Education & Family

Gove stands by Mr Men history attack

Michael Gove
Image caption Mr Gove made his criticism of an online lesson plan at an education conference last week

Education Secretary Michael Gove has defended his attack on a teacher who suggested students could create a Mr Men character based on Adolf Hitler.

Mr Gove told a Commons committee of MPs that he stood by his criticism last week of the online lesson plan.

The teacher behind it, Russel Tarr, said Mr Gove's view betrayed a lack of understanding and interpretation.

Mr Gove also told MPs more about his plans for how GCSEs will be structured and graded from 2015.

Appearing before the Commons cross-party Education Committee on Wednesday, Mr Gove faced questions on school accountability, qualifications and curriculum reform.

But he was first grilled about his speech to independent school leaders at Brighton College last Thursday, where he ridiculed the suggestion - on a website called Active History - that the Mr Men children's books, written by Roger Hargreaves, could be used as a way of explaining Hitler to pupils.

"I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves's work, but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat," he had told the conference.

He assured MPs on Wednesday that he had done most of the research for the speech and found out about the Mr Men history site from a blog by a Labour-supporting teacher, who was a "very informative voice in the education debate".

He said he had visited the site and been "actually surprised by it".

"The striking thing about it is that while there have been some people who've been offended, or who've disagreed with the thrust of the argument, no-one has disputed that it's a popular resource, no-one's disputed that it was material that was aimed at 15- to 16-year-olds, and opinion divides on whether or not it's appropriate."

Labour has accused Mr Gove of being "Mr Sloppy" for using a TV poll to attack history teaching, when the source of Mr Gove's claim that teenagers had poor historical knowledge was found to be a survey from UKTV Gold.

Tiering and grades

MPs also asked Mr Gove for his view on the tiering of GCSE examinations, where pupils are entered for papers targeted to their ability rather than a single paper serving all candidates.

The secretary of state said he wanted to move away from this system, but accepted it may be necessary in subjects like maths and science.

This follows advice from the exams regulator, Ofqual, and the international exams group Cambridge Assessment.

Mr Gove said: "My overall instinct is to try to move away from tiering.

"But of course, I want to take a pragmatic approach, and if the strong advice, not just from Ofqual, but also from one of the awarding bodies is that would be easier to have more reliable assessment if we had some form of separation, then I'll take that into account.

"Whether or not that's the current system of tiering, whereby you have one paper and another paper overlapping at what you call the C or good pass grade, whether or not it should be a core and an extension paper or whether or not you should have two papers that don't touch, as it were, are matters that we're considering and Ofqual is considering."

Mr Gove shed more light on how results from the new exams would be recorded, suggesting that current A*-G grades could be replaced with a numerical system.

"Rather than, for the sake of argument, having A*, A and B, you might have 1, 2, 3, 4 and it might be the case that 1, 2, 3 and 4 cover the band of achievement that is currently A* and A," he told MPs.

Labour's Shadow Schools Minister, Kevin Brennan, described the plans for numbered grades as "another back of a fag packet proposal".

"Michael Gove and David Cameron have no answers to the big challenges in education today - like driving up school standards or taking action to provide young people with high quality vocational skills," said Mr Brennan.

Pay dispute

Meanwhile, Mr Gove has written to schools across England advising them to reject a checklist, compiled by the NASUWT and National Union of Teachers to help members negotiate a new pay structure, which comes into force in maintained schools in England and Wales from September.

The Department for Education (DfE) says "adoption of the checklist would significantly limit schools' ability to take advantage of the flexibilities now available to them in terms of managing their budgets and rewarding performance".

"Their [the unions'] instructions around progression from the main pay range to the upper pay range are in fact unlawful.

"The checklist advocates a substantial and serious weakening of the [pay] process. Any schools adopting this proposal would be acting unlawfully."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said the DfE's claim that the checklist was unlawful were unfounded.

"Schools did not want the break-up of the national pay framework and the additional work which school-based pay negotiation would bring.

"The NUT-NASUWT pay framework enables schools to avoid all of this and early indications are that this is exactly what they wish to do.

"Clearly Michael Gove, having picked this up, is now seeking to bully schools by threatening that they will be acting illegally when they adopt our framework.

"His allegations are without foundation - as he knows - but his threats reveal the lengths to which he will go to impose his own ideas under the guise of freedom."

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