’. He compared him to Thatcher, doing to children what she did to the miners. A well-known illustrator said to me: ‘He’s a massive, arrogant egotist who can’t see anyone else’s opinion.’ And my suggestion that Gove was a well-meaning man trying to do the best he could was met with the riposte (from a bestselling Jewish writer): ‘That was what Hitler thought when he tried to wipe us out.’ Seriously?

To his friends, he’s simply ‘Govey’. Chris Huhne once called him ‘the politest man in the House of Commons’ and it’s not as if he’s been tarred with the Bullingdon brush. Indeed, you’d have thought someone would give him credit for his humble origins, the son of a single mother adopted by an Aberdeen businessman and his wife. But no, not a bit of it. ‘He’s the original major of Hamelin,’ Ness snarled. ‘But we [children’s authors] are the pied piper.’

It was with that image in mind that I whistled my way to Gove’s oddly bland and utilitarian office in the Department for Education. What, I wonder, is it like, being a hate figure? Is he even aware of it and if so, how does he cope? I hoped, if nothing else, to get under the carapace of a man who, more than any other Tory politician, seems to attract these mountains of bile.

He was, from the very start, monumentally polite, chuckly and benign. We had met before on Question Time and he remembered it. He had read my book The House of Silk. We chatted about middle-age foibles as I searched for my glasses. Finally, I launched into a fairly general question just to get things going. ‘What is the point of education?’ This got a smile and a frown and then he began: ‘There is a phrase that I’ve used…’

Dread words! That’s exactly what I don’t want… the phrases that he’s used, the formulation that I’ve heard and read a hundred times. But here it comes. ‘I want people to be the authors of their own life story. I think the principal purpose of education is to allow each of us, when we become adults, to shape our own future… We have the opportunity not just to choose our job or profession but also to choose the sort of life we want to live and the imprint we will leave on others.’ Then he goes on to quote Matthew Arnold. Has someone told him I went to Rugby School? ‘To introduce people to the best that’s been thought and written. Our children may never enjoy the prodigious wealth of Roman Abromavich’s children, but they’re just as capable of enjoying Dostoyevsky or Wagner or appreciating the Gherkin or the Shard — but only if the education they’ve had has given them an understanding of everything from metaphor to scientific principles.’

I cannot find a single thing to argue with in any of this except that, in my work as a children’s author, I have visited many, many schools and have yet to enter one where the students have been debating Raskolnikov’s moral torpor or humming the Ring. A great many children leave school without reading any book from cover to cover. According to the National Literary Trust, for whom I have done some work, almost one in five children leave school barely able to read more than a red-top newspaper. Isn’t there some sort of disconnect between Gove’s vision and the truth?

He doesn’t agree. ‘I think the situation is better than you describe.’ He lights on Shakespeare. Gove was widely criticised for stripping English literature out of the core GCSE exam but according to his argument, when Shakespeare was on the national curriculum, children actually had less opportunity to experience whole plays. He blames poorly designed league tables, pressure on teachers and the unscrupulous behaviour of some exam boards. Then, children only read extracts, whereas now, thanks to initiatives by such organisations as the RSC and the Shakespeare Schools Fund — both of which he supports — the opposite is true. He describes a lesson on King Lear that he witnessed recently at a school in London. ‘It was the scene where Gloucester’s eyes are plucked out and it was as gripping as anything you’d see on the stage — and it reflects the fact that perception sometimes lags reality and I think the perception of what’s happening in state schools at the moment is shaped slightly by Waterloo Road and Grange Hill and all the rest of it.’

Mr Gove visits two to three schools a week (there’s a map covered in dots on the wall behind me) but as we talk, a pattern emerges. He sees the best in everything and everything he sees adds to his conviction that he’s right. This is either admirable or rather troubling, depending on your point of view. He accepts that ‘poverty is one of the biggest factors limiting children’s potential’ (I’m quoting Christine Blower of the NUT) but counters: ‘There are schools I could take you to, many in London but many outside, where the gap between what the poorest children and their peers achieve… has almost entirely closed.’ The fact that one in nine schools are dealing with students who have English as a second language? It doesn’t worry him. ‘A lot of schools benefit from parents who are first- or second-generation immigrants, who expect the best for their children.’ Mr Gove met a boy from Malawi, ‘a fantastic little boy’, who is now sitting the scholarship exam for his own old school. From this one example, he construes: ‘They are going to be the stars of the future.’ Should we simply admire this optimism? Is it unfair to question it?

The truth of the matter is that as our time together slips by, I come to realise that I might as well be interviewing Stonehenge. Everything I throw at him bounces back. Inevitably, we come to free schools — which I have always supported — but I ask him why his department has spent £62 million on just nine free schools at the same time as £100 million has been cut from sixth-form colleges. Surely, indisputably, this reflects an ideological drive backed by government funds?

Nothing could be further from the truth! ‘Free schools, in a way, are the opposite of an ideological project. They are essentially an exercise in English pragmatism. They will only succeed if parents want to send their children to them. They are schools of choice.’ But they’re not succeeding, I suggest. In Sweden, JB Education, responsible for 10,000 pupils, closed down last year. There have been some very high-profile closures here too — the Discovery New School in West Sussex, the Al-Madinah School. Could the free school model be flawed? Not at all. ‘It’s understandable that any departure from the status quo almost attracts more attention. Yes, there have been two or three free schools that have had big problems. But there are hundreds of maintained schools that have big problems.’ I have a nasty feeling this is a syllogism. Failures in one system have nothing to do with the success of another.

I wonder if Mr Gove has any idea of the hostility he provokes, but when I suggest this to him he bats it away. ‘Education secretaries, for a host of reasons, tend to find themselves at the heart of controversies, more than some other ministers.’ He recalls that his predecessor, Kenneth Baker, once told him how he was taunted, kicked to the ground and had his glasses smashed. David Blunkett was apparently locked in a cupboard by union activists. Even Ed Balls had a rough time at teachers’ conferences. The inference is that, by comparison, Mr Gove is almost popular.

I point out to him that, in recent weeks, he has repeatedly hit the headlines, falling out with everyone from Sir Michael Wilshaw (head of Ofsted) to Baldrick from Blackadder. Does he relish these fights? ‘No,’ he replies decisively. ‘A proper argument, along issues of principle, is a worthwhile thing.’ To which he adds this extraordinary rider: ‘Some of the time, some of the people who disagree, are disagreeing with what they think I’ve said, or what they fear I might mean by what I said, rather than what I’ve actually said.’ He pauses as I try to make sense of this. ‘But that’s politics!’

We are nearing the end of my allotted time and here is the impression that I have of a man for whom I have always had a very high regard. He is brilliant and erudite, doing an almost impossible job and doing it with passion and commitment. And yet it is just possible that the minister is a monster. I would not normally use such a word of a secretary of state but I am only picking up on something he said himself. Referring to the teachers who inspired him as a boy, he remarked, laughing: ‘There’s a direct relationship between the opportunities that I’ve enjoyed and their influence. They might now, like Victor Frankenstein, hold their head in horror and think “What have we created…?”’

It was the only moment of revelation in our encounter that struck me as truly insightful, the only awareness of the amount of power he wields. He assures me that he consults much more extensively than people believe, but continues: ‘One of the things that I think is a challenge here is that there isn’t a monolithic view within the teaching profession — about anything. It’s a bit like saying authors believe x or journalists believe x. There are some vocal people within the profession who might appear to be the dominant voices but by definition they can’t be representative: no one’s elected them.’ But actually there is one monolithic view that is out there and which will brook no argument. It is Gove’s.

My American friends are shocked by how much power one politician can have over a whole generation of children and even Gove agrees. ‘I do think that education secretaries do have too much power.’ (Even so, he has allotted himself around 50 new powers since he took office.) ‘But part of what I want to do is to ensure that lots of things that were fixed or arranged or decided in the Department for Education and its quangos are now decided in schools. And that’s the big change.’

His vision should be uplifting but I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed my encounter with Michael Gove. It’s very strange. I have argued with so many teachers and other authors that he is a wholly benevolent man, a reformer who is actually improving the lives of children across the country. Even now, that opinion has not changed. But nobody can be as certain as he is. Nobody can be right all the time. It’s his single-mindedness that troubles me, and so for all his quips, his humanity, his courtesy and his eloquence, I leave with the faint worry that, after all, I am the one who’s wrong.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Anthony Horowitz is the author of the bestselling Alex Rider children’s spy novels, and the creator of Foyle’s War.

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Show comments
  • Major_Eyeswater

    This is rather unconvincing. I suspect that the sustained and often personal attacks on Gove have obliged him to don his own “Mask of Command” in front of journos, even if they are also excellent authors like Mr H. He can hardly start blubbing out his fears and self-doubt just so that the interviewer can tap out an insightful, revelatory piece – the educashun blob would tear him apart. If you agree with the broad thrust of his reforms why reduce them to a question of personality?

    The point about his centralising tendencies is a bit of a red herring too. Granting autonomy to schools is central to his plan, however he can hardly just shut down the DofE while he’s doing it. A pragmatic analysis might look not at the range of his powers but at the frequency and efficacy of their use. Again, ’tis politics. Gove can’t be both a Thatcherite de-centraliser and a command and control freak, so which is it?

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      A ‘Thatcherite de-centraliser’, Lord have mercy, where did you get that idea from? Thatcher focused like no other on a one location race funded by NS oil – that is the principle reason why the nation is now split.

      • Major_Eyeswater

        What on earth is a “one location race funded by NS oil”?

        • Doctor Mick

          I wouldn’t bother to ask.

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          London milking the regions, what else?

          • balance_and_reason

            London pays out considerably more into the tax pot than it receives in…its natural…it is the capital. Most people working here have family around the country, there is a constant movement with people selling up and moving out, or moving in to work. Remember Rome….

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            “Per capita government expenditure by region is given in Table 4. Per capita expenditure in London is 17.6 per cent above the UK average.”


            What this of course means is not that wealth created in a region ought not to be spent there, it exposes by how much the English regions have been wilfully neglected compared to the capital city (but also Northern Ireland/Wales).

          • balance_and_reason

            Costs in London are significantly more than 17% higher than the wider country…your comparison is simplistic.

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            Of course it is – I am making an entirely different point. I am making the point that it is the ENGLISH regions that have been neglected for decades now. The document I linked to will shed *some* light on the matter.

          • Jason Smith

            “London generates 18% of the UK’s output and a similar proportion of tax revenues for the UK. But it only receives some 14% of government spending. In 2007/8 it is estimated that London contributed between £14bn and £19bn to the rest of the country via a tax export.”

            From the report you gave, in the Foreword no less. How does that count as a subsidy?

          • mikewaller

            London milking the regions! You must be joking. It’s London that stops some of the regions being third world countries by “exporting” oodles of cash. Instead of seeking yet more NS oil/London handouts, those regions really need to think very hard about coming up with ideas to keep themselves afloat in an incredibly competitive world. Victimology simply won’t cut the mustard.

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            You are not exporting anything other than debt.
            To counter these ludicrous levels of centralisation, we ought to as soon as possible:

            Set up Parliamentary representation in its own jurisdiction, as remote as possible from the Square Mile with its own police force and own laws.
            Set up English courts in England, as remote as possible from the Square Mile with its own police force and own laws.
            Set up an adequate regional press landscape.
            Spend regional tax intake on regional transport services, not TfL.
            Spend regional arts budgets in the region, not 80% of all Arts Council budget in London and so on.
            Energy generated in the regions belongs to the regions.
            Yes, London is milking the regions big time. The centralist inepotocracy will get its comeuppance in September.

          • mikewaller

            If Scotland leaves the UK and then the South East followed suit I would not be overly optimistic about the future of the rest of the UK. And that, surely, would be the ultimate test. Regarding my own location, I live in the Midlands; but I do take a lot of pride in having a first class capital city. I remain convinced that your time would be much better spent trying to come up with ways that would make you a net contributor to the UK economy rather than wasting time deciding just how you are going to kill the golden goose.

          • gochome

            The Midlands as a region has a trade surplus with China. Living in the region I thought you may have realized you may in fact be sat on the Golden Goose..?

        • vieuxceps2

          And how can you have a” principle” reason?

    • Shazza

      Major – James Delingpole has written an excellent article on Mr Gove in Breitbart London today.

      Well worth reading.

      • Major_Eyeswater

        Thank you very much Shazza. I’m off to read it now.

    • mikewaller

      You’re bang on the money. The whole piece seems to me a sleight of hand in which he starts of by stressing what a fair and open-minded guy he is, all the better to put the boot in and thus realign himself with his little literary chums. Gove is visionary; his vision may be right, it may be wrong; but to fulfill the description he has to be unwavering in support of it.

  • Jambo25

    As an ex teacher of nearly 40 years experience I think its about time we had a Secretary of State with his own ideas and a fixed desire to reintroduce rigour and discipline back into English education.

    • GraveDave

      See, there you go again. It wont happen. You cant touch kids, and if you shout boo, they’ll just shout boo back louder. Or worse – duff you over. ,

      • Major_Eyeswater

        Children may well surprise you. Most want to learn, most accept that sensible levels of discipline help teachers to teach. The precise methods of discipline used must have this goal and no other and must be consistently applied and supported across the school and the education establishment. (Fat chance of this from the latter of these, granted, but we will achieve nothing if we don’t make the attempt).

        • GraveDave

          So what happens to the kids permanently excluded with ‘no hopes of any local authority reinstating them’. As for discipline to work they would probably have to think something up that extends to punishing the parents as well. But I should think the Tories are already working on that. Despite all their bullshit on winding down the nanny state.

          • Todd Bridges

            Punishing the parents would certainly be a start. Having the excluded children dig ditches until they learn the error of their ways would also be a positive start. Then, they’ll remember what chance they had.

      • Jambo25

        I’m not in favour of corporal punishment but that doesn’t mean that strict discipline isn’t possible or desirable. It does probably mean that there must be rather more use of suspension and expulsion though (in extremis). It also means that there should be a clearer connection between decent behaviour and success in school and post school progress.

        • Gwangi

          Yes, and there is good discipline in grammar schools and better state schools, and the better private ones (though there are some real thicko factory private schools too where teachers are slaves to their pupils).
          One issue that affects all schools is the infantilising and dumbing down of the syllabus. I have seen 16 year olds taught in a silly way more appropriate to 10 year olds a few years ago – and in our kidocracy, where children are worshipped by mummy and daddy, these little emperors and empresses expect that worship to continue at school, and it does (and teachers are scared of challenging this these days too).

          • Jambo25

            A pretty good summation.

          • Sidereal

            Matches your prejudices, eh?

          • Jambo25

            Based on 30 odd years experience teaching and managing schools.

          • Sidereal

            I had more than 30 years doing the same – but my years weren’t odd.

          • Jambo25

            My years were very odd.

          • balance_and_reason

            Would you call the decline in Britains educational outcomes relative to the OECD a resounding success? Not including gender studies in this, just maths, english and science.

          • Sidereal

            I hope you are aware that there are huge problems with international educational comparisons. I don’t accept that Britain (or the UK) has declined relative to the OECD.

          • balance_and_reason

            Of course, but in maths,and Science it is easier to compare and we have slumped over the last 15 years. Further, Literacy is not that difficult to assess and there is an acceptance that within UK this has drastically declined over the past 50 years.

          • Sidereal

            Slumped? No, I don’t think so.

            A drastic decline in literacy/ Well, easy to say, but difficult to prove … unless you have the evidence?

          • vieuxceps2

            Well,what about growth in illiteracy?

          • Colonel Mustard

            Everywhere on the net one can read ‘there’ instead of ‘their’ and the people doing it ain’t old…

          • Sidereal

            Twenty years ago, people wrote ‘their’ instead of ‘there’ in notes to their milkman … the internet has made their illiteracy visible to all …

          • Colonel Mustard

            I doubt that 20 years ago you were checking peoples milk notes. And since then we have had that wonderful New Labour government that invested so heavily in education, education, education. What happened?

          • Chapmac

            Educational “research”is always hungry to discover problems to be solved by educationalists..

          • Jules Wright

            That’s easy – go trawl the CBI/IoD research studies (late noughties) on the incidence of remedial literacy classes introduced – through necessity – by employers, for young employees. It’s not pretty. balance_and_reason is correct in his assertion.

          • Sidereal

            And this research covers all the countries in the OECD reports, presumably?

          • Jules Wright

            No. CBI/IoD covers the UK only, as you would expect. Regardless of the international comparisons, new employee literacy has declined here through the Blair/Brown years according to their research. That is all that matters – actual decline Vs natural improvement. One has to ask oneself “why?” – if it’s not a combination of inadequate parenting, inadequate teaching and inadequate teaching strategies, then what could it reasonably be? Last IoD data I saw was for 2010 – with 33% of company directors questioned believing that they had a numeracy and literacy short-fall amongst a proportion of their people. That’s a prevalence for concern wouldn’t you say?

          • Sidereal

            So, we’ve moved on from international comparisons (which is where we started). Two points: (1) you say ‘actual decline’; I’d say ‘perceived decline’. (2) The literacy shortfall you refer to could be caused by bad parenting/teaching etc, as you say; or it could be due to the nature of work changing. If you’re a chimney sweep, it doesn’t really matter if you can’t read. If you’re an estate agent it does. It may be that our education system is still aimed at the good old days …

          • Jules Wright

            Decline, schmecline – you’re splitting semantic hairs. The CBI/IoD (and also the FSB) weren’t surveying chimney sweeps but SMEs in manufacturing and services. Good enough for me …

          • LucieCabrol

            Your years were matched by a relentless decline in UK’s relative educational standing, steepening into a dive under Blair/Brown…think the time has come for the left to take a bow and gtfo…..we owe it to the kids and ourselves.

          • Sidereal

            It took you two months to come up with that gem? Jeez …

          • LucieCabrol

            Quality takes time

          • Sidereal

            Well, you plainly weren’t looking into the problems which are associated with relying on international comparisons. The only person I know of who puts any faith in them is Mr Gove, and it turns out he’s a bit of a dork.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Come on. Tell us whether your political activism for the left and the Labour party trumps your teaching in terms of priorities.

            Be honest now, if you can be!

          • Sidereal

            Your suggestion that I might ever have considered voting for Labour (new or old) is offensive in the extreme.

            (Why did this thread suddenly spring to life again???)

          • Colonel Mustard

            I believe you…

          • vieuxceps2

            And opposes yours,eh?

          • global city

            Cultural Marxism is as rife in the US public education system as it is over here.

      • Pan Dimensional

        “Shout boo”? “duff you over”? This is a spoof account, yes?

        • tisszy

          Unfortunately, it isn’t … it’s the polite version of saying that kids will tell you to f**k off, or thump you, as quick as look at you. Child-centred learning has only meant that the kids have learned that teachers have no authority; ma and pa tell their litle angels to ignore teachers, then verbally attack the teacher for failing to teach their kids at parents’ evenings.

          I left teaching because I was attacked by a year 9 boy and suddenly I was the big, bad wolf …!!!

          • James Lovelace

            About 8 years ago, a graduate friend of mine decided to leave her job as a PA to a director of a multi-national bank, and become a teacher. She announced this at dinner where there was a primary school teacher, a secondary (private school) teacher, and two university lecturers.

            We all tried to stop her and shake the foolishness out of her. She ignored us, did a PGCE in one of the most prestigious places, then got a job in a private school. We thought “phew, she’s landed on her feet, she might survive”.

            Within 3 years she’d given up teaching and was back in the City. She thought the kids she had to teach were utterly vile. They did things to her that were unimaginable from my school days (and I went to a rough secondary modern, where I was in the class for the really dumb and disruptive kids).

            Imagine what her experience would have been like if she’d ended up in some sink school, where they have to search the kids for knives, and where the teachers roam around in constant contact with eachother by walkie-talkie.

    • HD2

      After 38 years classroom teaching, I agree wholeheartedly: Gove’s the best Ed Sec since 1943 (at least).

      Denationalising education
      Charging fees
      Scrapping LEAs
      Setting entrance exams
      Awarding scholarships

      Are the steps required before the UK’s education will be ‘fit for purpose’ once again.

      • Jambo25

        I wouldn’t go for fee charging for publically owned schools but the other steps seem OK.

      • ladyofshalot

        Fee charging means more means testing. But I definitely agree with your other suggestions. Get rid of ideological blinkers and be totally objective about the present deficiencies of our education system. The idea of ‘selection’ must be stripped of its political tone and reintroduced. New educational methods and curriculum content are urgently required. See Daisy Christodoulou’s splendid article in this very issue!

      • djkm

        Charging fees?! On what basis should something that should be universal should have a fee paid for it? and for those that can’t pay? So we’ll have out of the box sink schools now?

    • Ingenjören

      Oh, a secretary of State with his own ideas. Sounds a lot better than it usually works out, since it practice means “Does not listen to facts and reason”, we actually got one of those as the minister of education in Sweden. Hasn’t worked out too well. Or to be honest, not at all.

      • Jambo25

        In Britain, if you do not get a strong willed Secretary of State you get the education system continuing to be run by the educational establishment of civil servants, university academics, researchers and professional association reps. In other words, the people who did so much to b.gger the system up from the 60s onwards. The people who never have any say in how the system should work are the actual teachers who have to operate it and have some actual experience of working and teaching in schools.

        • Pan Dimensional

          “The people who never have any say in how the system should work are the actual teachers who have to operate it and have some actual experience of working and teaching in schools.” The fact is that this is exactly what has happened under Gove (teachers having no power to change the system) so that tends to undermine your argument.

          • LucieCabrol

            I think you mean the teachers who were teaching under Blair/Brown, driven almost insane by a river of dictats, often contradictory, often political, resulting in a severe slump in standards and long term problems for the pupils involved and the UK who has to make do with a generation of poorly educated children….a crime indeed.

          • Jambo25

            No it doesn’t. I worked for 30 odd years in teaching. I cannot recall anyone in authority ever paying any heed to the experience and views of ordinary, front-line ‘chalkies’ like my colleagues and I. Instead, a string of generally stupid and unpiloted ideas would emerge from the “blob”, as Gove has rather accurately termed it and be dropped upon us and our hapless pupils from a great height. By the time the total uselessness of such measures were recognised then the eejits responsible for them would have got the promotion, which was generally the point of their wonderful idea (Bandwagon jumping is what we generally called it.) and moved on.

        • Chapmac

          In the uSA we’re going through yet another attempt of the leftist educates to convert public schools into ideological indoctrination centers via a federally dictated curriculum calling itself the “common core”Fifty years of this sort of thing leave us expecting horror stories of elementary matters blue-penciled out so as to leave students ignorant as the average turnip re:American history and civics. The issue is still in doubt, but proponents have already decended to ad hominems and Hillary Clintonisms. i.e.:”there are no problems with common core-and anybody who thinks there are are boobs-and probably racists.”

          • Jambo25

            There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with a suggested minimum standard or core for the curriculum as long as it isn’t an excuse for a major exercise in forced PC ‘groupthink’ or for the intellectual dilution and filleting of what is taught.

  • AB

    Very interesting and balanced piece. I think that part of the unease might come from the way in which we have become used to politicians using vague and nuanced language that is capable of multiple meanings and spins. The clarity with which Gove speaks stands out now in a way in which it would not have during the 70s and 80s when many on both Left and Right were more strident in their prescriptions. It is up to the electorate to decide whether Gove is right or wrong rather than for him to preface every policy with his doubts over whether it is the right or best one. That is really what Gove shares with Thatcher and Bob Crow.

  • Liberty

    Writers are generally part of the Blob so this article is unsurprising.

  • NBeale

    I do admire what Gove is trying to do but I can’t help feeling that he would be more effective if he could make more allies.

  • tjamesjones

    Anthony you lost me at your “syllogism”. It isn’t a syllogism to compare failures in one type of school with failure in another type of school. It’s what is called a “comparison”. And, there was something rather private eye about your 2 failures: ah yes, all those failed free schools, “the Discovery New School in West Sussex, the Al-Madinah School” and ah, that’s pretty much it

    • littleted

      ‘…you lost me at your “syllogism”‘.

      Quite. I think it went:

      Some of the maintained schools have problems. Some free schools have problems. Therefore free schools are better than maintained schools.

      Whether or not it is actually true or not, I believe the word ‘fallacy’ is more appropriate.

      This syllogism at least stands up:

      All children’s writers are left-wing. ‘H’ is a children’s writer. Therefore ‘H’ is left wing.

      Some may dispute whether the major premise is true.

      I suspect that the author’s problem is that he was faultlessly man-handled by a superior being – who swatted him and his views away like a mosquito, and he isn’t big enough to accept it. (His final sentence doesn’t cut it.)

  • GUBU

    The real insight in this article can be found in the last six words.

  • bengeo

    I thought this was supposed to be a right wing rag. What gives?

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Now isn’t this interesting – ‘the knives are out piece’ was deleted, instead we get the ‘the knives are out II’ the sequel. Summat’s up.
    Don’t we all LOVE the Green Gove?

  • David Lindsay

    The battle between Boris Johnson and Doris Livingstone demonstrated that directly elected Mayors were a very bad idea.

    The battle between Boris Johnson and Doris Gove demonstrates that the Conservative Party is a very bad idea.

  • Gwangi

    Well, I know children’s writers who do not hate him at all – and who agree that children need a good solid foundation, in English and maths, as used to happen in our primary schools – and was built on in our secondary schools.
    Learning times tables off by heart is good, as are spelling tests every morning. They are not anti-creativity at all; in fact, quite the reverse. Being semi-literate is not something that helps creativity, non?
    Many hate Gove as a knee-jerk reaction because he’s Tory. I find that silly and childish. When one looks at what he is trying to do, it’s a noble effort. Of course, teachers will resist and whinge, as they always do. And of course, many teachers now went through a ‘progressive’ primary and comp system, so are really shaky themselves on maths and English.

  • Peter Stroud

    At least Gove is attempting to counter the extreme left wing views, of many leaders of the teaching unions. He is attempting to bring back to all mainstream education, the academic rigour of the public and grammar schools. I really cannot see what a Rugby educated children’s author has to complain about.

    • Daniel Maris

      …by allowing extreme Muslims to set up their own schools with government funding.

      • vieuxceps2

        Nobody “allowed” muslims to set up schools using govt. funding.They simply sneaked in under the radar and are no doubtstill doing so.You might as wel say that people “allow”their houses to be burgled.

  • souptonuts

    Haven’t read such puerile bunkum for a long time.

  • Martin Jennerson

    I do admire what Gove’s doing, but the man is so up himself it’s unbelievable. He genuinely believes he as at least x5 more intelligent than every single other person on this planet.

    • Terry Field

      He is certainly highly intelligent; unlike so many soggy socialists.

  • global city

    Gare keepers, Left wing gate keepers ensure that only those with the same stupid attitudes can get on.

  • Barry_Edwards

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton (1887)

  • Jenny

    Too many people believe what Gove SAYS while ignoring what he actually DOES. Education in this country does need to be changed for the better, but Gove is changing it for the worse.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    “He assures me that he consults much more extensively than people believe,”

    That’s the problem with so-called consultations. Without the availability of some nationally standardised consultation process that can be properly and publicly brought to scrutiny eg linked to the electoral commission or some other relevant body – members of the public will always be subject to mystery consultations – even “ghost” consultations no doubt.

  • Organix

    The Virginia Bill of Rights’ text that “all men are by nature equally free and independent”, has been largely replaced with a simplified expression of “free and equal” that conveys the idea of equal treatment before the law.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    The centralisation that the author worries about may be a bad thing but, surely, anything is better than leaving education to the dead hand of the third rate municipal marxists in the local authority education departments.

  • balance_and_reason

    It really would be impossible for Michael Gove to right on everything to do with education; but the desperate need is to grind out 50 years of indoctrination that has damaged the fabric of our society. Every quango, university, childrens writer (it seems), Media luvee, etc etc etcis enjoined in this ludicrous pink mushroom of socialism. Has it helped the country? No….has it at least helped the poor?….patently not……has it resulted in a more balanced equality of asets, education, aspiration, and outcomes….er no. It literally doesn’t work; nowhere around the world has it worked…it purely rests as mechanism of power with its Priests twirling the uneducated masses(preferably) around to the tune of envy, manufactured outrage, short term bribery (it always fails when the money runs out) and then dissembling, misinformation and lies, to return to power, after a suitable space to cloud the previous car crash.

  • paulus

    When one embarks upon a course of action, you reviewall the evidence and differences of direction. Once this has been carefully considered, some one must must make the decision of that direction. Michael Gove has been elected to rectify a problem and offer opportunity: this is leadership.

    He is not writing childrens books, he’s getting children to read them.

    • Daniel Maris

      An alternative view might be that we need a variety of approaches to education.

  • Daniel Maris

    I think my problem with Gove is that he doesn’t seem to accept just how much the world of experience has changed for children and young people and doesn’t accept how much media like radio and television have done to dispel ignorance in the past. He has a very narrow view of what constitutes education.

    We should be doing everything to ensure our rich cultural traditions are maintained. But we probably need to shift to different media: computer games and a much more visual culture.

    • Terry Field

      Successful states understand that an NVQ in media studies delivered by ‘educators’ is a sign of civilisation’s collapse, not a high functioning society.
      Gove is hated because he tackles head on the truly degenerate work-avoiding left-wing relativist let-the-children-express-themselves-even-if-they-know-nothing fruitcakes.

      • Daniel Maris

        Our creative industries – computer games, design, music and films – generate billions of pounds in revenue for the country.

        Also that aura of creativity pulls in billions more in terms of investment – who really wants to live in Beijing as against London? – not even the Chinese.

        • Terry Field

          Oh please!
          What absurd complacent and profoundly ignorant nonsense.
          Plainly you have never been to or worked in Shanghai – a magnificent creative engine full of the greatest concentration of highly educated people in the world.
          It is a sick joke to hear a representative of a demonstratively failed post war culture to criticise what is at least one of, if not the greatest albeit developing civilisations and one which will produce amazing wonders as the UK struggles to build a train line 100 miles to the dreadfully poor north of the country, and still cannot educate vast numbers of its lazy indigenous to even a basic level.
          I am as British- probably more so – than you are, but I ditched the little Englander complacency decades ago when I discovered something called the world.
          Huge numbers of fine, sophisticated, educated and cultured Chinese love their country and are – rightly – happy to live and work within its borders.

          • cbinTH

            “A demonstratively failed post war culture”. This prompts the question, “failed” by which criteria?

          • Terry Field

            MY criteria!
            The only ones that count; certainly not yours.

  • justalittlebitofthis

    Labour25 plus
    Convicted and/or arrested list.
    From the president of PAP.

    1. Labour Councillor & School Governor for child welfare Brian Gate making child abuse images.

    2. Labour Lord Mayor School teacher and Nursery School Governor Graham Pearson child porn.

    3. Labour Councillor candidate & School Governor Richard Harris child porn and grooming

    4. Labour Councillor & School teacher Ben Williams making 10 child porn images

    5. Labour Party Councillor Candidate & School Governor Paul Diggert grooming and child porn

    6. Labour Councillor and teacher at a Boys Home in Rochdale Cyril Smith (Before her was Liberal) ( before he joined Liberals he was Labour councillor )

    7. Labour Party organiser to Lord Mayor School teacher/Scout Leader Timothy Edmeades child rapist.

    8. Labour Councillor & School Governor John Friary guilty of grooming a child for sex.

    9. Labour Party Councillor & School Governor Keith Rogers making 2,000 child rape images.

    10. Alec Dyer Atkins Labour Councillor & School Governor 2yrs for 42,000 images of child abuse.

    11. Adrian Circet Labour Councillor & School Governor 3yr community order for child porn.

    12. Steve Carnell Labour Councillor & School Governor found guilty of child and animal porn.

    13. Greg Vincent Labour Councillor & School Governor guilty making indecent images of children.

    14. Nelson Bland Labour Councillor & School Teacher guilty of making child porn images.

    15. Keith Potts Labour Party Councillor & School Governor guilty of Making Child porn images.

    16. Labour Party Councillor John Johnson child porn

    17. Labour MP Candidate Manish Sood offering school children money for sex.

    18. Labour Party Activist Mark Tann raping 2 little girls.

    19. Labour Party Adviser to Hazel Blears, Peter Tuffley. Kidnapped a child for sex.

    20. Labour Activist for Two Labour Council’s Liverpool and Hackney raping kids with AIDS.

    21. Labour Councillor Candidate Ian Rankin Guilty of making horrific child porn movies.

    22. Labour Adviser Tim Russo convicted paedophile child abuser.

    23. Phillip Lyon, Aid to Tony Bair making child pornography.

    24. Labour Council Leader Willie Smith arrested over a child pornography issue.

    25. Labour Party Spin Doctor Samuel Gamlin making child pornography.

    26. Labour representative for London mayor Ken Livingston on the GLA Yusef Azad arrested on child porn charges.

    27. Labour Councillor & School teacher Darren Pedley arrested by police on child porn charges.

    28. Susan Smith Labour Councillor Lambeth London 18 months in prison for raping a minor in her transvestite lovers flat.

    29. Sam Chaudhry Labour Lord Mayor sent to prison for multiple molestation on children as young as 5 yrs old.

    30. Nicholas Green Labour Lord Mayor School governor 10 yrs prison for rape of 3 children.

    31. Alan Prescott Labour Councillor & Senior Magistrate 2 yrs prison for molesting children in care.

    32. Gilbert Benn Labour Councillor 5yrs prison for molesting an 11yr old boy.

    33. Iestyn Tudor Davies Labour Councillor 7yrs prison for raping a 9yr old girl in South Wales.

    34. Les Sheppard Labour Councillor 10yrs for molesting three young girls in County Durham.

    35. Martyn Locklin Labour Councillor 12 yrs prison for 8 counts of rape and sex
    assaults on 3 young boys.

    36. David Spooner Labour Councillor 12 months prison for indecency in front of Two children.

    37. Neil Redrup Labour Councillor 4 months for using a spy camera to film a child on his toilet http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/6284812.stm

    38. Mark Burton Labour Councillor Molesting a girl and child abuse images on his computer.

    39. Liam Temple Labour Lord Mayor guilty of inciting a child into gross indecency for money.

    40. Stewart Brown Labour Lord Mayor guilty of distributing sickening images of child abuse.

    41. Toren Smith Labour Party Councillor Guilty of over 90,000 images of children being abused

    42. Joseph Shaw Labour Councillor child abuse images.

    43. Johnathan Phillips Labour Councillor found guilty of child porn on his memory stick

    44. Lee Benson Labour Party Councillor found guilty of Child pornography images.

    45. Labour County Councillor Raymond Coates child abuser.

    46. Labour Party Parish Councillor Graham White guilty filming a child doing sick acts.

    47. Labour Lord Mayor John Murray sexual assault on a 13 yr old girl.

    48. Labour party School governor Michael Tombs making child porn images and grooming.

  • You seem to have described a classic, high functioning psychopath. That’s ok, but you you please write a new series of “Foyle’s War”. This is displacement behaviour.

    Of course, you could write a spin-off with Ellie Haddington and Tim McMullan, if the elusive Mr Kitchen is busy.

  • Roland Dunn

    For any of those readers who are fans of The Gove, you should read the following: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/gove-nicked-our-schools-and-handed-them.html – which identifies how Gove has allegedly given away, literally handed for free, £10BN worth of school property title deeds. The man is an incompetent fool.

    • pedestrianblogger

      Your link is to a blog which quotes an article from the Guardian’s “Comment Is Free”. Experience has taught me to regard everything from that source as politically-motivated lies. However, if there is a grain of truth (for once) in this source, it appears that Mr. Gove has transferred £10,000,000,000 worth of property from the public to the private sector and for that he is to be congratulated, in my opinion.

      • Roland Dunn

        Let’s be clear about language: he has given £10BN worth of property away. That £10BN worth of assets has been built using tax payers money. So essentially £10BN worth of tax payers money has been donated to the pockets of some private individuals. I am genuinely interested as to how you justify this morally.

        • pedestrianblogger

          Could these “assets” have been sold? Did possession of them make a profit for the Treasury? If the answers to these questions is “no” then they were not really “assets”, were they?

          • Roland Dunn

            Their potential value is surely only part of the moral argument, their purpose that tax payers money was put to, with tax payers consent is part of it too. i.e. public owned state education. Any change in purpose – private owned state education should be done with our consent. Our taxes paid for it.

            As for the value – it’s title deeds of buildings – so course they could have been sold.

            I’m still waiting for your moral justification as to why it’s fine for £10bn worth of property being given away to a small no. of private individuals.

          • pedestrianblogger

            One might just as well argue that Gove has transferred liabilties from the public to the private sector. You do realise, I hope, that the title deeds have no “value” themselves?

  • Leftists do tend to have irrational, even hysterical reactions to those that oppose them. They project a lot, too. Oh, and they’re shocked when they find that people do have opposing views, and they think that such people are not only wrong but wicked as well.

  • whs1954

    A hatchet job from yet another of the educational/literary establishment who are unprepared to accept that if Gove, or indeed any other Education Secretary, genuinely wants to drive up education achievement amongst poor kids, then they must slash through the cosy sloppy lazy attitudes of that very establishment.

    Slagging off Gove for being vulgar or infra dig or treading on all the wrong toes or “not valuing the importance of education in itself” is becoming a bit like the arts luvvie establishment from the 80s – endlessly slagging off Thatcher for cutting arts funding and arts subsidies, pretending they (the authors of “Samizdat” and “Charter 88”) were the equivalent of those persecuted in the USSR, and all the while ignoring the fact that that money was then being redeployed on helping working class people who the luvvies purported to be the champions of, but yet would cross the road to avoid.

    In this case, the educational establishment hates the fact Gove is shaking up their lazy consensus of sloppy teaching methods, letting working class kids down in the classroom, then blaming “poverty” when those kids get duff GCSE results.

    Well I simply have to say “cobblers” to you and your hatchet job. And if arguing back with ad hominem like “cobblers to you” is just a sign of right-wing Daily Mail-reading (“ooh! the Mail! horrors!”) lack of breeding or vulgarity, blame my rotten lazy teachers at my old comprehensive.

  • buffyfan

    Michael Gove’s policies are out of date and uninformed. For example, he wants to make school days longer completely ignoring the fact that regular rest periods are essential to actually learning. Also, more tests create a stressful environment which is, again, not beneficial to learning and most “knowledge” that is “learned” for tests is promptly forgotten afterwards.

  • annoyed

    I hate almost all of Michael Gove’s policies but one of the things that angers me the most is his assumption that the ‘greats’ must be pre 19th century and British … are there no authors or composers of merit who were born in the 20th century? Why are we denying our children the broadening of horizons by learning about different cultures? Are the British infinitely superior to their US counterparts or should we just render our children ignorant of art forms from anywhere outside their own back yard?
    Anyone who has an argument to tell me why the British and the pre 19th century are inherently superior, please enlighten me!

  • Sue Sparks

    How can he reconcile saying he is giving schools more freedom when he personally has just decreed that the English Lit GCSE should have 75% British authors (banishing Steinbeck and Harper Lee) and almost all pre-20th century? Even if there was a good argument for this, it would still be very wrong for one man’s opinion to be decisive in such a matter as literary choices.

  • Richard Martin

    Well, if I ever have any children I’m going to make sure they never read a book by Anthony Horowitz. There are so many writers out there to choose from that I’m always pleased when I can cross one of them of my ‘possibles list’ – forever.

  • Ezme Green

    No one elected Gove…It was supposed to be a coalition….We need to change the system. I didnt want to learn due to neglect and abuse within my family. if I had been happy at home it would have been different because I love learning now. Its the parents who are the ones who are really in control despite the governments efforts to take their power from them. Parents of today remember their teachers as monsters and so are not interested in helping the school-child relationship. Many teachers are extremely flawed and frankly in the wrong job. Most of all I think there is way too much bureaucracy for anyone to deal with and that learning is still not fun. it HAS to be fun….( i teach my child at home and we spend no more than 2 hours a day on the 3 Rs – the amount we get done is staggering, compared to what he was doing at school)

  • Ezme Green

    Politicians are high functioning sociopaths, which is why Gove is so self-assured…He doesnt care what anyone thinks.He thinks that everyone is beneath him. He doesnt care. This is not a man who should be in charge of peoples lives. None of them should.

  • James Lovelace

    The experts who worked with the victims of the muslim grooming gang estimate that there are 10,000 white schoolgirls in England who were groomed/raped/prostituted by these gangs. The gangs were blatant, hanging around outside school gates (even of primary schools).

    In 2008, the UK Human Trafficking Centre commissioned a video to be shown in schools, to warn schoolgirls of the gangs’ methods. It has NEVER been shown.

    Only the teachers were in a position to stop this video from being shown. These are the “professionals” who have stood by and watched as 10,000 schoolgirls were preyed on by immigrants. These teachers must have seen what was going on. And instead of help the victims, the teachers just funded the UAF, which opposed the BNP and the EDL who tried to bring this scandal to national attention.

    Gove should be demanding a pubilc inquiry to expose what part the teachers played in enabling the muslim grooming gangs.

  • GraveDave

    He’s a self bloated prick. You can see it in 2D well enough
    One of the most overhyped people in British politics.

  • Bruno’s Beach

    We tend to forget that the distributed nature of civilization makes use of more knowledge than any person or group could hope to control.

  • Jack Ryan

    Citizens: Reject the illusions, delusions, and primitive superstitions of today’s liberals and progressives: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • Archie Mohan

    I don’t really understand what the problem is. Mr Horowitz fires a lot of questions; Gove answers them. That doesn’t make Gove some pernicious force with absolute certainty. Whilst I think those who learn English as a second-language are at a huge disadvantage, I know quite a number of people who have been the case and can speak perfectly good English

  • approveds

    So Quentin Blake said of Michael Gove, ‘He’s a massive, arrogant egotist who can’t see anyone else’s opinion.’ ?

  • Here’s one for the Referendum, it is a mistake to not give voters a choice to decide for themselves to stay in or to leave.

    We should support a sovereign Britain verses an EU Germany.

    To be convinced see Mumfordbooks.com/world_politics, see the best political cartoons available today.

    The British People demand their right in a FREE vote to Defend British Sovereignty against German EU.

    There should be NO Party Whip, we should aim for an 80% turnout from a United Britain no less.

    Yes, my full message go to:


    See my 10 political cartoons, actions have always spoken louder than words, do it now.

    I’m sure you will like my work, please pass in on to colleagues.

    • David Tough

      More English anti German rubbish how very little you know about modern European countries!

  • David Cameron is standing firm doing the EU Hokey Pokey

    “Lyrics Mike Mumford” The EU Hokey Pokey

    You put your left EU in,

    You put your right EU out,

    You put your right hand in,

    And you shake GOVERNMENT about,

    You do the EU hokey pokey

    and you turn yourself around

    That what VOTE’S are about.

    2) left hand EU in

    3) right foot EU out

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