The English Education Minister, Michael Gove, is no stranger to controversy.
This has tended to focus around his proposed curriculum and qualifications reforms at GCSE and A-level, as well as the expansion of state-funded independent schools, about which there has been considerable debate.
On Friday he was engaging directly, broadcast live and online, with head teachers and college principals at the annual conference of the Association for School and College Leaders. He was asked what was special about that day and replied that it was the Ides of March, made famous by the murder of Julius Caesar when dictator of Rome. The minister had immediately leapt back to a classical period in history, rather than pick up on the popularity of what was also Red Nose Day. He is an education traditionalist and anti-progressive at heart, which he fully acknowledges, and he follows in a long line of Conservative education ministers including no less than the ‘Iron Lady’. Perhaps like Caesar he had also dreamt of an impending assault by heads?
The minister was subsequently asked a question from the floor about his support for international education partnerships in Africa and other parts of the developing world. In his reply he noted that the (since deceased) Ghanaian independence campaigner Kwame Nkrumah featured in the latest draft National Curriculum. Curious that he knew this precise detail within a very lengthy document – perhaps he did c0-write the history content after all, as has been suggested by some commentators?
Mr Gove certainly has his own views about history which you can hear in a speech followed by Q&A at a conference about the history of (history) education. He is in favour of 16 year olds knowing intellectually challenging English philosophical and political history from the Magna Carta through to the Great Reform Bill, because this provides the essential skills that he feels all (global?) citizens require in order to fully exercise their role in society. But then, perhaps in moment of parental weakness, he has admitted that his own children enjoy the less rigorous ‘Horrible Histories’ in book and TV format.
In terms of his broader educational reforms, will the minister follow his oft proclaimed liberal instincts, including vigorously defending freedom of thought and expression, as exemplified in his ideal history curriculum and his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry?
Will he therefore allow school and college leaders to engage closely with his proposals and will he really listen to what they have to say?
Is it loudness and elegance of argument he is after, or is he prepared to heed to those with quieter, more nuanced views?