Think Like An Education Secretary: Gove and Morgan’s 2014 Reading List

Another Christmas Eve, another Education Secretary’s Reading List. Over the first months of the year I kept my usual notes of what Gove might be reading. And then he left us! Nightmare.

Nevertheless, do not fear, the reading list has been revised to account for Ms Morgan, our latest edu-leader. She hasn’t mentioned books all that much in her time in office. She’s been too busy talking about science and maths, but I’ve done my best to glean possible reads from her quiet determination not to say too much about anything.

So, here goes. My guesses for Gove and Morgan’s 2014 Top Reads:


1. Toby Young – How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

Back in 2010, Young was all over Gove like a snake on eggs. But this year, the tables appear to have turned and it seems Gove has been reading Young. The biggest tell was when, in a Newsnight interview, Gove said that outstanding teachers overwhelmingly supported his policies, but suggested that the bad ones didn’t. Within a week, he was removed from post. We can’t be certain the events are linked, but it offended many teachers, and going into a general election having upset about half a million people is not typically a good strategy for winning it.


2. Yong Zhao – Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China has the best (and worst) education system in the world

Watch Parliament with any regularity and you’ll come to believe that schools only teach three subjects: English, Maths and science. This past year, even English dropped from view. You’d also be forgiven for thinking there’s only one country in the world teaching its children anything, and that’s China. Hence, then-schools minister Liz Truss spent the first half of this year banging on about maths and china, sending people to look at maths in china, worrying about maths and china, and praising the implementation of Singapore Maths in schools. (Yes, I know Singapore isn’t China, but shhh…don’t ruin the political narrative about the mystical East). Shuffled off to Environment, Food and Rural affairs it was comforting to see Truss on the stage moaning about Chinese food imports, and arranging another trip.


3. Michael Dobbs – The House of Cards

The fiction book on which the UK and US dramas of the same name are based, tells the sordid tale of a government Chief Whip ruthlessly taking down people’s careers whilst in pursuit of power. If it doesn’t describe Michael Gove, (I’m keeping quiet on this point), it might at least explain why he was suddenly removed and replaced by a person unknown to the public with a brief to calm everyone down.


4. Joseph Siracusa – Diplomacy: A Very Short Introduction

No one ever congratulates a captain for going around a storm, but Morgan has clearly been told to be a steady hand and unless she’s hidden a penchant for rule-breaking thus far, it doesn’t look like she’s about to break rank any time soon. Her ship will be sticking to calm waters. Blair-esque in manner, she has shown a talent for speaking knowledgeably, for listening just enough, and for sticking to her guns and getting what she wants. No doubt these skills were honed during her time in legal practice, but I’ve a sneaky suspicion she’s been genning up on the finer points of political diplomacy also.


5. Carol Dweck – Mindset

Dweck’s idea is simple: children can self-limit their potential if they don’t believe their talents can grow. It’s not a particularly new to most in education. Yet, for some reason, in 2014, Mindset is the new AfL. And Nicky Morgan looks set to continue that trend with her relentless chat about resilience and character development. Look out for INSET training, handbooks and resources pack on offer throughout 2015. But grab them quickly. I predict the backlash will begin before we get to 2016.


6. Graham Allcot – How to be a productivity ninja

One of Morgan’s first moves was to ask teachers for their ideas on reducing workload. Suggestions poured in and by the end of November the Department for Education had 44,000* responses to plough through. These have now been speedily analysed and recommendations are due before the end of January. That turnaround time is even more impressive when one remembers that this year the DfE spent thousands on a tribunal to stop the release of information about free schools on the grounds that having civil servants plough through the paperwork it would produce was “too burdensome”. One can only presume they’ve since picked up some tips from Allco’s book, and that we can expect those free school apps imminently, right?


7. Nick Davies – Hack Attack: How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch 
Gove worked for the Times. He had meetings with Murdoch while in office. I’m willing to bet he read it after scouring the index for his name. (It’s there p.362-3).


Right, that brings us to a close for another year. It has been emotional, folks, and I suspect it is only going to get worse. Election year is upon us. Hold on to your seats.

And in the meantime, have a great Christmas.


*It’s actually ~20,000 once you take out all the people who didn’t answer anything, but THE NARRATIVE, people, Stop Ruining The Narrative.