Those Who Can, Teach. Those Who Can’t, Become Politicians

Michael Gove

Chances are, if you’re a teacher, you’ve already taken off your shoe and are wildly slapping the monitor on your laptop with it after seeing the picture of Michael Gove at the top of this article.

As Education Secretaries go, he’s not very popular. Last week’s teacher strikes saw thousands of ‘GOVE OUT!’ banners being held aloft by teachers who feel their many concerns over Tory education policy are being completely ignored. But as the man who has been given the important position of Education Secretary, he must know a thing or two about teaching, from his days working in education, right?

Wrong. Gove, like so many Cabinet ministers  has never actually worked in the field he now sits atop of, issuing orders for teachers to be put on performance related pay and decreeing that you don’t have to be a qualified teacher to teach in a ‘free-school’.

Luckily he doesn’t always stick by his promises, like that time he said GCSE’s were to be scrapped and that time he proposed ‘surprise’ OFSTED inspections for schools. Oh Gove, you joker.

Before politics he was a journalist and while he no doubt wrote a few articles on matters of education, his CV doesn’t exactly scream authority on education. However, Michael Gove is not alone in his lack of any life experience remotely useful to his Cabinet post. We are awash with career politicians who have never spent a day in the shoes of the people whose jobs they changing for better or worse.

Take Jeremy Hunt for example. He’s the Health Secretary now. Before that he was Culture Secretary, but things got slightly embarrassing for him last year when it turned out he was a bit too buddied up with Rupert Murdoch to be an effectively neutral judge of News Corp’s BSkyB takeover bid. Once that mess was swept under the carpet it was the obvious decision to put him in charge of the NHS. Because he used to be a doctor or nurse or worked in a hospital at some point ever, right? Wrong.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne is in charge of the UK’s finances. He must have got a pretty fancy economics or maths degree, I bet. Nope, a 2:1 in History. He got a job with the Conservative Research Department when he was 23 and hasn’t looked back.

It would be fun to be an astronaut. But if I applied to NASA to go on their next mission to the moon, they might ask a few telling questions. Such as what previous experience I had of space travel or if I had studied astrophysics at university. I would almost certainly not be going up in that rocket and tweeting pictures from space. And that would be fine. That is how the world works – if you are in a position of great responsibility, you are generally expected to have some experience of what you are talking about.

Not so if you are a politician who has managed to hang on to the coat-tails of the head boy until he one day turns out to be pretty good at this whole politics lark and ends up becoming Prime Minister. Fancy being in charge of education, Govey? Osborne you scoundrel, how about being Chancellor? Marvellous, and do try to remember that ″we’re all in this together″ shtick…

When you work in a field where experience and knowledge are second best to connections and networking, it’s no wonder you don’t respect teaching qualifications. And when you’ve never worked in education, performance related pay probably seems like a good idea to motivate the teachers. But teaching is a valuable, honourable and difficult profession and cheapening it in that way benefits nobody.


Tom Watson MP was well ahead of the Michael Gove disdain curve. (Although he might have just been annoyed when he saw Gove copying his oversized glasses idea). Watch his ″miserable pipsqueak″ outburst in 2010:

They had to turn Watson’s microphone off to shut him up.