12 Aug '13

News Dear Mr Gove: Michael Rosen's letter from a curious parent

Michael Rosen has some ideas for the education secretary's forthcoming roadshows with 'ordinary' headteachers

You offered us an exciting titbit of news just as the summer term was closing down: you are planning a series of roadshows in the autumn in which you'll travel to towns and cities around the country to debate your policies with groups of headteachers. It seems as if these occasions will enable you to hear from "ordinary" headteachers who are neither "leaders of flagship academies" nor "active members of headteacher associations".

I wonder if I could offer you some advice for these? I'm thinking along the lines of crowd-pleasing moments.

1. I'm pretty sure that people would love to get a good sense of the researchers whose evidence you've ignored. These include people who've shown, for example, that the international tables of comparison on which you base most of your announcements are of no use; people who've shown that if you want to improve standards you need to create the means by which learners can tell teachers what they need and teachers need to have structures in which they can discuss how they might implement what learners tell them; people who've shown that it is only through daily exposure and reading of books that pupils choose for themselves that reading for understanding improves.

Why not set up a moment in your talk where you call out the names of these academics, one by one, following each one with: "And have I listened to what she's got to say?" And the audience can all shout out, "No you haven't, Mr Gove!"

2. I've yet to meet anyone who has any idea what has qualified you for this job. I wonder if you could illustrate this with a Colin-Powell-esque: "Here are the weapons of mass destruction"-type demonstration. You could show how nifty you are with PowerPoint, by showing us pictures of your private school, your Oxford college, your nook in the Times where you wrote the paper's leaders, the desk where you wrote that best-selling biography of Michael Portillo – was it the same desk you used when you wrote speeches for the political giants, Peter Lilley and Michael Howard?

Then finish up with snaps of your dates with the always sagacious Rupert Murdoch. As these last pix roll past, you could say something along the lines of: "And people ask me what qualifies me for this job! Really! Do they need to ask, with this kind of portfolio? Puh-leeze!"

3. How good are you at conjuring acts and illusions? I wonder if you could stage something whereby a figure dressed as Kenneth Baker appears with a sash marked "national curriculum" striding over a map of the schools of England and Wales. While you strut about, talking of "national curriculum this", "national curriculum that", the map slowly dissolves, losing first Wales and then whole swathes of schools no longer governed by this curriculum.

4. I'm guessing that you are more familiar than I am with Churchill's War Room. It's a great draw for tourists because it plays to our idea of the humming centre, the lonely genius with the burden of the nation's destiny on his shoulders.

Surely, this is precisely your situation. You are the Churchill of our schools. In your presentation, you must show us a haunting, moody film of you alone in your War Room, thousands of academies showing as lights on a chart in front of you, lit up like stars. These are your stars. All yours. You alone govern their right to twinkle or die. The phone rings. Three hundred miles away, there's trouble in the Murdoch Academy in Newstown. "Close it down!" you bark. "What about the children?" a weak voice cries. "Decant them!" you bark again. "But that will set them back years," says the voice. "I'm raising the bar," (you're still barking.) You pace to and fro restlessly. The Complete Works of John Dryden lie unopened on your desk...

5. So what's the great pay-off? Back to conjuring. In one hand you show a card with a picture of a local authority school on it. (Invite booing.) Turn it over, and it says on the back, "Owned and controlled by your local authority, who hold it in trust for you, the people."

Monkeys wearing the badges of the teaching unions and university education departments rush on to the stage and appear to tear the card to shreds. (Invite more booing.)

You quickly transfer the card to your other hand and, as you do so, the name "Academy" is miraculously added to it. The monkeys evaporate. You turn it over, and on the back it now says … nothing! (The audience gasps.) Whereupon an oligarch or plutocrat strolls on (do you know any?) and you give him the card on a red velvet cushion. You've saved the card. (Wild applause).

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