Sunday, 8 September 2013

P.S. I love Gove.

I promise you I haven’t gone mad, but today I am going to be positive about Michael Gove. Yep, you heard me right: positive about the man whose photograph occupies various dartboards across the country in homes and schools. The reason for this surprising burst of positivity is that I feel that somebody needs to play devil’s advocate or provide a counterpoint to the arguments that judge him and his ideas. Most of the time they amount: grrr, don’t you hate him; he is so clueless. Twitter alone has enough comments daily that vilify him, yet there are very few voices that agree or support him. There seems to be a mob mentality when it comes to referring to the man. Some people on twitter are a few steps away from pitchforks and flaming torches, and, maybe, a select few are probably working together to hire an assassin to dispose of him.

I too have joined in the mob and blogged about my dissatisfaction at certain things that have happened or are going to happen. I don’t agree with everything he has orchestrated or suggested. There are some things I abhor too, but I think an overview is needed. I do feel for new teachers as the common held though it that this man is destroying education single-handedly. Really? This man is going to ruin education. I think a bit of perspective is needed. Teachers are the eternal optimists. They have to see the good in the bad.   

So, what have the Romans ever done for us? I mean, what has Gove ever done for us?

Raising the status of education
Teachers hold in their hands the success of our country and the wellbeing of its citizens; they are the key to helping every child in this country to realise their full potential.

When I think back to all the previous education ministers or politicians associated with education, I struggle to name them all. In fact, I struggle to name most of them. I only really remember Lord Adonis and Ed Balls because they sounded like a group of male strippers. In the public eye, education minsters have always been low on the political radar. They have been in the public sight once every five or six months, but the rest of the time they have been hidden in the shadows. Not Gove. He is there on a weekly basis, almost, putting across his views and ideas.  Education is mentioned in the press on a weekly basis. It is in the public mind all the time.

How many sixteen and seventeen year olds have heard of Mr Gove? How many parents have heard of Mr Gove? I would say more parents and students know of our minister’s name than before. They know that changes have taken place. They know how they have been affected.  In Parents Evenings’ in my teaching career, I have never mentioned the education minster, yet now parents do. 

For endless years, we have heard about GCSE results continually improving and there had been little or no reaction to that. The naturally assumption people made was that they were getting easier. Was anything done in the past to combat this? No. What did he do? He opened the can of worms. Resits. Inflated marks. Modular testing. He addressed this. Yes, people might not like it, but the way the GCSEs are going they will be tougher and harder. They will represent a challenge and not something perceived at being easy. 

There is no denying that the man has an agenda: an agenda that most people disagree with. However, he has raised some serious issues about education and how we teach. He may think he has the solution, but in peddling his solution he has raised questions.  Are we academic enough in our teaching? Do we simplify things too much? Are facts more important than skills? Are boring lessons a problem? Are we pandering to what students want rather than what they need? Are some new teaching methods credible? No other minister in my time in education has made me think about the quality and validity of what I do and how I do it. I don’t agree with everything he spouts, but he has made me think about how I teach.

The discussion, for example, about what should be in the curriculum for History and English has raised more questions. He is challenging the status quo. Why do something because it has been done for years? Why shouldn’t we do something else? He has raised questions about how we do things. Each curriculum is about a series of choices and sometime we should question those choices. The most invigorating change for me was the change in AQA anthologies poems. I was secure with the old ones and I had loads of resources. However, the new conflict set of poems sparked my creativity, interest and enthusiasm.  The changes in the English curriculum have also got me excited as I will mention later.

The man has got teachers questioning everything. Look at the arguments on phonics. There have been some intelligent arguments for and against. But, he made us do that. He made us question it and not blindly accept it.
Mr Gove used to work in journalism and he knows how papers work. There is no better evidence of this than his press coverage over the last year. That man is never out of the papers. Why? If you think of the public consensus, he is the hardest working politician next to David Cameron. He is always being seen or heard in one way or another. To his boss, he looks like he is working really hard. And, he is building up his profile of being a future PM (which he denies) with his constant drive on ‘change’. The voting public want politicians of action and change. Look at the image he has created over the years. He isn’t someone that sits on his laurels and waits for things to happen; he makes things happen.

Gove is the fox in the hen hutch or the bright student in the class that can with one sentence cause uproar.  He is a ‘soundbite’ man. He will make a point and ruffle everyone’s feathers and see the reactions. Sometimes, this will include changing policy or backing down.  Mention something and step back and see how people react and behave is a classic management move. He is testing the water and judging things when he says things. Therefore, when he says something these days, I tend to take it with a pinch of salt. I leave sharpening the pitchforks for another day.  

Controlled Conditions / Coursework
Nobody told me how much I would come to hate controlled conditions or coursework over the years. It is one of the things I hate about teaching English. For years, I have struggled with jumping from one piece of coursework to another in Year 10 and Year 11. In English, the whole two years seem to be a jumping from one piece to another and then a mad panic for the exams at the end. It always felt as if I was continually teaching to an assessment and not necessarily teaching English.

Added to this, coursework has always been full of problems and issues. Students copying stuff from the internet. The blur between the help at home they might get and the students' own work. The excessive drafting by some teachers.  Inflated grading of work to combat poor exam marks. There never seems to be a fair way of doing it.

Thankfully, it is going. Yes, it will mean that some students will not be able to shine in a way that they did before, but at least we know the whole system will be fair. No longer will we see E grade students suddenly producing B grade work.  Now, I will have two years to prepare students for an exam and along the way I control what they do. I can be creative and I don’t have to be controlled by the rush to get all the assessments done in the time. I can teach English rather than teach to a piece of coursework.
Oh and another thing: I will no longer have to fill in those coversheets and sort out those folders. This task alone took hours of my free time, checking that things were right.  I love Gove alone for saving me this pain. 

Grammar has always been a difficult subject in schools. Many teachers were not taught explicit grammar at school and this has been a contentious issue for years. He brought it to the attention of all and put it smack bang in the curriculum. It is now part of the testing in Year 6. Time will tell if the impact of this is successful, but it does mean that more teachers are teaching grammar and more students will have knowledge of how to use it correctly. Who could argue that we need less grammar teaching in schools? We needed more and we needed it to be not the sole responsibility of the English teachers, because they were seen as the 'fix-all-brigade'. 

I want my students to have the best chance of getting the result they deserve based on their skills and knowledge. Some argue that the new changes at GCSE will penalise some students, but for me I think they will not. They are now going to be marked in isolation and away from the teacher’s subjectivity.  Their work will be marked by a stranger that doesn’t know them and it is all down to what happens in the exam room. In the past, there hasn’t been a totally objective system. You have had generous markers because students have really tried hard or that they are worried that someone will tell them off if they don’t get enough Cs in their a class.

Students will be judged on one thing and one thing alone: how they perform in the exam. We now will have a level playing field. A C will mean a C and not just a poor result in the exam boosted by uncharacteristically high controlled conditions and speaking and listening marks.    

Enough said, really. What’s not to like about having the Romantics taught in English?

For several years, there has been a tendency for lessons to resemble a children’s television show of quick quizzes with prizes and ‘here’s one I made earlier’. The man, after all, is a Conservative and he will, by default, prefer the traditional approaches and the old ways of teaching. But, he has for one thing, addressed the issue of education over entertainment. Do we as teachers spend too much time entertaining and not enough time educating? The whole furore of the ‘Mr Men-gate’ incident was about the 'alleged' dumbing down, but it was also about the entertainment of the topic, making a subject entertaining or fun.

A child-centred approach to learning is a great thing, but when does it become about entertaining the child and less about educating the child? Maybe, he has something in that we are appealing to the children more, when we should be teaching them in a traditional manner.


Finally, if there is one thing he has done, it is unite teachers. Unite them against him.  Change is difficult and it is always hard to deal with. Reports always cite moving house as being one of the most stressful things in life. I want a system that is effective in teaching and sadly it isn’t as effective as it could be. Yes, change is hard and not always enjoyable, but if we want to improve things, then we have to change things.

Now, what has Gove done for us? Well apart from the status, PR, the questions, the coursework,  grammar, equality and a conservative view, what has Gove done for us?  The only person we hate more than Gove is the bleeding Judean People's Front.  And the People’s Front of Judea.

Talk about Judean People’s Front.  What has Labour done for education recently? In fact, who is the shadow minister of education?

Thanks for reading,

P.S. I don’t love Gove. It is not even a bromance, but I do feel some good has come out of the bad things. And at least he is in the public eye and in plain view. I always worry about the person that doesn’t say what they mean and isn’t in the public eye.


  1. If coursework could be done properly for the student's development, rather than trying to support the school's headline figures, coursework is excellent for the students. It's a more useful life skill than exam taking.

    Also, I think the move from a percentage boundary pass rate back to percentiles is classist. I can't think of another way of putting it. Percent boundaries promote meritocracy in a way percentiles do not. That is something that teachers need to really understand and talk about.

  2. I have no problem with coursework from that perspective. Some students do achieve better with coursework than exams. Girls certainly work better with it. But the key phrase here is 'if coursework could be done properly'. If it is, then I have no problem with it. But how do you enforce it is done properly? An exam is a controlled assessment. The problem with coursework is the lack of control exam boards have. The controlled conditions assessments attempted to added control measures, but failed.

    If there was more control and fairness about coursework assessments, I have no problem with them, but at the moment I question the fairness of them, and the amount.

    Furthermore for AQA, you have to complete four written assessments and three speaking and listening assessments (not any more) over a two year course and also prepare for the exams. Additionally, they insist that assessments should all be done in Year 11. Therefore, Year 11 is a constant round of assessments with some exams at the end. Where is the time for teaching the skills needed for exam, and life?

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  4. Couldn't agree with you more. Don't like the man but he has done some good whilst in office. I agree with everything you say and would also add that I like the idea of no longer having multiple exam boards. One exam board means schools can no longer play the game of constantly changing exam boards according to whichever one the perceive that year to be the 'easiest' to pass. On that, and on insisting that exams are more rigorous, I congratulate Gove.


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