Prof. Harry Torrance responds to Michael Gove

It’s déjà vu all over again…

Michael Gove’s hysterical response (read here) to the recent letter published by a group of academics criticising the revised National Curriculum suggests that it’s a lot easier to rattle the cage of powerful politicians than might be realised.

Obviously all is not well in government. Our ‘impact’ narrative is writing itself on an almost daily basis at present. That reasoned criticism, from 100 academics representing a very wide range of views and empirical research on teaching, learning and the curriculum over many years, should be so instantly dismissed as ‘marxist’ is quite extraordinary. It’s also rather quaint and faintly reassuring to find out that ‘reds under the bed’ is still thought to sell newspapers.  Amazingly, the Tories seem to have forgotten their own history in this area.  They’ve been attacking ‘marxists’ in education, and indeed the social sciences more generally, for more than 30 years.  Successive reforms of the Social Science Research Council (remember that?), teacher training (‘recent relevant experience’, remember that?), the National Curriculum and Assessment system, etc. seem not to have vanquished this terrible menace.  Either the Tories are incredibly incompetent, or the marxists are incredibly resilient, or both? Or perhaps the marxists never existed in the way depicted in the first place – though the trope lives on – if it’s critical of conservative policy it must be marxist…

Plus ca change…


“the SSRC’s research programme on transmitted deprivation (1974–82) …it has been argued that it was the disappointment of Sir Keith Joseph with the research programme that fuelled his contempt for social science and his attempt, as Secretary of State for Education and Science, to abolish the Research Council.” (Welshman 2009).

“Following the election of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 general election, the Government expressed reservations about the value of research in the social sciences, and the extent to which it should be publicly funded. In 1981, the Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph asked Lord Rothschild to lead a review into the future of the SSRC. It was ultimately decided…that the Council should remain, but that its remit should be expanded…to include more ’empirical’ research and research of ‘more public concern’. To reflect this, in 1983 the SSRC was renamed the Economic and Social Research Council” (Wikipedia).

And the Open University tells its own story:

“In 1984, after being told that a social science course showed a Marxist bias and offered a critique of monetarism, the Secretary of State for Education, Keith Joseph read ‘all the relevant teaching materials’. .. Interviewed in 1995…Anastasios Christodoulou, the University Secretary, 1968-1980, recalled that Keith Joseph ‘didn’t like the OU at all ─ it was politically motivated, ideologically unsound and its standards suspect ─ and I’m almost quoting.’…In the 1990s the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips expressed her concerns about bias. She described Open University course books for a post-graduate teaching qualification as: ‘not so much educational texts as ideological tracts

Harry Torrance

3 thoughts on “Prof. Harry Torrance responds to Michael Gove

  1. Pingback: Watching the watchmen watch the watchmen | ESRI Blog

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