Michael Rosen’s Letters to the Secretary of State

Michael Rosen has another of his letters to the Secretary of State in today’s Guardian, highlighting the vital point that education remains in the hands of inexperienced politicians rather than experienced professionals – unchallenged due to legislation that gives almost absolute powers to the Secretary of State, but side-lined as a political priority because, after all, it’s only about children!

Letter writing

“You are fortunate to run a department that is responsible for things that seem to many on the outside either too technical or too trivial to be worthy of political debate. After all, this stuff is only about childhood, something we quickly get over.

You must be thankful how easily the public has grown accustomed to the idea that the technicalities of what might or might not be a suitable education are best left to you and your handpicked advisers. What flows from us handing power to you follows an old principle: the less the powerful are challenged, the more muscles they think they can flex. In short, you and your coterie do what you want.”

He exemplifies this absurdity with three further comments on

  • The Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) tests and their control over teaching – i.e. teaching to the test rather than exploring language as an evolving, ever-changing experience.
  • The whim of the Junior Secretary, Nick Gibb, and his insistence on the value of text books irrespective of whether schools find them useful or appropriate for learning.
  • The perpetual testing of our children and young people and the appalling amount of money spent on Academies in the name of “standards”.

Read the entire piece. It’s worth it.


(We do hope that Michael has considered collating these letters into an e-book. These polemic epistles offer a powerful insight into the destructive nature of neo-liberalism-loving politicians of recent decades for when historians come to study the history of education at the cusp and beginning of the 21st century.)

It’s implausible that we’re in a situation where people who’ve had no experience whatsoever of educating others in a formal setting are responsible for education policy.

And yet this is exactly the situation we’re in.


Nicky Morgan: degree in ……………..Law, private education

David Laws: degree in ………………….Economics, private education

Nick Gibb: degree in……………………..Law, grammar school education

Edward Timpson: degree in …………Law, private education

Nick Boles: degree in …………………..PPE, private education

Lord Nash: degree in …………………..Law, private education

Jo Swinson: degree in ………………….Management, state education in Scotland

Sam Gyimah: degree in ……………..PPE, educated abroad and state education in England for 2 years.


So, out of eight ministers, who have a cumulative total of 104 years in 5-18 education in England, their total experience of English mainstream state education amounts to two years! Also, none of them have a qualification in teaching.

These are the people who are currently dictating education policy in this country.

These are the people who perpetually ignore large parts of research and evidence about how children learn because it neither suits their political messages nor marries with their experience.


Michael Rosen, on the other hand, attended various state schools – admittedly some of them grammar schools. His father became a professor of English at the Institute of Education after teaching in a South London comprehensive . His mother was a primary school teacher. He studied English at university and also has an MA and a Doctorate in Children’s Literature. Since the early 70s he’s been researching reading and writing, has spent hours with children learning from them as well as teaching them. He’s been the Children’s Poet Laureate and continues to visit schools with great regularity.

So who would you trust to talk about education? Who would you want to be influencing the teaching of English?

We’re making this abundantly clear because when Mr. Rosen talks about the damaging effect of high-stakes exams on both the wellbeing of young people and their entire learning experience, he’s talking . . . from experience.

When Michael Rosen talks about the ludicrous state of our perpetual testing of children, about the impact on teaching time, about the fact that language evolves and isn’t stuck in the 19th century, he’s talking . . . from experience.

When he criticises Nick Gibb for potentially buying text books from Singapore and Shanghai – because it worked for them (even though both of these places are now changing their education policy with greater emphasis on learning rather than teaching to the test), he’s making a valid criticism because this minister has absolutely no experience of teaching whatsoever.

At the end of his letter, Michael shows his disgust with the testing and accountability mentality.

“Then, you waxed lyrical about new digital ways to monitor and track children and students, through the use of “regular, standardised tests”. You used the fact that we parents like to know what our children are up to, to justify a system that enables parents to “track day-to-day progress”, as if our queries and concerns could be satisfied with yet more test scores.

“Use technology to improve the flow of information,” you said, even as teachers, pupils and parents drown under the weight of the weekly testing that many of our secondary-age children are put through. Has anyone in your castle put a stopwatch on the hours that 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds are spending preparing for and sitting in-school tests? Isn’t a pointless set of high-stakes exams at 16 enough for you people?

But tests are good for control from the top. Even as you pretend that “monitoring” is “accountability”, it locks students and teachers into inflexible, hour-by-hour containment.”

And he’s right to be disgusted.

When are we going to realise that the entire curriculum, because of the accountability regime, is set to teach to the tests despite protestations from this and the previous Secretary of State to the contrary.

Just as a final comment, Mr Gove removed the modular examination system so that schools didn’t “teach to the test”. What he didn’t do was remove the accountability measures, i.e. league tables, which means schools continue to “teach to the test” because that is what they’re accountable for, that is how they’re judged.

That’s why we see evidence that instead of facing persistent external examinations during A-Level courses, some pupils now have constant mock exams – preparing students to take the tests.

You don’t have to be a Singapore or Shanghai textbook trained mathematician to work out that there’s not enough hours in the day, week and term for new teaching and learning if there are weeks in the academic year that are used for examination techniques and teaching how to function under examination conditions.


No wonder so many of our children and young people are stressed, unable to relax and NEVER have the time to read a decent book unless it’s part of their prescribed curriculum.

P.S. Happy World Book Day for later in the week.

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 https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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