|The Right Honourable
|Secretary of State for Education|
12 May 2010
|Prime Minister||David Cameron|
|Preceded by||Ed Balls (Children, Schools and Families)|
|Shadow Secretary of State for
Children, Schools and Families
2 July 2007 – 11 May 2010
|Preceded by||David Willetts|
|Succeeded by||Ed Balls (Education)|
|Member of Parliament
for Surrey Heath
5 May 2005
|Preceded by||Nick Hawkins|
26 August 1967 |
|Alma mater||Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford|
|Occupation||Secretary of State for Education|
|Problems playing this file? See media help.|
Michael Andrew Gove (born 26 August 1967) is a British Conservative Party politician, the Secretary of State for Education and the Member of Parliament (MP) for Surrey Heath. He is also an author and a former journalist for The Times newspaper.
Born in Edinburgh, Gove was raised in Aberdeen and began his career as a journalist. He was first elected to Parliament in 2005 for the safe Conservative seat of Surrey Heath in South East England. He was later promoted to the Shadow Cabinet in 2007 as the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. After the formation of the Coalition Government in 2010, Gove was then appointed Secretary of State for Education.
At its May 2013 conference, Gove was criticised by the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members condemned the alleged climate of bullying, fear and intimidation he has created during his time as Education Secretary. The conference passed a vote of no confidence in his policies. Votes of no confidence were also passed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers at conference in March 2013, the National Union of Teachers at its conference in April 2013 (unanimously), and the NASUWT.
- 1 Early life and career outside Parliament
- 2 Political career
- 2.1 Member of Parliament
- 2.2 Secretary of State for Education
- 2.2.1 Building Schools for the Future and School Capital Projects
- 2.2.2 Exam and curriculum reforms
- 2.2.3 King James Bible
- 2.2.4 Leveson Inquiry
- 2.2.5 2012 English GCSE results
- 2.2.6 Education vouchers
- 2.2.7 Creationist schools
- 2.2.8 BNP membership amongst teachers
- 2.2.9 Children's Homes Scandal and Data Protection Rules
- 2.2.10 Criticism from teachers and head teachers
- 2.3 Expenses claims
- 2.4 Freedom of Information and email
- 2.5 Twitter smear attacks on opponents controversy
- 3 Political views
- 4 Religious views
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 Notes
- 8 External links
Early life and career outside Parliament
Gove was born in Edinburgh; at four months old, he was adopted by a Labour-supporting family in Aberdeen, where he was brought up. His adoptive father ran a fish processing business; his adoptive mother was a lab assistant at the University of Aberdeen before working at the Aberdeen School for the Deaf.
In Aberdeen he was initially educated at a state school, later attending the independent Robert Gordon's College, to which he had won a scholarship. In recent years, Gove has written letters of apology to his former teachers for misbehaving in class.
Gove became a trainee reporter at the Press and Journal in Aberdeen, where he spent several months on strike in a dispute over union recognition and representation. He joined the Times in 1996 as a leader writer and has been its comment editor, news editor, Saturday editor and assistant editor. He has also written a weekly column on politics and current affairs for the Times and contributed to the Times Literary Supplement, Prospect magazine and the Spectator. He remains on good terms with Rupert Murdoch. He has also written a sympathetic biography of Michael Portillo and a critical study of the Northern Ireland peace process, The Price of Peace, for which he won the Charles Douglas-Home Prize. He has worked for the BBC's Today programme, On The Record, Scottish Television and the Channel 4 monologue programme A Stab in the Dark, alongside David Baddiel and Tracey MacLeod, and was a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze and Newsnight Review on BBC Two.
Gove joined the Conservative Party at university and was secretary of Aberdeen South Young Conservatives. He helped to write speeches for Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet ministers, including Peter Lilley and Michael Howard. When applying for a job at the Conservative Research Department he was told he was "insufficiently political" and "insufficiently Conservative", so he turned to journalism.
Gove had been chairman of Policy Exchange, a conservative think tank launched in 2002. He had a hand in establishing the right-leaning magazine Standpoint, which he also occasionally contributes to.
Member of Parliament
Gove entered Parliament in the 2005 general election as Conservative member for the safe seat of Surrey Heath, after the incumbent MP Nick Hawkins was deselected by the local Conservative Association. When Cameron was elected leader in December 2005, he appointed Gove the housing spokesman. Gove is seen as part of an influential set of Tories, sometimes referred to as the Notting Hill Set, which includes David Cameron, George Osborne, Edward Vaizey, Nicholas Boles and Rachel Whetstone.
On 2 July 2007, the MP for Surrey Heath was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (a new department set up by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown) shadowing Ed Balls. Before the 2010 general election, most of Gove's questions in House of Commons debates concerned children, schools and families, education, local government, Council Tax, foreign affairs, and the environment.
Michael Portillo said in June 2012 that Gove could be a serious contender in a future race for the Conservative leadership, though Gove had said in an interview a few months before that "I'm constitutionally incapable of it. There's a special extra quality you need that is indefinable, and I know I don't have it. There's an equanimity, an impermeability and a courage that you need. There are some things in life you know it's better not to try."
Secretary of State for Education
With the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government after the May 2010 general election, Gove became Secretary of State for Education. His first moves included rebranding his department, announcing plans to allow schools rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted to become academies, and cutting the previous government's school-building programme. He was forced to apologise, however, when the list of terminated school-building projects he had released was found to be inaccurate. The list was reannounced several times before it was finally accurately published.
In July 2010, Gove said that Labour had failed in its attempt to break the link between social class and school achievement despite spending billions of pounds. Quoting research, he indicated that by the age of 6, children of low ability from affluent homes were still out-performing brighter children from poor backgrounds. In a Commons Education Select Committee he said that this separation of achievement grew larger throughout pupils' school careers, stating, "In effect, rich thick kids do better than poor clever children when they arrive at school [and] the situation as they go through gets worse".
Building Schools for the Future and School Capital Projects
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" and that "however pressing the economic problems, there was no overriding public interest which precluded consultation or justifies the lack of any consultation". The Councils' response was that the government would have to reconsider but the government said it had won the case on the substantial issues. The judge made clear that, contrary to the councils' position, they could not expect that their projects would be funded.
In March 2011 Gove was criticised for not understanding the importance of school architecture and having previously misrepresented the cost. In February 2011, he gave "not-quite-true information to Parliament" by saying that one individual made £1m in one year when the true figure was £700k for 5 advisers at different times over a 4-year period. He told a Free Schools conference that 'no one in this room is here to make architects richer' and specifically mentioned architect Richard Rogers.
Exam and curriculum reforms
During the 2010 Conservative Party Conference, Gove announced that the primary- and secondary-school national curricula for England would be restructured, and that study of authors such as Byron, Keats, Jane Austen, Dickens and Thomas Hardy would be reinstated in English lessons as part of a plan to improve children's grasp of English literature and language. Academies are not required to follow the national curriculum, and so would not be affected by the reforms. Children who fail to write coherently and grammatically, and who are weak in spelling, would be penalised under new examinations. Historian Simon Schama would give advice to government to ensure that pupils learnt Britain's "island story". Standards in mathematics and science would also be strengthened. He claimed that this was needed because left-wing ideologues had undermined education. Theirs was the view, he thought, that schools "shouldn't be doing anything so old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics. These ideologues may have been inspired by generous ideals but the result of their approach has been countless children condemned to a prison house of ignorance."
In a November 2010 white paper, Gove declared reforms would include the compulsory study of foreign languages up to the age of 16, and a shake-up of league tables in which schools are ranked higher for the number of pupils taking GCSEs in five core subjects: English; mathematics; science; a language; and one of the humanities. He also announced that experts such as historian Simon Schama will be brought in to review the curriculum, and that targets are to be introduced for primary schools for the first time. Additionally, trainee teachers will spend more time in the classroom, there would be more assessment of teacher training applicants—including tests of character and emotional intelligence—and former troops will be offered sponsorship to retrain as teachers to improve discipline. Teachers are also expected to receive guidance on how to search pupils for more items, including mobile phones and pornography, and when they can use force.
In April 2011 Gove criticised schools for not studying pre-20th century classics and blamed "England's constricted and unreformed exam system" for failing to encourage children to read. Gove also blamed an "anti-knowledge culture" for reducing achievement and said children benefited when expectations were set higher. In June 2011 his "ignorance of science" was criticised after he called for students to have "a rooting in the basic scientific principles" and by way of example assigned Lord Kelvin's laws of thermodynamics to Sir Isaac Newton.
In June 2012, the Daily Mail revealed leaked plans to scrap GCSE examinations, return to O-level exams and allow less able students to take less academic qualifications. The plans had not been discussed with the Deputy Prime Minister or the Liberal Democrats and were subsequently heavily criticised by some teachers, trade unions and Labour Party MPs. They had been discussed with the Prime Minister, and a subsequent YouGov/Sunday Times poll suggested that the public supported the policy by a margin of 50% to 32%. They also received praise from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said that he "could be...singing a hymn of praises for my old chum Gove and his brilliant new Gove-levels." The leaked documents also suggested that Gove was intending to create a single exam board to organise all exams, and to scrap the National Curriculum in its current form. However there were "rebukes" from both the Welsh and Northern Ireland Education ministers who said it was important to communicate before making announcements on proposed changes to jointly owned qualifications.
In February 2013, shortly after the draft Programmes of Study for History in the national curriculum was released by the DfE, the representatives of the principal organisations for historians in the UK wrote to the Observer to register "significant reservations" about its contents and the way in which it had been devised. In March 2013, 100 academics wrote to "warn of the dangers posed by Michael Gove's new National Curriculum". Gove retorted that the critics were "Marxists" and "Enemies of Promise", that "there is good academia and bad academia." In response, one signatory to the letter opined that Gove suffered from a "blinkered, almost messianic, self-belief, which appears to have continually ignored the expertise and wisdom of teachers, head-teachers, advisers and academics, whom he often claims to have consulted", while one of the country's leading education experts and the person who headed up the biggest review of British primary education in 40 years, Cambridge's Robin Alexander, declared: "It's surely proper to ask whether heaping abuse on members of the electorate because they hold different views is what government in a democracy is about." A senior civil servant then admitted that one of the most controversial parts of the proposed secondary curriculum had been written internally by the DfE, without any input from experts.
In May, Simon Schama, earlier mooted as a supporter of Gove's reforms of the history curriculum, delivered an excoriating speech in which he characterised the finalised proposals as "insulting and offensive" and "pedantic and utopian", accusing Gove of constructing a "ridiculous shopping list" of subjects. He urged the audience at the Hay Festival: "Tell Michael Gove what you think of it. Let him know." In June, leaked documents revealed that a member of the government's curriculum advisory group had described the reform process as having had "a very chaotic feel. It's typical of government policy at the moment: they don't think things through very carefully, they don't listen to anyone and then just go ahead and rush into major changes." In September, Robin Alexander said that the proposed reforms to the primary-level national curriculum were "neo Victorian", "educationally inappropriate and pedagogically counter-productive". In October, almost 200 people—including Carol Ann Duffy, Melvin Burgess and Michael Rosen, as well as academics from Oxford, Bristol and Newcastle—signed a letter to the Times condemning Gove's reforms, warning of the "enormous" and negative risks they posed to children and their education. The same month saw Oxford's head of admissions warn that the timetable for secondary-level reforms would "just wreck the English education system."
King James Bible
In 2011 Gove planned to provide every school in England with a copy of the King James Bible, inscribed "presented by the Secretary of State for Education", to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its translation into English. Gove described the King James as "the most important book in the English language", and insisted that every student should have the opportunity to appreciate its literary riches. The project ran into difficulty when the education secretary was required to find private funding to complete it. Private sponsors paid for the Bibles, which were distributed in June 2012. The Guardian quoted unnamed head teachers as being critical of the project, but the initiative did receive support from across the spectrum, including from Richard Dawkins who praised its literary merit but said that reading it would disabuse people of the "pernicious falsehood" that it provides a guide to morality.
In May 2012 Gove, giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, warned Lord Justice Leveson "the cure might be worse than the disease", advising the judge against too much extra regulation of the press. The former journalist added that some cases of press misbehaviour were "deplorable", but argued that these could be punished under existing laws, such as defamation. Gove himself is a former News International journalist.
2012 English GCSE results
In September 2012, following the furore surrounding the downgrading of GCSE English results, he refused to instruct Ofqual to intervene, and attacked his Welsh counterpart as "irresponsible and mistaken" for ordering disputed GCSEs to be regraded. On 17 September he announced to the House an English Baccalaureate Certificate to replace GCSE, comprising English, Maths, Science, together with a Humanities subject and language, to be first examined in 2017. His plans to replace GCSE examinations with an English Baccalaureate were rejected by Parliament in February 2013.
As Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Gove advocated the introduction of a Swedish-style voucher system, whereby parents can choose where their child should be educated, with the state paying what they would have cost in a state-school. He has also advocated Swedish-style free schools, to be managed by parents and funded by the state, with the possibility that such schools may be allowed to be run on a for-profit model.
In June 2012, Gove approved three schools run by creationists leading to concerns about whether Department for Education (DfE) requirements not to teach creationism or intelligent design as science would be met. Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland, due to open in September 2012, said its website - which said it would teach creationism as science - was out of date. Exemplar-Newark Business academy, whose previous application was rejected because of concerns over creationism, and a third school in Kent both said they would teach creationism in RE but not in Science. The British Humanist Association said teaching creationism in any syllabus was unacceptable.
BNP membership amongst teachers
As Education Secretary Gove has stated that schools should have the power to dismiss teachers for being members of the British National Party (BNP). He told The Guardian: "I don't believe that membership of the BNP is compatible with being a teacher. One of the things I plan to do is to allow headteachers and governing bodies the powers and confidence to be able to dismiss teachers engaging in extremist activity".
Children's Homes Scandal and Data Protection Rules
In September 2013 news that the DfE did not maintain a register of Children's Homes in the UK came to light as a result of an article Gove wrote for the Daily Telegraph. Gove asserted his prior ignorance and surprise that the department did not hold this information and claimed that "Ofsted was prevented by 'data protection' rules, 'child protection' concerns and other bewildering regulations from sharing that data with us, or even with the police".
Gove's claim was refuted the same day by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who pointed out there was "nothing" in data protection legislation that prevents vulnerable young people from being properly protected in care homes. Graham noted that "[t]his law covers information about people so it has no bearing on the disclosure of non-personal information like the location of care homes", and said he would be writing to both Gove and Michael Wilshaw about the matter.
Criticism from teachers and head teachers
Gove has come in for strong criticism from teaching professionals.
At their annual conference in March 2013, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) passed a no-confidence motion in Gove. This was followed up the next month at the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), who unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in Gove, the first time in its history that it performed such an action, and called for his resignation. The audience at the NUT conference were told that Gove had "lost the confidence of the teaching profession", "failed to conduct his duties in a manner befitting the head of a national education system", and "chosen to base policy on dogma, political rhetoric and his own limited experience of education."
Together these unions represent the vast majority of education professionals in the UK.
Gove garnered further criticism at the May 2013 conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), whose members condemned what they said was a climate of bullying, fear and intimidation that he had created during his time as Education Secretary. The conference passed a vote of no confidence in his policies.
Changes to pay, pensions, and workloads have also roused the profession's ire. The NUT and NASUWT staged rolling strikes on a regional basis in October 2013, though a national strike was averted after talks were agreed.
Michael Gove claimed £7,000 for furnishing a London property before reportedly 'flipping' his designated second home, a property for which he claimed around £13,000 to cover stamp duty. Gove also claimed for a cot mattress, despite children's items being banned under the Commons rule. Gove said he would repay the claim for the cot mattress, but maintained that his other claims were "below the acceptable threshold costs for furniture" and that moving house was necessary "to effectively discharge my parliamentary duties". While he was moving between homes, on one occasion he stayed at the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa following a constituency engagement, charging the taxpayer more than £500 per night's stay.
Gove's second home was not in his constituency, but in Elstead, in the South West Surrey constituency. Gove subsequently sold the house and now has no base in or near his constituency.
Freedom of Information and email
Gove has been the subject of repeated criticism for alleged attempts to avoid the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The criticism surrounds Gove's use of various private email accounts to send emails that allegedly relate to his departmental responsibilities. The allegations suggest that Mr Gove and his advisers believed they could avoid their correspondence being subject to Freedom of Information requests, as they believed that their private email accounts were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. In September 2011, the Financial Times reported that Gove had used an undisclosed private email account – called "Mrs Blurt" – to discuss government business with advisers. In March 2012 the Information Commissioner ruled that because emails the Financial Times had requested contained public information they could be the subject of a Freedom of Information request and ordered the information requested by the paper to be disclosed. Gove was also advised to cease the practice of using private email accounts to conduct government business. Gove disputed the Information Commissioner's ruling, something that cost taxpayers £12,540, and proceeded to tribunal, but the appeal was subsequently withdrawn.
It was also alleged that Gove and his advisors had destroyed email correspondence in order to avoid Freedom of Information requests. The allegation was denied by Gove's department who stated that deleting email was simply part of good computer housekeeping.
Twitter smear attacks on opponents controversy
In February 2013 The Guardian launched investigations into connections between Gove's ministerial advisers and what they described as "allegations that members of his department have used the social networking site Twitter to launch highly personal attacks on journalists and political opponents and to conduct a Tory propaganda campaign paid for by the taxpayer." The article suggested that an anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation was regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department and to launch highly personal attacks on opponents of Gove and his policies.
It was further suggested that the knowledge of imminent but unpublished government policy demonstrated by the Twitter account called @toryeducation indicated that it was very likely to come from within the Education Department, implying the involvement of special advisers paid for by taxpayers. Issuing party political material and indulging in personal attacks would both be clear breaches of the special advisers' code and the civil service code.
Gove has expressed his view that the state should generally not interfere in domestic affairs and attests to have campaigned for personal freedom in certain matters. He opposed the 2006 act to introduce identity cards and called Section 28 "a nonsense". Gove has argued that "the only sustainable ethical foundation for society is a belief in the innate worth and dignity of every individual." Giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry in May 2012, Gove said he was "unashamedly on the side of those who say that we should think very carefully before legislation and regulation because the cry 'Something must be done' often leads to people doing something which isn't always wise."
During the 2008 Conservative Party Conference, Gove argued that Edmund Burke, an 18th-century philosopher who commented on organic society and the French Revolution, was the greatest conservative ever. When asked about those who believe 'Marx was right all along', he responded that they were guilty of ignoring the systematic abuses and poverty of centrally planned economies, and criticised Eric Hobsbawm, saying that "only when Hobsbawm weeps hot tears for a life spent serving an ideology of wickedness will he ever be worth listening to."
Gove proposed that the invasion of Iraq would bring peace and democracy both to Iraq and the wider Middle East. In December 2008, he wrote that declarations of either victory or defeat in Iraq in 2003 were premature, and that the liberation of Iraq was a foreign policy success.
The liberation of Iraq has actually been that rarest of things – a proper British foreign policy success. Next year, while the world goes into recession, Iraq is likely to enjoy 10% GDP growth. Alone in the Arab Middle East, it is now a fully functioning democracy with a free press, properly contested elections and an independent judiciary ... Sunni and Shia contend for power in parliament, not in street battles. The ingenuity, idealism and intelligence of the Iraqi people can now find an outlet in a free society rather than being deployed, as they were for decades, simply to ensure survival in a fascist republic that stank of fear.—Michael Gove, Michael Gove: Triumph of freedom over evil
He had to be calmed down by parliamentary colleagues in August 2013 after shouting, "A disgrace, you're a disgrace!" at various Conservative and Liberal Democrat rebels who contributed to defeating the coalition government's motion to attack Syria in retaliation for the 2013 Ghouta attacks. He later claimed he was reacting to the manner in which Labour MPs celebrated the outcome of the vote.
Gove has been accused of harbouring hostile attitude towards Islam after the publications of his book Celsius 7/7, though he distinguishes between "the great historical faith" of Islam, which he says has "brought spiritual nourishment to millions", and Islamism, a "totalitarian ideolog[y]" that turns to "hellish violence and oppression" in the same manner as National Socialism and Communism.
Views on WW1 centenary
In a controversial article about the First World War centenary in January 2014, Gove attacked "Left-wing versions of the past designed to belittle Britain and its leaders", insisting that, despite "mistakes", Britain's role in the world was also "marked by nobility and courage."
Some of Gove's key points were however rebuffed by academic contributors to the same article. Gove had criticised Cambridge professor Sir Richard Evans saying his views were more like that of an undergraduate cynic in a footlights review. Instead he urged people to listen to Margaret MacMillan of Oxford university. However MacMillan denied saying that soldiers were fighting for freedom–they were defending their homeland. Gove had mistaken myths for rival interpretations of history. Evans said Gove's attack was "ignorant" and asked how anyone could possibly say Britons were fighting for freedom given their country's main ally was Tsarist Russia. Jeremy Paxman said Gove had "wilfully misquoted" Evans on the subject of WWI.
Gove's proposal for a new Royal Yacht costing £60m was made public in January 2012. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticised the idea, calling it "a case of the haves and the have yachts". Gove believes that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, arguing that Scotland's strengths complement those of other parts of the UK. He does not believe that the United States' "current position in the world is analogous to that of an Imperial power, as we have come to understand imperial powers". While deeply critical of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Gove believes that "there have also been more benign empires, and in that I would include, almost pre-eminently, the British."
Having been raised in the Church of Scotland, Gove now worships in the Church of England, and regularly attends St Mary Abbots church, Kensington, London, although he still describes himself as a Presbyterian. He stated he is "Christian and proud of it" at a talk to pupils at Westminster School in 2012. He has commented on the condition of the church in Scotland.
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- During his answers to the Parliamentary Education Committee on 12 September
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- Michael Gove MP Official Website
- Profile at the Conservative Party
- John Rentoul, The Independent names Michael Gove as a top public service innovator, Ethos, June 2012
- Column archives in The Times
- Profile from The Economist
- Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
- Current session contributions in Parliament at Hansard
- Electoral history and profile at The Guardian
- Voting record at Public Whip
- Record in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou
- Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
- Profile at BBC News Democracy Live
- Articles authored at Journalisted
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath
|Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
|Secretary of State for Education