An important and illuminating interview with the Secretary of State for Education, conducted by Anthony Horowitz.
I wish I’d seen this piece before last night’s Orion authors’ party. It would have been good to have a few minutes chatting to Horowitz about it.
Previously a Gove admirer and apologist, Horowitz finishes the interview thinking the man might be a monster.
It’s a longish piece and this is just the conclusion:
We are nearing the end of my allotted time and here is the impression that I have of a man for whom I have always had a very high regard. He is brilliant and erudite, doing an almost impossible job and doing it with passion and commitment. And yet it is just possible that the minister is a monster. I would not normally use such a word of a secretary of state but I am only picking up on something he said himself. Referring to the teachers who inspired him as a boy, he remarked, laughing: ‘There’s a direct relationship between the opportunities that I’ve enjoyed and their influence. They might now, like Victor Frankenstein, hold their head in horror and think “What have we created…?”’
It was the only moment of revelation in our encounter that struck me as truly insightful, the only awareness of the amount of power he wields. He assures me that he consults much more extensively than people believe, but continues: ‘One of the things that I think is a challenge here is that there isn’t a monolithic view within the teaching profession — about anything. It’s a bit like saying authors believe x or journalists believe x. There are some vocal people within the profession who might appear to be the dominant voices but by definition they can’t be representative: no one’s elected them.’ But actually there is one monolithic view that is out there and which will brook no argument. It is Gove’s.
My American friends are shocked by how much power one politician can have over a whole generation of children and even Gove agrees. ‘I do think that education secretaries do have too much power.’ (Even so, he has allotted himself around 50 new powers since he took office.) ‘But part of what I want to do is to ensure that lots of things that were fixed or arranged or decided in the Department for Education and its quangos are now decided in schools. And that’s the big change.’
His vision should be uplifting but I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed my encounter with Michael Gove. It’s very strange. I have argued with so many teachers and other authors that he is a wholly benevolent man, a reformer who is actually improving the lives of children across the country. Even now, that opinion has not changed. But nobody can be as certain as he is. Nobody can be right all the time. It’s his single-mindedness that troubles me, and so for all his quips, his humanity, his courtesy and his eloquence, I leave with the faint worry that, after all, I am the one who’s wrong.