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.




On Teaching Apprenticeships

I was raised in Burnley. Apart from my teachers, I didn’t know anyone who had ever been to University. I didn’t even go to Manchester until I was 17 and that was just for a shopping trip. Apart from family holidays and day trips in fact, I’d never stepped outside my small town. Books were my way into another world.

Yet somehow, the idea of University had taken hold in our family. My Dad spoke of it for as long as I could remember. I was going to be the first. His daughter was going to go to University. I remember knowing I was going before I even knew what it was. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have even heard of it. My Mum, who’d left school at 14 to work in the mill repeatedly said “Get an education. Don’t be like me!”

In my secondary school, only six of us went on to do A Levels. Others took vocational courses at college or went on to YTS (Youth Training Schemes). Many have grown up to have successful jobs in lots of different areas. They’re happy. I’m not writing to diminish their choices. Professions and further study didn’t interest them.

By the time I was 18, I was wavering. Did I want to go? I went through the UCAS process reluctantly. I was scared. Not sure about what it would entail. I’d talk to some of my teachers. They assured me it was great – a chance to grow, mature, see wonderful things. The cities I applied to were largely based on their own experiences of London, Cardiff, Hull, Birmingham… My Dad dutifully drove me around the country and I settled on London. There were squirrels in the garden.

I didn’t study hard at Uni. I was one of those irritating people who could churn out an essay quickly and do well. But I read a lot. And I got involved in politics. I marched and campaigned, attended NUS conferences, learned to speak up and out. I would walk from West Hampstead into town, right down to the river, stopping at Regents Park, The British Museum, passing through the National Gallery. I remember some days, standing, looking at the history of it all and welling up. Debbie, from Burnley – here. The walk would take me all day. I’d sit by the river in one of the greatest capital cities in the world and read my book. On hot, sunny days, after a dip in the Hampstead Ponds, I’d sit under a tree, reading Austen, Hardy, Jackie Collins… whatever. And I’d feel joyful.

I learned to love. I learned to lose. When my boyfriend beat me black and blue, I was able to put 200 miles between him and me. And go home to Lancashire. And I was a different person. I decided I wanted to teach. I wanted others to have what I had.

Over the past 25 or so years, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve talked to pupils about University life or about what London is like. Or other places. Because once you get confidence in one city, you want to visit more. I’ve taken so many trips – kids who’d never stepped out of Oldham – walking them through London from Museum to the Royal Court Theatre with confidence and excitement. But also to Amsterdam, Paris, Prague, Warsaw and to concentration camps, museums, war graves, galleries, planetariums, theatres, forests, castles and gardens. Because I knew. I knew that every experience was growing their minds, stretching their view of what life could be…

I had a wobble when I was 18 about going to University. For a while, I tentatively talked to my Dad about maybe working instead. I was scared. I knew I could maybe train to be an accountant in his firm – perhaps take over from him. But my heart wasn’t in it. I knew he’d worked his way up from nothing – that having a child take over from him would make him (almost) as happy as having one who went to University. But I didn’t want to be an accountant.

I thought about other jobs. Had a teaching apprenticeship been available to me, I may well have taken it. I could have stayed there, with shopping trips to Manchester a regular treat. I’d probably have been happy. I may still have been a ‘good’ teacher – in terms of caring, being good at imparting knowledge, preparing kids for tests. But I’m not sure I’d have been in a position to offer to my students the world view that I now have. I’m not sure I’d have been me.