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Why is Michael Gove the target of such vilification? Yes, he’s a Conservative minister in a cost-cutting government, but he gets more flack than most of his colleagues.

A courteous and charming individual – in private as well as in public – it’s not as if he deliberately rubs people up the wrong way. And unlike many other ministers, there’s no privileged background to stir up resentment.

Perhaps, it’s the conspicuous cleverness that’s the problem. The British public don’t seem to mind it in someone like Stephen Fry, but while Fry tells erudite bottom jokes, Gove tells the truth about our schools – which is that they’re not nearly good enough.

Fortunately, some other people have been telling the truth too – most notably in an important report for the OECD. Randeep Ramesh summarises the key points in the Guardian:

“England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults, according to the first skills survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“In a stark assessment of the success and failure of the 720-million-strong adult workforce across the wealthier economies, the economic thinktank warns that in England, adults aged 55 to 65 perform better than 16- to 24-year-olds at foundation levels of literacy and numeracy. The survey did not include people from Scotland or Wales.”

What is especially worrying about this result is that, overall, we’re already doing poorly compared to our competitors:

“The OECD study also finds that a quarter of adults in England have the maths skills of a 10-year-old. About 8.5 million adults, 24.1% of the population, have such basic levels of numeracy that they can manage only one-step tasks in arithmetic, sorting numbers or reading graphs. This is worse than the average in the developed world, where an average of 19% of people were found to have a similarly poor skill base.”

So, if the younger generation are under-performing an already unsatisfactory national average, then the future looks bleak:

“Out of 24 nations, young adults in England (aged 16-24) rank 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy. England is behind Estonia, Australia, Poland and Slovakia in both areas.

“This compares unfavourably with the adult population as a whole: English adults aged 16-65 rank 11th for literacy and 17th for numeracy.

“The OECD cautions that the ‘talent pool of highly skilled adults in England and Northern Ireland is likely to shrink relative to that of other countries’.”

Conservative ministers rightly point out that this is the generation educated under the policies of the previous Labour government – prompting the following excuse:

“Labour hit back, saying that while in government it ‘drove up standards in maths and English across our schools, evident in the huge improvements we saw in GCSE results between 1997 and 2010’.”

And there you have it – the leftwing mentality in a nutshell: In the face of objective evidence that their education policies have failed, they resort to tractor statistics showing the opposite. What makes this particular Big Lie so effective is that it is personalised. One can’t question Labour’s account of its educational record without questioning the individual academic achievements of an entire generation.

Because he cares about Britain’s future, Michael Gove has done so anyway, but he shouldn’t expect to be thanked for his trouble.

110 comments for: The disgrace of Britain’s education system

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