The Daily Telegraph memorably headlined an article
with a reference to Michael Gove as Mr Sloppy after he had to correct the facts in one of his own speeches. The term, which came from Labour's Kevin Brennan, looked increasingly apt as the errors mounted up. My colleague Janet Downs once managed to spot nine errors in a single speech. As a special farewell to our ex-Secretary of State here are some of my favourite Goveisms:
1) Dodgy Surveys:
It was in a Daily Mail article
that Gove stated that "Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance" among teenagers about historical events. A determined challenge
from LSN's own Janet Downs eventually got the DfE to admit that - rather than "survey after survey" - they could only find one or two dodgy commercial surveys from the likes of Premier Inns and TV Gold, which hadn't checked the age of respondents in any case. The headline of the Mail article did itself perhaps indicate a less-than-balanced approach from our Secretary of State: "I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools"
2) Schools which don't exist:
Here Gove resorted to complete flights of fancy: “I’ve visited schools where more—many more—children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But where every child manages to perform well above the national average in numeracy and literacy.” Again it was Janet Downs who spotted that this was most unlikely to be true and eventually won from the DfE the admission: “There were no schools in these years which fit into the category you have described.” Her LSN post
on this has been viewed by over 150,000 people.
3) Defeatism & East Durham
: Gove stated
of East Durham secondary schools "When you go into those schools, you can smell the sense of defeatism." Although he went on to repeat his attack on East Durham schools twice in parliament
, the DfE admitted that the Secretary of State had never visited a school in East Durham. His view turned out to be based on a comment made ten years earlier by a teacher to Andrew Adonis - and even then the teacher was based in Sunderland, not East Durham. In fact East Durham schools turned out to be rather impressive, with the average increase in their 2013 GCSE results being greater than any of the 151 local authorities in England.
4) Teachers which don't exist
: On the Andrew Marr show on 2nd February Michael Gove talked of "teachers I have talked to today", who apparently agreed with his new proposals on discipline. Yet this statement was made at 9.30am. Despite repeated FOI requests, the DfE could find no evidence of Gove having talked to any teachers that morning.
5) Wild claims for academies.
Michael Gove has made many claims about how much better academies have performed. My research
has shown there is no evidence for this, once academies are compared to similar schools. And last month in the High Court
the DfE first claimed, once that comparison to similar schools is made, only that academies perform "marginally higher". And then the DfE did not contest that, once equivalents are removed, academies perform - if anything - worse.
6) Teach First:
Gove told Parliament
that “Teach First, and “Teach Firsters” ... are now responsible for securing an improvement in every school in which they operate”. The DfE admitted that they had no information at all on "every" Teach First school and that there was no basis to Gove's claim (which would only need one school to do badly to make it untrue).
7) Academies & Collaboration:
Gove told the House of Commons Education Committee that "all those schools that have taken on academy freedoms are engaged in working with or collaborating with other schools to help them to raise standards." Again a DfE response to my FOI request revealed
that they had no information on how many academies were engaged in collaboration. Gove's statement was based on the fact these schools stated, when applying for academy status, that they would support other schools. Research was planned on whether they actually were.
8) Ethnic Students in Academies:
Gove stated at City Hall in November that "Free schools and academies are helping improve the academic results of black and ethnic minority children". The only evidence the DfE could provide was in improvement in academy results and the fact that many of those academies include BME children. However the DfE does not calculate separate data on ethnic achievement and so could provide no basis to the Secretary of State's claim.
9) Michael Gove and "hot sex".
Apologies for the image this brings to mind but his comment, at a Cabinet Summit, that people came to London for "loads of hot sex" was one that even the Mail termed
"bizarre". I'm afraid I restrained myself from an FOI enquiry on this one.
Why was Michael Gove so sloppy with facts?
Perhaps it is normal for politicians to invent a fact that they would like to be true, rather than relying on the real world. But Gove does seem to have an odd relationship with the truth. Sometimes his statements are well researched and based on fact. But, as the examples above indicate, he is unreliable and will sometimes just come out with something he vaguely remembers or wishes were correct.
What are your favourite Goveisms and miss-speaks? Please do add them below in the comments