Gove, Gibb and ‘Initiation of Learning’

Another week, another opportunity for Michael ‘Marmite’ Gove to create headlines. Love him or loathe him we can hardly ignore him.

Radio 4’s ‘Week In Westminster‘ reviewed Gove’s Progress this week by setting up a discussion with two former education ministers, David Blunkett and Nick Gibb.

Mr Blunkett’s advice to Mr Gove is to let go of “a deep belief that things can only be done in his way.”

Hearing Nick Gibb MP speaking on the radio was a reminder as to why he was discarded as the minister for schools. Was it Radio 4’s idea to invite him to take part in a discussion of Michael Gove’s efforts to make enemies and influence people, or was he put forward as a participant by his party? If so, why? Was there nobody else available?

Consider this from Wikipedia

Just days after being appointed as Minister for Schools in 2010, Gibb was criticised after leaked information suggested he had told officials at the Department of Education that he “would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE”.

Since this became the position adopted by Mr Gove, was Mr Gibb simply giving voice back then to Team Gove’s point of view?

PGCEA PGCE is a postgraduate award that has been recognised for decades as  a qualification for entry into the teaching profession. Studying for a PGCE is intended to enable would-be teachers to learn the language and the concepts of pedagogy and child development – in a similar way to someone who learns the language and concepts of mathematics as preparation for becoming an accountant. This may not be seen as essential – but it ought to be, even if your parent or your near relative happens to own the accountancy firm, etc.

As an ex handyman and ex chartered accountant Nick Gibb makes a hopeless commentator or education. He has about as much right to make policy on education as most of us have to make policy on the protocols of accountancy.

It seems Nick Gibb is, like Michael Gove, hugely exercised by the influence he assumes academics and local authorities (aka The Blob) have on policy and practice in schools. This is in spite of the fact that left-leaning academics and left-leaning local authority officers with a determination to brainwash young teachers with some crazy ideas about children and learning simply don’t exist.

We’ve yet to meet a single academic or LA officer who sees it as his or her mission to inflict nonsensical ideas about education on young teachers, apart from, perhaps, those ideas that are handed down by government decree. The same applies to the influence of The Blob on experienced school managers, many of whom are rightly fearful of the consequences for their school, their jobs and indeed their careers if they fail to obey their political masters. Whereas we know of legions of politicians and political advisers who are indeed determined (and able) to inflict their prejudices and ideologies on schools and teachers. It didn’t used to be like this, back in the days before politicians took a shine to education as a useful political football.

The reality is that there’s so much fear and loathing within our system of education that the demands of New Labour and now the coalition have been more or less slavishly actioned in our schools etc for decades. If there’s a Blob at all then it consists of those who have unquestioningly and unthinkingly done what they’ve been told to do by a succession of secretaries of state who have inflicted league tables, national strategies, punitive Ofsted inspections and a relentless pursuit of ‘academic’ success no matter what the consequences for all other aspects of learning and teaching. Meanwhile we see things happening very differently in other countries as they adapt to schooling in the 21st century and a new digital age – countries that are noticeably more successful than ourselves according to TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA.*

When Nick Gibb says, “We are determined to get children from poorer backgrounds into the top universities” we can be sure this is smokescreen for the fact that his government  is determined to pursue its relentless programme of turning schools into results factories whilst also giving a leg up to a few of the deserving poor, the deserving offspring of those hard working families.

When Gibb says, as he did yesterday, “For decades the Blob has been promulgating an orthodoxy that has led to low standards” then we have a right to expect the inteviewer to ask, “What orthodoxy? Don’t you understand the teaching profession has moved mountains to try to ‘drive up’ exam scores?” This level of dismissiveness and ignorance by people like Gibb is totally inexcusable.

As a final retort, Gibb came out with this humdinger: “There’s still an intellectual battle to be won about child-initiated learning.” So where did this come from? Did he think this up for himself or was he pre-programmed by bright young think-tankers and special advisers? Surely not by the Great Gove himself?

responsibility for learning

Heaven help us if children ever start to initiate their own learning or show any enthusiasm for any particular course of study or personal learning journey. That really would be the lunatics taking over the asylum. Imagine a world in which those who are meant to benefit from education have some say in what they study and when they study it, instead of politicians and their ilk, who of course are fully entitled. How else can we create a level playing field on which everyone takes the same high stakes exams on exactly the same day in order to compete for places at the best universities – which is, after all, the main purpose of our system of education?

To his great credit David Blunkett calmly responded with, “This is what happens in Finland – which does much better than we do.”

Related articles:

The Future of Education – in Finland and Elsewhere

*TIMSS, PIRLS and the Plain Truth About Education in East Asia

*International Comparisons, Enlightened Education

responsibility 2.


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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