Posted by: Kash Farooq | August 6, 2013

I’m going to defend Michael Gove. Well, sort of.

Michael Gove - Secretary of State for Education. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Michael Gove – Secretary of State for Education. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Let me start by stating that I’m not a fan of Michael Gove. I really really really am not a fan. I cannot stress how much I am not a fan.

He seems to be intent on returning education methods and assessment to how it was when he was a lad. This apparently also includes making everyone read the books that he had to read. And learn about Kings and Queens like he had to. At least, that’s the impression I get.

He appears to be ignoring all education research and progress from, say, the last 40 years and instead is trying to bring back the good old single exam assessment at the end of the year. Forget this continuous assessment nonsense! A child’s future needs to depend on how they perform during that two-three week exam period and not on something they worked on 6 months ago!

Rant over. I’m not going to go into any further details of Gove’s ideas. You can listen to the accidental Michael Gove special for a full recap: Pod Delusion episode 187.

So, how on Earth am I going to defend him? And what about?!

Well, I’d like to defend his ability to back down. His increasingly frequent “U-turns”.

Do a search for “Michael Gove U-turn” and these are some of the headlines you’ll see:

And it’s not just the papers that jump on these changes of plan. The opposition inevitably jump in too. Back in February the Shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, called Michael Gove’s GCSE U-turn a “humiliating climbdown”.

So what’s the problem?

Let’s think about the alternative. Gove ignores everyone’s advice, everyone’s howls of protest and bulldozes his reforms through anyway. That would be more to worry about wouldn’t it? The U-turn is a good thing isn’t it?

Basically, we need to remove the negativity surrounding the phrase “U-turn”.

I’m not proposing anything new here. I first heard about viewing U-turns as something positive in Mark Henderson‘s “Geek Manifesto“, a book I highly recommend. Quoting from the book:

We should praise honest failure accomplished by applying the scientific method to public policy and encourage U-turns made in the face of the evidence.

And there is also an excellent idea by the economist and journalist Tim Harford: there should be an annual award given to the politician who has been most usefully wrong and admitted to it.

Granted, Michael Gove may not have used evidence, or the scientific method, to change his mind. Perhaps he realised just how unpopular his ideas were. Or perhaps he listened to some advice from a civil servant. Whatever motivated him, I’d prefer that he did change his mind rather than him simply ignoring everyone and carrying on with his ridiculous idea of the month.

So, let’s all look forward to the next Gove U-turn! No doubt there will be one and we will all be very glad that something has managed to change his mind again and that he did abandon a proposed reform.

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I recorded this for Episode 198 of The Pod Delusion – a podcast about interesting things.


  1. True. We should indeed welcome these occasions during which Gove performs a u-turn. However it is a shame that he is wasting valuable time and effort by not listening to schools, teachers, pupils, parents, academics, researchers and all of their evidence before carrying out his doomed ideas.


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