Memories of Mr Sloppy, farewell to Michael Gove and his imaginary worlds

Henry Stewart's picture
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

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 22:48

Not sure he's lost really. He's done the main job and someone else can run the show till the election. That will decide whether his changes are embedded which I think will be on his mind.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 09:19

Remember Gove's deliberate misuse of the OECD PISA test results for the year 2000. The OECD warned they should not be used for comparison because they were flawed. The warning was conspicuously given in "Viewing the UK School System through the Prism of PISA" (second paragraph and footnote).

Full Fact pointed out the 2000 figures shouldn't be used way back in December 2010 when the DfE used them in a press release (heavily churned by the media).

And it was the subject of my first LSN post which ended "Mr Gove is using these discredited figures to push through his radical reforms. The attempt to change our education system is based on distortion and lies."

But it took two years before the DfE stopped using the data after the UK Stats Watchdog censured their use.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 09:42

And don't forget Gove's insistence that local authorities "control" schools. That lie is so pernicious even the BBC said academies were schools outside the control of LAs on the news last night.

LAs haven't "controlled" schools since Local Schools Management (LMS) was introduced over 25 years ago, if they ever did. I began teaching in 1979 and I was allowed a degree of freedom over what and how I taught which would have today's teachers drooling in envy.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 09:48

Gove's allusions to "hot sex" were followed by reference to Indian sex manuals. Gove hinted at the numerous positions contained therein to deflect a question about whether money from the Basic Needs Allocation fund had been raided to pay for free schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 09:58

When asked whether it was "bad teachers" who didn't "get" his reforms, Gove answered, "Yes". Perhaps that comment was the last straw for Cameron who visualised the 84% of teachers who said they didn't support Gove putting an X somewhere else on the ballot paper.

However, replacing Gove with a younger, prettier, female face isn't going to change anything. It's the policies that are toxic.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 10:00

Alan Stanton's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 10:11

"Michael, I'm really sorry you had to sit out the last few months. We really missed you in cabinet. I feel your pain. We all realise how hard it must have been.

"But as I explained last July, our pollsters told us we needed a few more women's faces on the front bench. For the TV news it had at least to look like we take them seriously.

"And our focus groups were adamant that swing voters in marginal seats really don't appreciate your massive talents and unique contribution to Education. I've no idea why. It's a complete mystery. But people can be very odd when it comes to schools. Everyone went to them and they all think they're experts.

"But there it is. Or was. Because now we've won the election and I'm firmly in charge for five years - without that Clegg fellow following me round like some devoted puppy. And I'm not worried any longer about you being a leadership rival. Which was all nonsense of course. But now with my majority of ninety-three seats ... I see you nodding."

"Anyway, it's time to get real. Michael, I've got a really big job for you. Because what nobody but the two of us realises is your biggest achievement. Which was far more than bullying schools into becoming academies and setting up a few free schools. We learnt the real lessons, didn't we? When you and I chatted to our good friends across the pond. And George Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others explained about Shock & Awe.

"Not in Iraq of course. That was only temporary. But at home. How right-wing privatisers like them - and us - can sell off huge chunks of the State under the guise of choice and freedom. Profit and pleasure we called it. For us and our chums. With more to come.

"And your genius - yes, I put it as strongly as that - your absolute genius was seeing that our system was even more sale-ready for these wholly desirable changes. You realised there are no silly restrictions from fifty states with their own legislatures, legal rights and all that eighteenth Century silliness. Just one England; our glorious Tory England. With no checks and balances on the untrammelled power of one party and one man determined to push through a desirable and long overdue reform.

"Who'd have thought it, eh? Four years to dismantle and update an education system that took 150 years to build.

"But Michael, you did it! You saw off the Marxists. Cowed the unions. Grabbed the land and buildings. Even persuaded our reluctant Party colleagues in the shires that readying schools for the big sell-off is logical and fair. Academies the new normal.

"So, Michael, old friend, you know I'm going to ask you back into the cabinet. And you rightly imagine I'm going to give you a really big task. What will it be?

"I expect you've read in the Telegraph that I'm offering you the job of completing the privatisation of the NHS. Well, I'm not. Now don't look glum. The truth is that I wouldn't insult you with something as simple. That task is already well in hand - I've got a couple of new women ministers doing it. I can't remember their names.

"No, Michael. I'm giving you a far far bigger task. Because our Tory destiny beckons. A celestial Margaret beckons.

"Now you're smiling. I see I have your full attention. What can it be? Will I be expecting you to sell off the beaches? The fields and the streets and the parks? The hills and the continental shelf? Or maybe the Armed Forces? The Church of England? Even the Royal Family?

"Drink that water more slowly Michael. And please don't splutter and dribble. It makes you look terrible. Where was I? Ah yes. The Royal Family.

"With the Crown Estates. Plus the judges and the Law Courts joining prisons in the private sector? Parliament itself up for sale?

"So what's the answer? I will tell you. The answer is yes, yes, yes, and yes! A glorious emphatic 'Yes!' The lot, Michael. We've had the most astounding offers from a consortium of Chinese, Arab and U.S.corporations."

"Don't look so amazed. I've already agreed to ship the Labour Shadow Cabinet to a private zoo in Florida.

"You and I know that Karl Marx was wrong - absurdly wrong. Capitalism has no contradictions. It's about acquisitions and mergers. We're going to be acquired and merged. My dear old friend, with your energy and drive It won't even take you the full five years.You're the man to do it.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 10:26

And here's another Gove inaccuracy: he said in January 2011 most pupil referral units (PRUs) run by local authorities weren't "up to snuff". But the most recent Ofsted report into PRUs at the time (2005/6) said: “over half the PRUs inspected nationally were good or outstanding, but one in eight was inadequate”

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/07/2014 - 10:39

As Nick Gibb is now back at the DfE, perhaps it's timely to remind readers of a few Gibbisms.

Gibb wants academies to be inspected by Independent Schools Inspectorate not Ofsted.

Used out-of-date figures in Commons speech.

Cited evidence supporting synthetic phonics which didn’t do so.

Cited four pieces of evidence in favour of academies but only one was whole-hearted.

Allowed a basic arithmetical error to appear in a DfE press release:

“Named and shamed” local authorities where take-up of phonics matched-funding in schools was low without realising (a) LAs have no power over what schools buy, and (b) schools were likely to be teaching phonics already.

And, as you’d expect, he used the discredited OECD figures for PISA 2000.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.