Michael Gove was Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families from 2007 until the 2010 general election, when he was appointed Secretary of State for Education in the coalition government.
In November 2009, Ed Balls criticised Conservative education policy saying that plans to reduce prescriptiveness in the National Curriculum could result in the teaching of Creationism in science classes. Responding in his role as Shadow Education Secretary, Gove said: “No school which receives state money could teach creationism as if it was science.” He indicated that this would be enforced through funding agreements rather than the National Curriculum.
In March 2011, responding to a letter from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), the Department of Education stated that Gove is "crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact".
In January 2012, the National Secular Society, who are campaigning against the teaching of creationism in schools, reported that the document outlining the funding agreement of free schools had been amended to state that:
- "The Academy Trust shall not make provision in the context of any subject for the teaching, as an evidence-based view or theory, of any view or theory that is contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations."
And a statement from the Department for Education stated:
- "The Education Secretary has been crystal clear that teaching creationism as scientific fact is wrong. He will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum."
In July 2012, the Guardian reported that "creationist groups" had been granted permission to run three state-funded schools. One group had previously been refused permission over concerns about its teaching of creationism; the two others claimed that religious views about creation would only be taught in RE classes.
When in opposition Michael Gove showed some support for Steiner schools. After the 2010 election he was made Secretary of State for Education where the coalition policy on Free Schools was seen as allowing the schools to get state funding.
- One skeptic's view against: http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3528
- One skeptic's view for: http://stumbles.org.uk/john/Steiner/
In January 2013, during a House of Commons Education Committee session, Mr Gove was asked by David Ward about his views on evidence-based policy, particularly with respect to education. Mr Gove's replies can be read in the transcript: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/uc853-i/uc853i.pdf (from Q63).
Mr Gove asked Ben Goldacre to look at how to improve the use of evidence in schools. Dr Goldacre completed his report in March 2013: http://www.badscience.net/2013/03/heres-my-paper-on-evidence-and-teaching-for-the-education-minister/
Proposed National Curriculum
In March 2013, 100 people signed a letter to The Independent on the subject of Mr Gove's proposed new National Curriculum. It was noted that the signatories were "either professors of education or teach in university education departments". The letter noted:
- "The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity."
- "…the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. Whatever the intention, the proposed curriculum for England will result in a “dumbing down” of teaching and learning."
- "Mr Gove has clearly misunderstood England’s decline in Pisa international tests. Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning."
In an article in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Gove described the signatories as "modern Enemies Of Promise", stating:
- "You would expect such people to value learning, revere knowledge and dedicate themselves to fighting ignorance. Sadly, they seem more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence."
And commenting on their work:
- "One of the letter’s principal signatories claims to write ‘from a classical Marxist perspective’, another studies ‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice’, a third makes their life work an ‘intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance’."
On his reforms he noted:
- "GCSEs and A-levels had been systematically devalued. We have acted. GCSEs and A-levels will again be taken after two years’ study, instead of broken into ‘modules’, and will stretch children with the challenges they need, such as extended essay-writing and more problem-solving in maths and sciences."
Commenting on teachers who opposed the reforms he stated:
- "They are the ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes. They oppose our plans to pay good teachers more because they resent the recognition of excellence and they hate academy schools because heads in those schools put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards."
The use of performance-related pay for teachers was rated as having "Low or no impact for moderate cost, based on very limited evidence" by the Education Endowment Foundation, while the statistician and researcher in the field of education Andreas Schleicher was reported to have said there was "no clear evidence" of its benefits.
As evidence for falling standards Mr Gove said:
- "Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58 per cent think Sherlock Holmes was real."
- "Expectations in science have been so dumbed down that children could be asked if grilled fish is healthier than battered sausages in their GCSEs."
The second statement had been made by Mr Gove at the 2009 Conservative Party Conference, and dealt with by Channel 4's Fact Check: http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/factcheck+bad+science+gcses/3377207.html
The first statement was investigated by Janet Downs on the Local Schools Network website. A Freedom of Information request at first revealed only one survey, commissioned by UKTV Gold, which however did not appear to look at teenagers in particular. Problematically, the survey also included in their list of "Top ten fictional characters that the British public thinks are real" a number of real historical characters: Mona Lisa, Dick Turpin and Lady Godiva, as well as legendary figures King Arthur and Robin Hood, whose historical basis is unclear. Details of the survey's methods are currently unknown.
After a follow-up on the Freedom of Information request the Department for Education gave five more surveys. Investigation of these revealed that three were publicity pieces, one was not publicly available, apparently included as part of a think-tank report, and only one could be considered a valid survey, but that one did not show the extreme ignorance of the other reports.
Early Years Policies
In September 2013, a letter organised by the Save Childhood Movement, and signed by a number of academics specialising education, was published in the Daily Telegraph. The letter expressed concern about the Government’s early years policies. One quote:
- "Research does not support an early start to testing and quasi-formal teaching, but provides considerable evidence to challenge it. Very few countries have a school starting age as young as four, as we do in England. Children who enter school at six or seven – after several years of high quality nursery education – consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of wellbeing."
The letter did not cite any specific sources for this evidence.
A spokesman for Mr Gove was reported as having said:
- "These people represent the powerful and badly misguided lobby who are responsible for the devaluation of exams and the culture of low expectations in state schools.
- "We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer - a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about 'self image', which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up."
In 2006, MPs were asked three questions by the Rough Guide's Mark Ellingham on how seriously they took climate change as politicians and as responsible, active citizens. Michael Gove replied:
- 1: How we deal with climate change is one of the principal challenges policy-makers face. We have a duty to the next generation to protect our planet.
- 2: The UK can help broker international action, give a lead on the development of new technology, help refine improved carbon trading and take steps to entrench year-on-year reductions in emmissions [sic].
- 3: I very rarely fly, I try to ensure I share car journeys wherever possible, and I am trying very hard to reduce domestic energy consumption
In March 2013 it was reported that climate change would be removed from the draft National Curriculum for geography up to 14 (e.g. The Guardian). However in April 2013 the Department for Education released a statement noting that climate change was specifically mentioned as part of the science curriculum to 14, while weather and climate would be taught in geography to 14 which also included opportunities to teach about sustainability.
Animals in Medical Research
In 2006, Michael Gove signed Early Day Motion 1850: Animals in Medical Research which noted that "animal research is only permitted where there is no better alternative and that pain and suffering are minimised and balanced against the potential benefit to humans and animals", supported "the building of the new state of the art biomedical research laboratory at Oxford University", condemned "unlawful animal rights extremism, including any violence, harassment or intimidation of those associated with lawful animal research", and supported "the well-regulated use of animals in medical research".
See this interview: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2007/10/23/interview-the-tories-gays-and-education/ (covers other issues too)
Mr Gove was one of a number of Conservative Party MPs to sign a December 2012 letter to the Telegraph in support of same-sex marriage. It also noted:
- "We feel strongly that religious freedom must be protected. This means that religious groups should be allowed to conduct same sex marriages if they choose, but equally none should be compelled to do so."
- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2298146/I-refuse-surrender-Marxist-teachers-hell-bent-destroying-schools-Education-Secretary-berates-new-enemies-promise-opposing-plans.html Freezepage: http://www.freezepage.com/1366450311UGLSZHRYVN
- http://londonmumsmagazine.com/2013/with-63-of-uk-11-14-year-olds-unable-to-even-spell-achievement-how-can-we-expect-our-next-generation-to-be-successful notes the information came from "Education Quizzes" a company selling exam revision services
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