Thursday, 20 January 2011

The strange contradictions of Mr Gove


He's a funny one, that Michael Gove. By turns a brilliant gadfly, always precise, always (apparently) polite, obviously clever and possessed of a heroic life story that's seen him rise from humble beginnings.

But his views are also riddled with the kind of contradictions that only the really clever, at least in the academic sense, can get themselves into - even on the same day, and the same sentence.

So today we have yet another review of the National Curriculum in England - still one more of those periodic convulsions, every few years, by which Ministers try to prove themselves powerful.

It's worth reflecting, over a longer time-period, why Ministers have become such educational 'experts' and campaigners over the last four decades. Lost power over interest rates? Over legal sovereignty to the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights? Of trade to the World Trade Organisation? Of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland's domestic affairs to their respective devolved administrations? Well, you can always prove your ideological virility by messing with England's schools.

Anyway. Mr Gove's contradictions are extraordinary. He wants a slimmed-down and 'less prescriptive' curriculum - all well and good. But then he goes on to ask for much more detail in each outline National Curriculum statement, which are available by subject. He repeats, again and again, that 'the National Curriculum' for Geography contains only British topics and subjects, while he must know that beneath that there's a whole heap of guidance for teachers on how to fit Britain into the world. He says he wants teachers and head teachers involved in the review - fair enough. But then he goes on to say exactly what they should find - that 'traditional learning' (whatever that is) should be mandated for all schools. He says he wants more social mobility while presiding over the break-up of England's school system into a thousand fragmented pieces, all the more likely to prevent that goal.

It's a strange way of doing government, that's for sure.

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