Mr Gove: A Christmas Carol…

Mr Gove Christmas Carol Cover

Mr Gove was not quite sure about Christmas.

There were some things he loved about Christmas. He liked the services. He liked the singing. More than anything else, though, he loved the Tradition. Mr Gove loved Tradition.

But there were some things he hated about Christmas. All that laziness. All that self-indulgence. And the schools, wasting so much time. Letting the children have too much fun, when they should be working hard. When they should be competing in the Global Race.

Mr Gove was thinking about all these things when he was having his dinner. Tradition, particularly. He enjoyed his dinner very much, though he wondered if he might have eaten too much Stilton afterwards.

When he went to bed, he felt a little strange. When he drifted off to sleep, it was a restless sleep, and he found himself dreaming.

Mr Gove Christmas Carol Closer

Mr Gove shivered and opened his eyes.

Before him stood a small, grey figure. Mr Gove blinked. It was a child. A boy, wearing old-fashioned school uniform. Short trousers. A slightly shabby blazer. A school cap. Mr Gove noticed that the boy’s knees were dirty.

The strangest thing about the boy, however, was that his face, in fact all of his skin, was also grey. Grey and lifeless, and not in the way that some of Mr Gove’s cabinet colleagues were.

“Who are you?” Mr Gove asked, in a slightly quavering voice.

“Please Sir, Mr Gove Sir,” said the boy, in a grey, lifeless voice, “I am the Ghost of School Child Past.”

Mr Gove did not know what to say. He wasn’t sure he believed in ghosts, but here was one, right before him.

“Please Sir, Mr Gove Sir,” the Ghost went on, “I have something to show you.” He took Mr Gove by the hand. The Ghost’s hand was icy cold, and for a moment Mr Gove wanted to pull away, but the Ghost was insistent.

Mr Gove gulped, blinked, and found himself in a very different place. It was a cavernous room, dark and foreboding. A chill wind whistled through the gaps in the windows. Mr Gove looked around. It was a school room.

Mr Gove almost smiled. It was the kind of school room he liked. Long rows of identical desks. Boys dressed exactly like the Ghost slumped over them, silently scribbling away. At the front of the class stood the teacher, his black gown flapping around his shoulders, his mortar board perfectly straight over his scowling, moustached face. He bent a long, thin cane between his hands, peering over his half-moon glasses, looking from child to child.

“Thank you,” Mr Gove said to the Ghost. The Ghost stared back at him.

“What a nice school,” Mr Gove went on. “You must have learned a lot here.”

“Not really, Mr Gove Sir.” The Ghost replied. “Just how’s not to get beaten more than twice a day. Never learnt nothing else worth learning.”

As the Ghost spoke, the teacher strode purposefully forward, grabbed one of the boys, pulled him out of his chair, and whacked him hard, five times, on the backside. The boy tried hard to hold back the tears, gulped and then sat back down.

“He does that to keep them on their toes,” the Ghost whispered. “For no other reason.”

Good thing too, Mr Gove thought. He looked around, but already the school room, and the Ghost, was fading from Mr Gove’s view. He found himself back in his bed. He turned over, and tried to sleep again.

Mr Gove Christmas Carol closest

When he turned over, there was another child staring at him. This time it was a little girl, wearing a nice blue jumper and skirt. There was something a little strange about her – when Mr Gove looked carefully he realised that he could see through her. Oh, thought Mr Gove, another Ghost.

The girl nodded and unaccountably she smiled. “I am the Ghost of Schoolchild Present,” she said in an impudent voice, “and I too have something to show you.”

This time Mr Gove found himself in a well lit, modern-looking classroom. There were brightly-coloured posters on the walls, along with what seemed to be displays of work from some of the children. They were sitting around tables, chattering away. Mr Gove tutted. Where was the discipline?

“How can they learn like this?” Mr Gove spluttered to the Ghost. She looked surprised.

“Look at that table,” she replied, and pointed to one of the tables. Mr Gove looked. One little girl had written out a poem in what even Mr Gove had to admit was excellent handwriting. The boy next to her was reading it aloud, while the others at the table were laughing and smiling.

As Mr Gove stared, the teacher came over. She was a young woman with a nice face, but a few worry lines around her eyes. “Very nice, Hannah and Joe,” she said. “Who wants to go next?”

Hmmph, Mr Gove thought, but even as he thought that, he found the classroom swirling away into the mist, and once more he was in his bed.

Mr Gove Super Close up 2Again Mr Gove tried to sleep, but again he found himself tossing and turning. He was not surprised when he found himself again facing a child.

This boy was as grey as the first had been, though his clothes were much more modern. Some strange kind of overalls, or a jumpsuit, or something like that. His eyes were wide and staring, his face almost devoid of expression.

“So who are you?” Mr Gove asked, though he had a feeling he knew what the answer would be. He was not disappointed.

“I am the Ghost of Schoolchild Future,” the boy chanted out in a monotone. “And I have something to show you.”

This classroom was square and clean. Its walls were grey, the windows covered with blinds. The desks were in long rows, with individual computer screens set up on each one. The children were sitting bolt upright on stiff-looking chairs, headphones on their heads, staring silently into the screens.

Suddenly, as Mr Gove watched, they all started speaking at once – but this was no cacophony of chattering, it was perfectly harmonious though entirely emotionless chanting. The timing was immaculate, the coordination perfect.

Mr Gove smiled. This was more like it.

“Thank you,” he said to the Ghost. “That is wonderful. I presume we’re back at the top of the League Tables now.”

“Our position in the league tables,” the Ghost said, “is ninety four.”

“Ninety four?” Mr Gove spluttered. “Ninety four? Ninety four?” He turned to the Ghost. “How can that be? And where is the teacher?”

“There are no more teachers,” the Ghost replied, and there seemed to be a little more life in it. “It was decided that teachers were not needed. These Automated Learning Systems were brought in from Korea. Anyway, no-one wanted to be a teacher any more. Your reforms made it very hard to recruit teachers. Your constant tinkering, your restrictions, your controls and budget cuts made teachers’ lives too difficult.”

Mr Gove blinked. He looked at the Classroom of the Future, and realised that it looked very similar to the Classroom of the Past. And the children looked just as miserable. For one brief moment he wondered if teachers might actually make a difference. If good, inspirational teachers should be cherished and supported, and given freedom and respect, rather than constantly derided. Perhaps you need good, positive, imaginative teachers to find your way to the top of the league tables. Perhaps teachers need that support.

It was a very brief moment. When Mr Gove woke up, he shook himself and reminded himself never to eat Stilton so late at night. It can bring terrible dreams.

Mr Gove Christmas Carol Cover

Art by @kaiserofcrisps and me, words by me (with apologies to Dickens)

90 thoughts on “Mr Gove: A Christmas Carol…

      1. Could be the way it will go unless someone with common sense steps in to stop the stroll to automation

      1. I can, and do – writing things like this is something I spend very little time on, and is not my job – but given that this blog post seems to provide pleasure to many, as the nearly 90,000 hits on it in the few days since I wrote it seem to suggest, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand….

        …and if you want to see more ‘serious’ examples of my work, you might want to take a look at my forthcoming book, ‘Internet Privacy Rights’ when it comes out in March… 🙂

  1. Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    Deserves the widest possible audience, hence the reblog. Keep up the good work – I’d grade it but I haven’t yet got my head round whether it is the high numbers, or the low numbers, that denote a high level of attainment.

  2. Funnily enough, recently I argued that Gove was looking for a return to Dickensian education, where there was little aspiration for children. You have hit the nail on the head!

  3. In February 2011 a judicial review deemed Gove’s decision to axe Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects in six local authority areas was unlawful as he had failed to consult before imposing the cuts.The judge also said that in five of the cases, the failure was “so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”. (BBC News) …… Nice chap is Michael.

  4. Wonderful! Amazingly accurate! I particularly like the historical aspect. Gosh I didn’t realise that all children in all schools across all of Britain were beaten to within an inch of their lives every day until 1965. Or was it 1975. Depends where you lived I guess. It’s a miracle any of our parents know anything at all given that in those bad old days nobody learned anything worth learning. And what about their teachers? How could there even be teachers since nobody knew anything? Anyway, that doesn’t matter, it was probably some sort of Christmas ghost miracle. What does matter is that presently all teachers all over the country know what’s best for all children and luckily standards are so high that there is no needed for a standardised curriculum or testing. Phew!

    1. …and isn’t it wonderful that so many people of my (and my parents’) generation have felt the need to go back into education now that Universities are more accessible! Oh, wait, that’s soon to stop too…

    2. Perhaps it also depended upon whether you had been privately educated or passed the Eleven Plus and were given a place in a Grammer School. This also was a bit of a lottery as some areas did not have enough places for all of the students that were able to meet the criteria. While we do need to have a curriculum that has been evolved to take on board what we know to be a broad and balanced education(This should be a cross party task). Those monitoring that situation also need to take into account the children, where they start and where they finish after they spend time with their peers often thirty of them in a classroom and a teacher and maybe a teaching assistant for some of the time.

    3. Hi,

      Sure, this blog is OTT and designed to be a bit sensationalistic. But the sad truth is that Mr. Gove is driving the education system backwards with his singular view of education. As far as I am aware he has no experience of being in education other than going to a “top-notch” academic institution and this leads him to believe that the only way to assess all students of all disciplines is through written exams which will force education back to parrot-fashion learning and regurgitating information. This may work in sone subjects but hiw does it address the needs of vocational or creative subjects? Especially worrying for the future of most industries where entrepeneurs regularly state that in order that in order to keep standards high we need creative and innovative thinkers who can solve problems in new ways rather than trot out facts and figures. Unfortunately, Mr. Gove cannot see this and refuses to consult with educational experts across the industry. V scary for the future, and v worrying for today’s generation who will need to be able to adapt in a world of ever-increasing complexity.

    4. I was in state education from 1940 to 1957. no one was beaten in any school I attended either in London or Birmingham. This blog is hunny ha ha – but not the truth. don’t believe everything you are told by left wing loonies.

  5. Yawn, Yawn. How can so much talent be wasted negatively stereotyping the same old tosh? You can hate him all you like, but don’t waste your talent and resources [time] putting this sort of garbage into the public domain further encouraging more talented people to waste their talent and resources. Can you find a more positive response rather than this comic book nonsense the lefties of the teaching professional seem to have gone with. Just find a new way.

    1. Not all of us teachers are ‘lefties’ and it is just possible we may know a tad more about educating young people from all walks of life than the current political elite. Mr Gove has been criticised by the Left, the centre ground, educationalists, statisticians the legal profession and even the Right. Maybe, just maybe, there is a message in there somewhere…?

      1. Ignore the idiotic gainsayers – I’ve learnt over 20 years that everyone except the teaching profession always know best when it comes to education, but apparently we teachers will never learn and need to know our place. keep on fighting the good and righteous fight Paul. Happy Christmas.

    2. ‘Wasting talent and resources’…. perhaps you’d like to instruct people on how best they exercise their interests and creativity? Is that the corollary of the bogeymen ‘lefties’ you gibbered at?

  6. Thank you Paul…can relate to on many levels I’d rather not … schooling was very much as you painted in the Xmas past….the present is where my kids are now & they complain & whinge bout how ‘oppressive’ it all is ( ha ha ha…they know nothing) & in the Global competition I fear that your future vision is only all too likely…!!

  7. Your interpretation of the class of the present is drawn from the further recesses of fantasy land. I am all for halting the march of the league tables and fight to preserve ‘life’ in our education system but your rose tinted expression of how things are diminishes the threat of what might be.

      1. The specific example…. but many more similar observations. You seem to be missing one key point though: this is a satirical blog post, not a scientific analysis of education policy. The fact that it has had over 50,000 hits in the last two and a half days indicates it’s struck a bit of a chord, though…

  8. As a teacher in a failing school due to be turned into an academy this just about hits the nail on the head – forced academy’s = political agenda

      1. KATE – If YOU are teaching in a – failing school – perhaps you can tell us how much your teaching skills, or lack of them, contributed to the disaster which you describe. If a school is failing there can only be one cause – appalling standards of teaching, unless of course you are blaming the children. Stop passing the buck please. Good teaching rises above politics.

  9. Oh so worrying true. And when holding up south Korea to be such a ‘perfect’ example, the suicide rate (which includes some as young as 12 AND below) is never mentioned. What does Gove and his cohorts want – just robots with no skill at interacting with their neighbours

  10. Well – as per usual, first few days of the Christmas holiday and I’m poorly – Holidays are just recovery times……Teachers, one and all, we are masters of our own universe. We are so lucky to plan our own days and enjoy the outcomes. We have a duty to ‘get it right’ for all children and when we do not there has to be consequences. If we worked in industry and failed to make a profit, we would lose our jobs. I have no intention of teaching to tests, leading 2D education or leaping back into the past. – Happy children, good learning, secure teachers…..good results….hold our own and compete in the global markets. Ultimately, Mr Gove wants just that, (the last bit). Don’t we all?

  11. I am in the teaching profession myself and believe me I know just how hard Heads and teacher work! This is a well written and interesting story but I agree somewhat with Yabba Yabba, that it’s really a leftish only viewpoint. It would be nice to have some balanced viewpoints sometimes as some of the things that Michael Gove is trying to do are good but these are never commented on or commended.

    1. I’m not ashamed to admit to being a ‘lefty’ – and Gove’s ‘positive’ stuff gets a huge amount of coverage in the Daily Mail, Express, Times, Sun and Telegraph. My little blog hardly redresses that…..

    2. I repeat – not all of us teachers are ‘lefties’ and it is just possible we may know a tad more about educating young people from all walks of life than the current political elite. Mr Gove has been criticised by the Left, the centre ground, educationalists, statisticians the legal profession and even the Right. Maybe, just maybe, there is a message in there somewhere…?

  12. This is already how a lot of companies do training. And let’s face it, schools have already turned into businesses! This is definitely the way forward in the eyes of government (not a positive tho). Think of the open university. It’s only a matter of time until it filters down. Think of the money it will save. Internet provided by the home owner, no building payments, teachers, support staff, etc.

  13. Not being a teacher, i had to read this just for the entertainment value alone. Even other peoples comments make me smile. Even had to look up Mr Gove. What also made me smile was playing the game of who supports which political party. Instead of whinging and moaning people should get on with their chosen professions and be thankful, in this day and age, that they even have a profession. I know i am thankful.

    1. I think that is why so many teachers are whingeing and moaning is because they want to be able to do their job. I don’t know what career you’re in, but teaching is constantly being uprooted and re-jigged every time the political pendilum swings from left to right and back again. Some of these changes are good, but these are usually based on research and consultation with those who do the job day in, day out. There are many other initiatives that are brought in from a singular point of view which, though they probably come from a well-meaning place, actually get in the way of teachers being able to do their jobs without reams of meaningless and pointless box-ticking exercises in an attempt to fit the current fads. The result is ever-increasing stress, teachers marking and planning into the small hours of the morning and supposed “holidays” being swallowed up with useless exercises. The students we teach get lost in all this. It’s the teachers who genuinely care about the job that tend to complain as they can see tgat our students lose out in the current system.

  14. This is utter bollocks. Gove is the best thing to have happened to education in decades as he’s removing the social experimentation that has been evident. I started education in Gibraltar and even in 1986, my reading age and comprehension, my reasoning skills and more were assessed at least three to four years ahead of my peers. So the solution of the British education establishment was not to let me continue at my own pace, but to drag me back to the level of the slowest child. This is fundamentally wrong on every level you care to throw at me and, like Gove, I have had subsequent experience of education in different areas. He’s been through the system and seen just how corrupt and stagnant it is – there are some brilliant teachers out there, no one is denying that, but they are being let down by politicised teachers not caring for those in their charge, but furthering their own ends. I support the right for teachers to protest, but when teachers have been brainwashing their own classes into supporting and protesting on their behalf, then that is wrong and the teachers concerned should be fired. I have my own thoughts on what needs to change, but it’s so radical in what will happen, there is no way it will ever be implemented. Non-competition will be abolished by me for starters.

    People just are not seeming to understand that he is trying to ensure children never went through what he did and as well as for children like myself who were let down by people who should have known better – I was never allowed to do extra curricular learning and my parents were discouraged from letting me do extra at home. As a result I became a very disruptive influence because I became so frustrated with schooling and being dragged back in order not other children feel bad. Life is a competition and our children will be competing on an international level in the very near future and Gove is trying to help your children achieve that. If this can be understood by me, who is looking at this at the layman level and not letting my personal politics interfere with that, then it says a lot about those who are supposedly better educated than I have ended up.

      1. Actually I’m doubting both. No, not doubting but knowing, he’s fucking up education in the UK, just as his ‘colleagues’ are doing the same to the rest of the social infrastruture of the country.

    1. Apart from the swearing, Luke has got it completely spot on. The teaching I had as a child (under Labour) was mostly dreadful (not to mention that their spending cuts before they got kicked out of power cost me the first job I had at my local college!) Thankfully it didn’t stop me, but I’m undeservedly blessed…

      1. Oops. Sorry. Meant to post that as a reply to the person who said that all teachers posting on here were selfish and not caring about students. Pressed the wrong ‘reply’ button.

  15. Absolutely brilliant. As for anyone siding with Mr Gove, well… they are clearly not understanding the time, creativity, hard work and sheer determination that teachers ‘give’ SEVEN days a week!

  16. Judging by the number of teachers on this page it is clear that they are mostly concerned with themselves – not the children or the schools but just their leftist politics. therein lies the fate of schools,

      1. Totally agree. People who work in jobs where they don’t care just say “sod it!” and walk away at the end of the day to have their dinner, watch some TV and spend time with their families. Good teachers genuinely care what happens to the future generation, and as such, posting on sites like this is not a waste of time or resources as has been suggested in some of the above posts. It is an opportunity to see they are not alone in their thoughts about current affairs in education and far from being a useless endeavour, this blog has made people discuss and question. Even people who DO think it is a waste of time have posted. Quite a result, I’d say! Plus the blog is engaging, interesting, sparks intelligent debate and has been seen by thousands. How is that a waste of time and resources? Maybe someone could tell us exactly how they would prefer this clearly creative person should spend their time in a “wiser” and “more productive” fashion?

    1. Really? Have you actually read all the posts on here? Quite a sweepong statement you make there. It might be worth reading all responses before making such vast generalisations.

  17. As always Paul enjoy your witty analysis of Mr Gove. Quite surprised how many commentators get so hot under the collar about it. I love that everyone thinks they know about education because they had one. They cite examples of how they did well in whatever education establishment etc etc etc. Problem is, education has to be fluid and evolutionary to meet the context of the time. There was a time when knowledge acquisition and memorisation was paramount in the way our world operated, it’s not any more. Gove isn’t taking us back to the good old days, he’s not taking us back to a time when education was more effective even. He’s not even really doing it for the reasons he purports. He’s doing it to standardise so that he can privatise it. The narrative is created to justify the transformation to academies, once majority of academies are in place they will change legislation to allow private ownership through PE etc and setting the stage for the likes of Amplify to standardise, personalise and technologically “improve” education. The plans were set before 2010 for all this, deals done with Murdoch etc. Everything else is merely a distraction.

  18. As a parent, I can only marvel at the qualities of teachers. One of the two jobs I could never do is to be a primary school teacher, way too hard and would probably wear me out in a few years. I see no holding back of children, no destruction of confidence, but instead constructive confidence building and learning.

    Gove is in a long line of education ministers who prefer to follow a political agenda, rather than examining the evidence, though in fairness to our education ministers, this goes for most ministers in governments of all persuasions and many MPs.
    One solace is to be found in the OED, where the verb ‘to gove” has a long and distinguished service record in our language, starting in the 15th Century. Appropriate to Paul’s story, “to gove” means to stare blankly.

  19. Paul

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this, it certainly resonates with me! My wife was a brilliant PE teacher who made a decision to leave the ‘profession’ after 20 years. Following an injury the year old Academy was so cash poor it was unable to offer her re-training!
    I left a leadership position again after 20 years to go part time to give us an additional income while her flourishing business grows. The children’s loss is definitely my families gain!

  20. Have you seen how far down the education table we are throughout the world. Keep going Mr. Gove we might get somewhere if you do Who knows???

  21. I think this re-write of a Christmas Carol featuring Michael Gove is very well-written and funny, but typical of the Chauvinistic Gove-bashing for one simple reason: it ignores what he is trying to do to the education system and instead sets up a load of “straw men” that it then proceeds to beat down.

    If people in the education system can’t muster a serious attack on Gove’s policies, they will continue to produce these kinds of criticisms of his agenda, ones which are puerile, inaccurate and personal.

    1. Oh dear, you really are taking this a little too seriously…

      …and there are plenty of real, academic and analytical criticisms of Gove’s policies. This just happens not to be one….

  22. @Anon-Dec-30-5:03pm: just google Gove – you’ll see how many academic criticisms there are.
    This post is Paul providing us with some welcome entertainment during his holiday. Note that teachers are unusual among permanent employees in this country in that their holidays are unpaid. Much appreciated, Paul, happy new year.

    1. Thanks for your replies guys.

      I read the link provided by Paul. Interesting. But I suppose it calls into question whether criticism by academics is the same as academic criticism. Academics, after all, are as entitled as anyone to have an opinion.

      What I’m interested in, if any actually exists, is valid scientific criticism of Gove’s policies. Gove, for example, wants to reduce the number of Teaching Assistants. Is there any evidence that shows TAs have a positive impact on pupil attainment?

      Or consider the point raised by Paul’s historians: that the focus of Gove’s history curriculum reduces young people’s ability to compete in the global marketplace. Is there actually any evidence that the content of history lessons affects attainment in what is a skills-based curriculum?

      After all, these historians may be authorities in their field, but they are by no means experts in learning thoery, education or child develolement (or of they are, they do not show it by using appropriate language, or building on accepted ideas within these fields).

      I googled Gove as suggested but failed to notice any valid academic criticism of his policy.

      Granted, there is plenty of criticism of Gove in the press by well-known people, but was kind of hoping for something greater than mere opinion.

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