Michael Gove: The Meaning of Liberal Learning
Report prepared by Francesca Day.
The question of how best to educate the next generation has puzzled policy makers for many years. As well as the philosophical issues surrounding the meaning and purpose of education, the practicalities of delivering equality of opportunity to an unequal society make this a complex topic with tremendous social impact. On 24th November 2011, Secretary of State for Education Rt Hon Michael Gove presented his views on the subject in a talk for the Cambridge Public Policy Lecture Series.
Gove proclaimed the importance of education as an end in itself, and emphasised that it is time to demand more of the education system. He argued that the intellectual achievements of our ancestors form an inheritance in which we all deserve a share, and that this must be achieved by stretching and challenging students. Gove believes that students and parents from all backgrounds possess an appetite for education, citing the example of Jade Goody, a “poster girl for ignorance” who set up a trust fund for her children to attend private school. This example highlights what many see as a key flaw in the UK education system – the educational and career advantages given to those whose parents can afford private school fees. Gove highlighted the Coalition Government’s attempt to address this problem with Academy Schools – state funded schools that are free from local authority control. He gave examples of several Academies that have performed exceptionally in raising aspirations and standards. However, as raised in the audience questions following the talk, it is unclear what the long-term impact of the Academy system will be on what is a deep-rooted and complex social problem.
Gove has high hopes for what can and should be achieved by his fellow citizens, and believes that these can be realised through an education system built around high expectations of all pupils. Gove also emphasised the importance of a traditional curriculum claiming, for example, that the music of Wagner is of greater value than that of the Arctic Monkeys (a controversial favourite of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown). The danger of allocating more prestige to certain subjects in this way was highlighted by warnings from the audience that the curriculum should include the cultural history and backgrounds of all pupils and should focus on educating the whole child.
Gove’s presentation of his beliefs and policies regarding education has left us with many questions to consider as we watch the progress of government policy and of the education of the next generation.
A transcript of Mr Gove's speech can be found here.