Michael Gove’s Favourite Teachers: Where are they now?


Those of you with long memories will remember the touching speeches of Michael Gove when he was education secretary, where he used his position to advance the work of teachers in the classroom.

Well, those who agreed with him anyway. Speeches like this and this struck many at the time for being unusual in their direct naming of teachers and others as being endorsed by the Secretary of State. Many were young bloggers, barely out of training, and it wasn’t just Michael Gove who spotted them. His deputy Nick Gibb used the same names in his speeches too. But what happened to them? Where are they now? Is there any advantage to having caught the eye of a politician? And how many are still in teaching? Well…in alphabetical order, here are a few:

Tom Bennett

Tom didn’t really need to be name checked by Michael Gove. A teacher with a column in the TES and books to his name, he already had a large following on twitter. But with the encouragement of Sam Freedman (Executive Director at Teach First, former adviser to Michael Gove, former Policy Exchange and now a Director at ResearchEd), he set up ResearchEd and was appointed by Nick Gibb, as the official Government Behaviour Tzar in 2015. He was recently awarded an innovation grant worth £4 million from the DfE. He is a board member of Parents and Teachers for Excellence – the lobby group set up by Tory donor and leave campaigner Jon Moynihan and CEO of the Inspiration Trust, Dame Rachel de Souza. Led by Mark Lehain (see below), the group aims to promote the work of academies and free schools on promoting knowledge rich learning.

John Blake

Way back in 2013, John Blake was a History teacher in London, railing against low expectations, championing the value of academic education and co-editing Labour Teachers. A strong supporter of Michael Gove’s education policy, he is no longer teaching, but in post as Head of Education at the Policy Exchange – the right wing think tank set up by…Michael Gove. Previous incumbents at Policy Exchange include Sam Freedman and Jonathan Simons. Policy Exchange is now partnering with the new, private teacher training provider the National Institute for Education and Oceanova, another private company, to deliver teaching apprenticeships.

Kris Boulton

Kris was a Teach First maths teacher when first name checked who went on to work at the highly successful King Solomon Academy in London. A vocal advocate of Direct Instruction, Kris has now left teaching to work for a private online tuition company Up Learn, which claims to guarantee pupils who pay £200, an A or A* in their exams (providing they score 90% or above on their Up Intelligence Score). Kris is a regular speaker at ResearchEd and other educational events.

Daisy Christodoulou

Daisy, having qualified through Teach First, had already left teaching when Michael Gove started name checking her as a teacher. She was working with the Core Knowledge Foundation, set up by the right wing think tank Civitas to promote the work of E.D Hirsch. She also worked with Lord Nash (Minister in charge of Academies) at Pimlico Academy, developing curriculum. She went on to be Head of Assessment at Ark Academies (where Amanda Spielman, now Head of Ofsted was a founding member), where she earned a reputation for her work on assessment, winning the respect of many experts such as Dylan Wiliam (also a Director of ResearchEd). She was also a founding governor of Michaela School. Daisy has recently taken up a post with a private company selling Comparative Judgements assessments to schools under the name of No More Marking. She is the author of two books and a director of ResearchEd.

Joe Kirby

Joe was a young Teach First Ambassador, teaching English in London when he was name checked by Michael Gove. His blog was widely read and he was becoming interested in the knowledge rich core curriculum that his Teach First network advocated. Joe still teaches. He is Deputy Head at Michaela Free School, set up by Katharine Birbalsingh (invited by Michael Gove in 2010 to address the Conservative conference on ‘shocking’ standards of behaviour in British schools and subsequently awarded the contract to set up Michaela Free School).

Mark Lehain

Former maths teacher Mark Lehain caught Michael Gove’s eye when he set up one of the first Free Schools, Bedford Free School in 2013. He was on the advisory council of the New Schools Network (director is Toby Young). He recently moved on to become Director at Parents and Teachers for Excellence (see Tom Bennett above – set up by Tory donor Jon Moynihan and Dame Rachel de Souza).

Robert Peal (Matthew Hunter)

Robert Peal was first named under his pseudonym of Matthew Hunter by Michael Gove. In fact, Teach First graduate Mr. Hunter/Peal was no longer teaching as Gove heaped lavish praise on his blog. He was already at the right wing think tank, Civitas, where he moved straight to on completion of his Teach First training. His book, Progressively Worse – an attack on progressive state education – was name checked by Nick Gibb alongside Daisy Christodoulou’s, Tom Bennett’s and David Didau’s in this speech. It was published by his former employer, Civitas. Peal returned to teaching to work for Toby Young at the West London Free School for a year before taking up a secondment to the DfE with Nick Gibb as a ‘teacher in residence.’ He has now returned to the West London Free School part time and also works with BPP University, a private university and “the only University dedicated to business and professionals.”

Andrew Old (Smith)

Andrew Smith, blogging and tweeting under the name of Andrew Old was a maths teacher in an Academy in the Midlands, when his blog came to the attention of Michael Gove. He is now a part time supply teacher, but still regularly blogs. He is a frequent speaker at ResearchEd.

There were many others named by Michael Gove – heads and schools, academics and entrepreneurs. But I focused on those he specifically named as admirable teachers. It would seem, that for the majority that being named turned out to be a very good thing indeed. Even if you weren’t actually a teacher.



33 thoughts on “Michael Gove’s Favourite Teachers: Where are they now?

  1. Here are some more names to add to your list:
    Sir Greg Martin, described by Gove as his favourite head. Durand Academy Trust is now notorious and is under warning of termination.
    Sir Peter Birkett – one of Gove’s ‘Magnificent Seven – was head of Barnfield Federation when it claimed £1m for non-existent students. The Federation has now been split up.
    Patricia Sowter CBE – another of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ and also one of Gove’s Crusaders for Social Justice. Her Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust (CHAT) is under a Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI). She embroidered her past by saying she’d turned round Cuckoo Hall from special measures after she arrived in 2003. Not true – Cuckoo Hall came out of SM in 1999 when Mr R Allen was head. This didn’t prevent Gove from promoting the fiction.
    Greg Wallace, another of the ‘Seven’. He left the Best Start Federation under a cloud.
    Sajid Husain Raza, another Crusader (rather an odd description to give a Muslim) is in prison for fraud which took place at Kings Science Academy, the free school he started. Gove was accused of sitting on a critical financial report about the free school for months.
    Liam Nolan, feted by Gove and Cameron, resigned from Perry Beeches Academy Trust when it was slapped with a FNtI after two damning reports about the Trust’s financial management.
    The downfall of these once-lauded heads does throw some doubt on Gove’s judgement of character.

  2. I’m not really sure what the point of your blog is. It seems rather odd. Are you attempting to infer something here? If so what might that be?

    1. The point of my blog is “where are the teachers who Michael Gove name checked now?” As in the title. You know, like “where are the kids who were in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang now?” Or “where are the Osmonds now?”

  3. Sorry, I believe you seem to be trying to draw some kind of conspiracy-type conclusion here ie those that were supported by Gove have gone on to get cushy jobs, thanks to Gove, presumably, and no longer teach ie they’re all in bed together.

    Or rather those teachers are “suspect” and their motives are to be regarded with suspicion because Gove agreed with many of their ideas and because he’s a conservative these teachers are tainted by his endorsement.

    1. That’s the great thing about reader response theory : we layer onto text what we want to see. You are more than entitled to your interpretaton.

  4. I am really interested in this blog and the responses to it. I thought that the point was not to be critical of those colleagues who were praised by Mr Gove or Mr Gibb, but to point our that there was an unacceptable level of ideological imposition of government policy and that was reflected in the choices that Gove and Gibb made. I would consider it equally unacceptable for a different party to be taking so many steps to prescribe and encourage particular approaches and practice. It should not be their role. The role of politicians should be mainly concerned with supply, of buildings, resourcing and staffing. They may make suggestions as to the values and purposes that education might address, but they should recognise that teachers, school leaders, other staff, parents and the communities that schools serve should be formative in terms of curriculum and practice. The role of quality assurance should be to act as a voice for the child and the role of assessment should be to amplify that voice. Or am I missing something??
    My view would be that political involvement in education is rarely helpful. It tends to create instability more often than progress. I use your own comment about “Pedagogical activism” being “the butterfly wing of change” often and I understand that those who seek political advantage from change In education and, more kindly, think that they have answers that serve children better, will find it difficult not to impose their views on the system. That will be regardless of their expertise or experience. If we concede that level of involvement to politicians then we have to accept it when the politicians change. It is a bit like the debate over research. We can’t really be utterly disparaging of the old Blob and be wildly enthused by the new, or vice versa, unless we want research to serve only as the vindication of the views that we already hold. We can’t argue that this intense level of political direction is fine, but only when the politicians are right
    Have a good day

    1. Thank you David. You raise some important points here. Personally I don’t mind if people go off and make a living. I do. And I suppose what interested me when I compiled this was the connectedness of it all and the narrowness of thinking/ideology linking the group. Not to say that they are personally narrow minded or deficient in some way, but that they simply represented a narrow range of views. I’m not really interested in whether that’s ‘corrupt’ or not. Personally I doubt that Michael Gove really had any idea who they were – I imagine their names were passed on to him by someone else (or to his speech writer). Shrugs. But as you say, there is a conversation here to be had about the role of government, their level of interference and the ability for teachers to make their own decisions about what works best in their context for their kids. I appreciated your balanced and thoughtful contribution, thank you.

      1. You say “everything in this blog is entirely neutral” Hmmm
        But then add “Not to say that they are personally narrow minded or deficient in some way, but that they simply represented a narrow range of views. ”
        “I doubt that Michael Gove really had any idea who they were…”
        I take neutral to imply impartial …. seems a bit anti to me

  5. Perhaps we should talk about the narrowness that has been a part of teacher-education courses for many, many years. Maybe academics/teacher’s of teachers need to be less bias and actually include different pedagogical approaches in their class room besides always endorsing inquiry (as noted by Hattie and many who have been through these courses) and also put less emphasis on skills at the expense of knowledge.

    If you want to talk about how narrow things have been/still are then it is only fair to acknowledge the stranglehold that the progressive ideas have had over education for decades. Thank goodness someone came along to challenge them, and challenge them with evidence. If a Ed. minister is interested in evidence over ideology to guide them then that can only be a thing guide to my mind.

    1. Here’s my review of Hattie’s book. You may have read it already of course. https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/hattie-and-yates-visible-learning-and-the-science-of-how-we-learn-section-1-review/ and https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/hattie-and-yates-part-2/ – In fact Hattie’s view is much more nuanced than you suggest above. It is the IRE model of teaching that he claims is the most dominant form we see. The traditional Initiation-Response-Evaluate type info-question model that we see in most schools.

  6. You seem to be mixing me up with someone called Greg. For the record I am a concerned parent in Aust. with 2 kids in school who have had to endure a skills-based curriculum and lots of silly ideas in teaching and a terrible curriculum. My partner attempted a teaching degree (I looked at his textbook on pedagogical approaches) and he never heard of DI or even much on explicit instruction at the time but there was plenty on inquiry/problem based learning.

    Hattie noted that when he mentioned to newly-trained teachers that many teachers had not heard of DI in their teaching courses they were upset to discover the success of DI. In addition, he notes that many teachers seem to be skimping on the knowledge part and attempting to jump straight to the skills part.

    The latest round of PISA data also confirmed that inquiry based teaching was not as effective as explicitly teaching kids. I’m not doubting that teachers have always used forms of explicit instruction in their class rooms (due to it being sensible approach, logical and pragmatic) but not so long ago it was frowned upon as teacher talk and actively discouraged as was/is memory work and the notion that kids need to memorise facts ie see Daisy Christodoulou’s book. So many teachers probably felt that were failures when they “resorted” to actually teaching kids. At my children’s primary school the way they taught maths, for example, was ridiculous and completely failed the kids. Activities are still favoured in many schools in Aust. as is group work.

    I’d rather we didn’t pretend that education has always been/is balanced. This is simply not true. Progressive ideas were dominant in England for a very long time. They continue to dominant edu. here in Aust. I would like to see evidence as the driving force here.

    1. PISA actually recommends teacher explanation and demonstration together with enquiry-based teaching. The following quotes are from ‘PISA 2015 Volume II Policies and Practices for Successful Schools’.

      ‘Students perform better in science…when they spend more time learning science…and particularly when their teachers frequently explain and demonstrate scientific ideas, support students in the learning and expose them to more enquiry-based instruction.’ (p36)

      ‘The goal of teacher-directed science instruction is to provide a well-structured, clear and informative lesson on a topic, which usually includes teachers’ explanations, classroom debates and students’ questions…some teacher direction is essential…as with other teaching approaches, much of the effectiveness depends on how well the strategies are used.’ (p63)

      ‘Enquiry-based teaching practices are particularly important in teaching physical and life sciences…’ (p69)

      Those who say their methods are endorsed by PISA should at least read all PISA comments and not just cherry pick sections which support their chosen method. What PISA says is that pupils need to be exposed to a range of methods. It’s not one or the other – it’s a judicious mixture of both. Zealous evangelicals on either side do education no favours.

      1. It’s not what PISA says that I refer to it is what the results from the PISA data says. The results showed that more enquiry lead to poorer learning.

        I don’t believe that much attention should be paid to what PISA recommends as the best way to teach but the tests can certainly reveal interesting stuff, including the opposite to that which they themselves endorse.

  7. PS: It is thanks to the efforts and hard work of the teachers that you name that we see a better balance starting in to take shape in England. These teachers had the courage to stand up against the dominant orthodoxy and critique it. They may well have done so knowing they risked sacrificing their careers. I commend them.

    1. It would, of course be both foolish and arrogant of me to make comments on the Australian education system given that I live on the other side of the world and have no direct experience of it. You might find this book useful on PISA – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Education-Race-Measure-International-ebook/dp/B06Y4C9J51/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=. As for the notion that there was a dominant orthodoxy in English education, I’d dispute that. My 25 years of direct experience showed me a system very much rooted in the IRE model and although there had been some attempts in the 90s to develop more metacognitive approaches (very much supported by evidence), this was patchy in its implementation. What was and still is driving education here is accountability and testing. You probably overestimate the shifts you think have taken place too. Social media can create bubbles. Most of this debate has taken place on twitter. Fewer than 10% of teachers are on twitter. Of those, most do not fully subscribe to the views you describe here. Thankfully, for most, there is a much more balanced approach in which the Arts can thrive, children can question and inquire and develop those vital oracy skills they need. School21 is a great example of how rigour and oracy can be combined to create a knowledge AND skills rich curriculum offer.

  8. Tempe – it seems odd that you cite PISA when it supports your point of view but dismiss PISA when it contradicts it. You’re not alone unfortunately. Our schools minister Nick Gibb and his supporters regularly do the same not just with PISA but with other sources of evidence. So did former education secretary Michael Gove.

    As I said, PISA 2015 actually supports teacher-directed science lessons AND enquiry-based learning. The former resulted in higher scores in PISA but more enquiry-based learning led to ‘stronger epistemic beliefs’ and a greater expectation by pupils that they would work in science-related jobs by age 30.

    To conclude: teacher-directed science is associated with higher scores but pupils exposed to more enquiry-based learning had deeper understanding. Teachers, therefore, should employ both methods to increase both knowledge and understanding. Using PISA to dismiss enquiry-based learning entirely is disingenuous.

    1. Janet – I didn’t twist the PISA results I simply reported them. That is something which PISA, and many others, seem reluctant to do because the results don’t fit with how they would like teachers to teacher and what they would like curriculums to be about ie jobs of the future. Alas, ideology at work.

      You claim above that enquiry-based learning lead to deeper understanding. Where was this data and can you link to it please? Again, more enquiry led to poorer results on the latest PISA tests so how could it have simultaneously led to deeper understanding?

      As for the question of stronger epistemic beliefs I would argue that it is more important that you ARE good at something than that you believe yourself to be good a something.

      1. In addition Janet – I don’t think education should be guided by a body whose idea is so narrow and utilitarian. I think education is so much more than preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist yet. I don’t even buy into the jobs that don’t exist yet, argument. I think education is more about furnishing/nourishing the mind.

        It seems to me that the version of education promoted by PISA have a very conservative bent ie economics and jobs. That’s why I don’t support PISA. Nevertheless, the results from the tests can be illuminating. It is especially interesting that if the results contradict the preferred method/curriculum then these results are under-reported and no one wants to talk about them.

        You can bet your bottom dollar that if enquiry-learning had been proven to be better than direct instruction there would have been endless articles/blog posts etc written about it and PISA would have been shouting it from the roof tops.

      2. Tempe – the evidence is the PISA analysis I referred to above. http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/education/pisa-2015-results-volume-ii_9789264267510-en# (p71) You say you simply ‘reported’ the results. But you can’t just report one result without looking at another. The graph on p 78 shows the effect of enquiry-based learning on results, epistemic beliefs and pupils’ expectations that they will enter a science-related job.

        It is quite easy to raise raw results without developing understanding. It’s called teaching to the test. I’m not claiming that’s the case with PISA (I’ve no evidence) but it’s the case in England where universities have complained many undergrads don’t have the understanding or analytical skills needed for university study. They blamed spoon-feeding of pupils at A level.

        I agree with your statement below that ‘education is more about furnishing/nourishing the mind.’ That’s why people (not just young people but life-long learners) need both access to knowledge and the skills to do something with that knowledge. It isn’t a question of either/or as I argue here in an open letter to England’s school minister Nick Gibb http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2017/02/its-not-direct-teaching-v-enquiry-based-learning-mr-gibb-its-both

        You’re also right that education systems shouldn’t be driven solely by PISA. The results can be illuminating but shouldn’t be the sole arbiter of a country’s education quality. But that’s what happened here in England. In 2010 the then education secretary Michael Gove ignored a warning from the OECD not to use the UK results from 2000 to compare with those from 2010 because the former had been found to be flawed after initial publication. But Gove ignored this and said the UK had plummeted down PISA tables in ten years. He used this to justify his wide-ranging changes to the English education system. In 2012, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) eventually censured the use of these results by the Department for Education. But by then it was too late – the myth had taken hold. Our schools minister Nick Gibb repeated the misleading info in the UK Parliament in 2016 (note: after UKSA’s reprimand). He claimed he’d done so ‘inadvertently’ after UKSA intervened. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2016/08/exclusive-schools-minister-inadvertently-gave-faulty-data-to-mps-dfe-says

  9. “It would seem, that for the majority that being named turned out to be a very good thing indeed.” I beg to disagree. Most of them appear to have ended up in horrific jobs, at revolving door organisations, working with creeps, toadies and sociopaths.

  10. Janet – page 75 refers to beliefs about your abilities. I answered you on this question . Beliefs about your abilities are one thing but actually being good at science is, in my opinion, more important. Page 71 refers to enquiry-based learning and the poor outcomes. Did yo read that and if so what did you think of those results? Again, I sense an attempt to “look the other way” with results that many people in ed. are not comfortable with.

    Also, I wouldn’t ignore PISA results just because I don’t agree with their vision of ed.. I think the tests are an indicator of how well a system is functioning. If they have been falling over a number of years then there is good reason to assess what you’ve been doing and address.

  11. I forgot to say that it looked, from that graph on pg. 75, like there wasn’t much difference in epistemic beliefs and enquiry or teacher-led instruction.

  12. Lastly, I can see nothing in the data that supports your statement that enquiry-learning leads to deeper understanding as you stated above. In your letter you have accused Minister Gibbs of omitting vital information to suit his purposes. It is important to seek the truth and not ignore good evidence even if it challenges us . Note how even PISA says in it’s report that they were surprised how those kids in more heavily enquiry-based class rooms had poorer outcomes to those in teacher-directed. In addition, the more the enquiry the worse the results. I’m wondering what you think of that data. I would think that it would be quite revelatory for educators but they remain strangely silent on it

    I think that PFT did find for DI. But what is most vital to me in the current climate in Aust. is the lack of specified knowledge in our curriculum leading to a skills-based curriculum that is really, really boring, the very poor choices of lit. & poems (an attempt to engage I think rather than focus on quality) and the relentless focus on wellbeing. At least in England you have a choice. I can not send my children to a knowledge-led school even though I feel very strongly that this is the best kind of education.

  13. The swiftness with which these comments turned into the tired old polarities and cherry-picking of evidence shows how tribal education – not just in the UK – has become. Tempe, your final, evidence-free comment can’t be left unchallenged. I work in Australian schools regularly, and there are tons of knowledge-led schools for parents to choose from. The overwhelming pattern, globally, is for greater diversity in the range of pedagogical approaches on offer. This has meant that it’s now considerably easier for parents to choose which approach best suits the needs of their child. Why folks would want to eliminate that choice, by asserting that there is only one true way, is beyond me.

    1. David – I agree that teachers should be able to use a wide range of pedagogical approaches. I’m not either direct instruction or enquiry led. I want teachers to be able to use whatever approach is suitable for particular pupils depending on context. I’m a retired teacher and used both direct instruction or enquiry-led teaching when appropriate. But here in England we have a schools minister who has never taught telling teachers how and what to teach. This is dangerous and I would be equally angry if a schools minister promoted only enquiry-led teaching and cherry-picked ‘evidence’ accordingly.

      But whenever I say this it’s assumed that I am anti-knowledge (hence the exchange above which, as you imply, becomes progressively tedious). But I’m a strong believer education is about encouraging pupils to know, do and understand. Knowledge alone isn’t enough – it needs to be analysed, distilled, used. On the other hand, experience alone isn’t enough – it needs to be articulated.

  14. David – If this is true would you mind sharing with me the names of these schools which are knowledge-led. I live in Brisbane and all I ever see mentioned by schools/ in brochures/at information nights is inquiry, skills, and authentic learning for the 21st C.

    If there truly are knowledge schools as there are in England (where the curriculum is very focused on content/facts/memorisation and outstanding lit. etc) I would sincerely like to know where they are and which ones they are. Thanks

  15. I guess David either isn’t following this blog or his claims that Aust. has knowledge-led schools is not correct. Shame he hasn’t responded because I was excited for a minute that there actually might be some in Aust.

    1. He’s organising a major educational conference for tomorrow, launching a new book and has just returned from the US where he’s been working with schools so I imagine he’s not yet had time to check back in with this thread. I’m sure when he gets a moment, he will.

  16. Yet just a few days ago he had the time to come to this blog and say everything I said was incorrect without, interestingly,naming a single school in Aust. that is knowledge-led. Never mind. I’m pretty sure I’m right on this score.

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