No sooner were the punditerati poring over Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove’s remarks yesterday on The Andy Marr Show (tm) than he got rumbled for being highly selective with the actualité. Gove has been using a variety of allegedly authoritative statistics, and quoting current academic practice, to justify his wonderful new version of various curricula.
If it oiks like an oik ...
Sadly, his statistics were, in the main, of the highly dubious variety: two of the polls he has been quoting have been revealed to be PR puff exercises commissioned by UKTV Gold and Premier Inns. Another was commissioned by the Sea Cadets to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. A fourth was taken from an article in London Mums magazine.
And he had not used the original data from the Sea Cadets poll, but quoted from a magazine article. This emerged when retired teacher Janet Downs smelt a rat after reading the assertion “Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58% think Sherlock Holmes was real”.
Ms Downs put in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Gove’s department (that’s the kind of thing the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance do, only not when it’s one of their political soulmates like “Oiky”). There was the customary foot-dragging, but eventually the information was reluctantly divulged. The survey behind the remark was not only from UKTV Gold, but was also five years out of date.
It got worse: Gove’s now talked of someone using Mr Men characters to illustrate the rise to power of the Third Reich. “As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mr Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined” he chirped.
Russel Tarr, the teacher concerned, responded “I do not teach the Third Reich ... The actual topic in question is the Weimar Republic 1918-33 ... The process of transforming a sophisticated historical phenomenon to its essential elements in a manner that much younger students will understand [Mr Men characters] is no easy feat: it requires a sustained handling of analogy and metaphor”.
He concluded “Gove and his advisers – either through stupidity or mischievousness – failed to place me, my website, or the lesson into its appropriate context. His criticisms betray a lack of knowledge, understanding, and interpretation that would make a GCSE history student blush with shame”. He sounds almost surprised. But this sort of journalistic “twist and shaft” is happening far too often.
Mr Gove ought to stick to his Mr Job and desist from being Mr Stirring Hack.