The trouble with Michael Gove

Michael Gove has unveiled his grand plan to ditch GCSEs. It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise. He wants students to have a nice big exam to sit at the end of their studies.

The biggest surprise is that it is set to be called the E-Bacc.

Given the rampant ego of the education secretary, I would have thought he would have tried calling it the Gove-Level.

He is probably secretly hoping that some of his pals in the media will give that name a test run in the future.

My lack of faith in Michael Gove’s motives is twofold:

  1. I fear he genuinely sees himself as a possible future leader of the Conservative Party (next but one after Boris, perhaps.)
  2. He appears desperate to leave his mark on history.

Gove doesn’t appear to trust teachers.

He doesn’t appear to respect students.

He doesn’t appear to like the sound of many people’s voices other than his own.

This is a man who came up with a scheme to send a new leather-bound copy of the King James  I Bible to every school.

Nothing wrong with that, as such.

Except that the Govemeister arranged for ‘Presented by the Secretary of State for Education’ to be embossed on the spine.

Clearly he’s keen to spread the word of God, but I can’t help thinking that’s he’s a little confused as to precisely whose word that is.

As an education secretary he has been quite odious in the timing of some of his remarks on exams – often making the comments at precisely the moment when students would prefer to be concentrating on preparing for those examinations.

But while he has been happy to make snide comments impugning the efforts of today’s students, when he was required him to step in and do something –  the farcical and unfair movement of the goalposts for English GCSE students between the winter exam and the summer exams – what was his response?

He admitted the fact that students in the summer who got the same score as those earlier in the year, but received a lower grade, was unfair.

But he failed to intervene. While the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland have acted, he stood back.

This unusual and misplaced reticence by Gove is disappointing to anyone who cares about fairness, but a lot worse than that for the poor students affected.

Still it helped back up his claim that GCSEs need replacing.

It’s clear where his priorities lie. It isn’t with the students, nor with the teachers. It’s with the big businesses and employers who sit in the same clubs as many MPs.

Sadly, is easy to claim exams are less difficult.

The vast majority of people, who took them years ago, are going to be eager to believe it is not that students’ learning and teachers’ methods have improved, but that standards have dropped. That way it cannot be taken as an implied criticism of the older generation.

But it does ignore the fact that learning resources have improved no end. There’s something called the internet, which means that much more knowledge is more readily available to a much wider audience.

That is a good thing and does not need to be a cause for grumbling.

Successive governments of the UK have called for higher standards from schools – they introduced league tables of schools, based on exam results – so it all feels a bit rich to then complain, when better results are achieved, that it must be because the exams have become easier.

The new E-bacc appears to focus on the top achievers. But there is also a suggestion that grades will be based on percentages.

I’ve never trusted this method. If 5,000 more people get 90 per cent than managed it the previous year, surely they should get the same grades as everyone who got 90 per cent the previous year?

And the E-bacc does nothing to alleviate concerns that the constant drive for higher grades at the top end means that those at the bottom of the scale become ignored.

Surely a school that helps an E-grade student to achieve a C-grade is at least as good as a school that turns a C-grade student into an A-grade student?

Yet the majority of the media and many politicians don’t focus on that. They want to push schools to get many more A-grade students. And then moan that GCSEs must have become easier because more people have got A-grades.

The focus on the end of term examination rather than modular and coursework is interesting. It will benefit some and hit others.

For instance, I have always been good when it comes to sitting exams. I sat the old 16-plus, the forerunner of the GCSE and, from what I gather, not much different in format to the O-level that preceded.

It was very exam-oriented. So I spent 60 per cent of my two years leading up to those exams not exactly working hard –doing enough to get by. Then I revised a little and got good grades.

I struggled more with geography. The part where I got the lowest mark in that subject was course work –  the bit which required more application.

I would have thought the ability to produce good work consistently would be one of the things that would meet the criteria often touted of preparing children for the workplace. (Although, it would be nice if education chiefs would also confirm that schools are not just about preparing children for work, but to actually teach them things and widen their knowledge.)

Unfortunately, Gove has a lot of support in the media. This may not be unconnected with the fact he was once a reporter. In fact, there’s a fairly well known picture of him on a National Union of Journalists picket line.

I expect the bespectacled geek of that photograph is not the image Gove, who appears to idolise himself and would quite like others to share his feeling, is keen to remember.

As for the exam change proposals – if they go through – he may get his footnote in history, but as someone who reinvented the wheel.

Follow on Twitter: @Norbertsdad

Useful links – here is how the Guardian reports the Gove proposals and a summary of the GCSE grades farce this summer.


Politicians are not arrogant, detached or stupid…or are they?

The Isle of Man will most likely follow suit on the exam changes, having up until now always used English examination boards. This is an assessment of our education minister:

And his predecessor:

 On a lighter note, the author suspects a sea gull in the Isle of Man of bearing an uncanny resemblance to the subject of the main article above:

And here’s a piece about how to spot your toddler is growing up:


About Paul Speller

Writer, journalist, husband, dad.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Parenthood and children, Politics and education and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The trouble with Michael Gove

  1. Pingback: The give-away clues that your toddler is growing up | Paul Speller

  2. Ian Tweedie says:

    Good article and well written. These politicians are driven by arrogance, class, non academic here say and knee jerk dogma. What is more, they don’t really care. He is one of the worst. Not only do he and his not have the answers, they don’t even know the right questions.

  3. Mick Mills says:

    Sorry – terrible article and badly written!

    I don’t like Gove either but ‘bespectacled geek’ – really?

    Have GCSEs got easier? I’m afraid that “I don’t think so” cuts any mustard.

    The real evidence is sparce – – but does suggest that they have; or at the very least the increase in pass rates has not been reflected in an increase in pupil ability.

    What Gove has got wrong, and this you crucially failed to mention, is that he doesn’t appear to consulting on the best solution. Instead we get an ‘I believe’ dogmatic solution; in that respect very similar to this article

  4. Pingback: It’s not true that politicians are arrogant, detached and stupid, they just know better…. | Paul Speller

  5. Pingback: The other education reforms under consideration by Michael Gove | Paul Speller

  6. Pingback: New man at the helm of Department of Education and Children talks to Paul Speller | Paul Speller Media

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