The Gove of Christmas Present

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A Christmas Post

In which the parts of Scrooge and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future are all played by Michael “I do not see anything wrong with having the 19th century at the heart of the English curriculum” Gove.

Twas the night before Christmas at the DfE, and nothing stirred. Not even a GCSE grade. Ebenezer Gove was at his desk shredding letters from Michael Rosen when a deputation from various arts organisations approached. Before they could speak, Gove jumped up and shook them by the hand, saying ” I’m glad you applaud the excellent job I have been doing on behalf of the arts in schools, and I shall convey your appreciation to the house this very afternoon.”

“No, no.” said the arts organisations, “You misunderstand us, the arts in schools are in earnest need of nourishment, lest they should wither away completely.  At this festive time of year it is usually desirable that we should make some slight curriculum provision for the poor and destitute arts, who suffer greatly at the present time.”

“Are there no academies?” retorted Ebenezer Gove angrily, “And the free schools? Are they still in operation? I thought I had just allocated £1bn for new academy and free school buildings by taking it from the poor and the rising middle classes, and sacking the rest of the DfE staff?”

That night, as the Minister unlocked his front door he saw not the familiar large knocker, but the ghostly faces of Rutherford and Churchill, and Ebenezer ‘If I thought the EBacc proposals would lead to students dropping arts subjects, I would not be able to sleep at night, knowing that the ghosts of Rutherford and Churchill were hanging over my bed and chiding me for my failures’ Gove suspected that he might be in for a sleepless night.

Sure enough as the clock struck twelve, the Gove of Christmas Past appeared and took him back in time to a place he recognised well. “Good heaven!” said Gove, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. “I went to private prep school here.”

“The school is not quite deserted,’ said the Gove of Christmas Past. “A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.” And indeed, there in the corner, while all the other children were making merry singing, dancing and painting jolly pictures, the young Gove sat alone reading his encyclopedias, and wondering what he could do to make himself happier. “I know,” he was thinking, “I will study hard and one day I will become Prime Minister and then I can put a stop to all this arts nonsense and ensure that everyone follows an academic curriculum and goes to Oxbridge.”

Shortly afterwards, the Gove of Christmas Present took him to a multi-cultural inner-city school where everyone was enjoying the end of term pantomime. “Bah! Humbug!” said Gove. “When I said Every child should be able to enjoy and appreciate great literature, music, drama and visual art I didn’t mean they should participate in them, just to read about them and then answer rigorous academic essay questions.

Finally the Gove of Christmas Future whisked him away to an imposing black door, emblazoned with a shining, golden number 10. “Ah,” said Ebenezer Gove with a gleam on his face and twinkle in his eye, “so I am to become Prime Minister after all”?   “Thank heavens, no.” said the Gove of Christmas Future solemnly. “Your education policies made the people so unhappy and damaged the economy so much that your party was defeated and you remained an opposition back-bencher for the rest of your miserable life.”

Waking in the morning and discovering that it was Christmas Day, Gove realised the folly of his ways and immediately set about abandoning the EBacc and letting teachers and children decide what was best for the curriculum and how to assess it. He even announced that in future he was going to start taking the advice of the teaching associations. The new academies and free schools were cancelled, and instead the money was spent on refurbishing every school building in the country and upgrading their art studios, design workshops and dance and drama suites. “God bless the arts”, he proclaimed ” – Every One of them!”

Sadly of course this is an entirely fictional story, and not a word of it is true. Or is it?

From the House of Commons Hansard Debates Monday 3rd December 2012

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely contribution to the UK’s international achievements of studying creative subjects in school; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): The arts are mankind’s greatest achievement. Every child should be able to enjoy and appreciate great literature, music, drama and visual art.

Fiona Mactaggart: But is the Secretary of State aware that Britain’s record in Nobel prizes—we have won 19 prizes for every 10 million of our population, whereas the USA has won 11 prizes per 10 million, and the EU has won 9 per 10 million—is achieved partly as a result of the combination of excellent science education and a strong creative tradition throughout our education system? At the same time, the Secretary of State’s EBacc proposals will result, according to research he has commissioned from Ipsos MORI, in something like a quarter of our schools dropping subjects such as art and design, design technology, music and so on. Will that mean that our international achievements, including in Nobel prizes, will slide down?

Michael Gove: If I thought the EBacc proposals would lead to that, I would not be able to sleep at night, knowing that the ghosts of Rutherford and Churchill were hanging over my bed and chiding me for my failures. I had the opportunity to speak to representatives of a variety of arts organisations today. They applauded the work we have done, not least the report that Darren Henley authored on cultural education.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Ian McNeilly, the head of the National Association for the Teaching of English, has said of the Government’s new English curriculum:
“It is fantastic that Mr Gove has acknowledged that English as a subject needs to move into a different century. Unfortunately for all concerned, he has chosen the 19th rather than the 21st”.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will regard that as the highest praise, but does he agree that that is almost certainly not what was intended? Will he therefore reflect again on the omissions from the curriculum—particularly in areas such as writing, analytical and listening skills—that have been invoked by our friends in the CBI?

Michael Gove: I do not see anything wrong with having the 19th century at the heart of the English curriculum. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy—not to mention George Eliot—are great names that every child should have the chance to study. As for the National Association for the Teaching of English, I am afraid that it is yet another pressure group that has been consistently wrong for decades. It is another aspect of the educational establishment involving the same people whose moral relativism and whose cultural approach of dumbing down have held our children back. Those on the Opposition Benches have not yet found a special interest group with which they will not dumbly nod along and assent to. I believe in excellence in English education. I believe in the canon of great works, in proper literature and in grammar, spelling and punctuation. As far as I am concerned, the NATE will command my respect only when it returns to rigour.

Image credit: Flickr – moominsean