Michael Gove: Poor listening skills are education department`s core problem…

Dan Walsh  

So our education secretary has unveiled his tremendous plan to repair British education. He believes in more rigour. I’m with you Mr Gove. Driving up standards? Yes with you there too. But your utter inability to listen to what people are saying means your policies have the opposite effect from that which you allegedly intended. The man has a very legitimate point when he talks about grade inflation and so forth. British exam results have been colossally high for a long time yet our standards of literacy, numeracy and other key skills lag behind much of the rest of Europe. This is a direct result of a curriculum and statistic obsessed approach which means children are taught to pass exams rather than to learn. Exams have become almost a glorified memory test which doesn’t necessarily equate to a well rounded and capable person. I say this without remotely intending to belittle the great efforts many students undoubtedly make at school and I’m not suggesting that exams are simply ‘easy’ but schools strategically teaching to boost their league table results is not the approach that should be taken to educate a child. I’m not completely blaming the schools – politicians looking to make cheap political points are the root cause of this educational problem. If the prime minister can stand at the dispatch box and say ‘results are up by such and such a percentage’ it sounds good even if it overlooks the fact that our actual standards comparable to Europe are not so good.

This of course is not the fault of Gove as it was created before the Tories were elected, but his tenure as education secretary beggars belief. Firstly came his ‘ebacc’ idea which he abandoned because ‘he listened’. He didn’t by the way, he was threatened with legal action. His approach was so ideologically driven as to be completely removed from the reality, promoting a notion that English, Maths, Science and languages were worthwhile subjects while arts subjects were not. But while it is essential to increase literacy and numeracy levels, we must not lose sight of the fact that every subject has intrinsic value for both social as well as educational reasons. Few would question  the importance of the so-called ‘core’ subjects but different children blossom in different ways and excel in different areas and society does not simply need a nation of academics. Furthermore, there are the social benefits of arts subjects which can help many children to come out of themselves and increase social skills. To encourage the idea of a subject that is not ‘absolute’ but more interpretative such as music or art is a positive thing that makes us more open minded and eliminates the kind of snobbery exhibited by a man in such authority as Gove.

However, his new reforms sum up the ‘black and white’ nature of Gove`s thinking, indicative of his inability to engage with the real problem. The magic of teaching is to respond to different types of learning and different children’s needs and attitudes. Children learn at different rates and in different ways and always will. For example, there are children who will engage if a teacher brings a subject to life through speaking and listening and that will ‘sink in’ while there are others who work best from writing things down. The idea of a curriculum whereby every child learns the same thing at the same time in the same way is ludicrous. Yet Gove takes us even further down this path with his latest reform. For instance he wants every child to know particular times tables by a certain age, read an entire Shakespeare play and so on: a completely blind approach which no-one agrees with and solves none of the problems. His approach to history is particularly mind blowing – essentially converting it to a cold list of facts  as well as deciding what students don’t know and need to know via a Premier Inn survey. The world’s greatest historians are not necessarily the world’s greatest fact factories but are supreme analysts able to interpret events and changes through history and relate them to the present day. Whether they remember the precise dates of battles, abdications and executions is largely irrelevant.

Gove’s snobbish and ideological approach is dangerous and preposterous and merely reflects the chip on the shoulder of a man who wishes he’d gone to Eton. He is a worrying example of a malfunctioning system breaking down still further. A political cabinet encompassing members unqualified to run particular departments is not uncommon but at least they normally have the sense to listen to advisers and experts on those subjects, even if they choose the ones who particularly match their ideology. The danger with Gove is not only does he not know, but he thinks he does hence his utter obsession with turning schools into academies who do not want to. So not only does he not know enough about the department which he runs, but he is unwilling to listen to anyone else and that is a key skill that Mr Gove needs to develop if our education system hopes to survive his tenure as education secretary.

Dan Walsh is a musician who has been described as consistently brilliant and incredibly gifted.

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