The man is an absolute disaster. One might be tempted to advise him to pay less attention to the UK’s relationship with the European Union and more time focussed on his brief. The danger of that is he might actually do more damage given the opportunity.
The education secretary, Michael Gove, has come under fire for citing PR-commissioned opinion polls as evidence of teenagers’ ignorance of important historical events.
In a Mail on Sunday article published in March, Gove said: “Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58% think Sherlock Holmes was real.”
This prompted Janet Downs, who describes herself as a grandparent and retired teacher, to send a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department for Education asking for the evidence to support Gove’s claim.
Three weeks later, the department wrote back to say “unfortunately, I am not able to provide you with the details of the survey as it was commissioned and conducted by UKTV Gold”.
The survey, which dated from 2008 and had been written up by several newspapers, was released alongside a quote from the channel director saying it showed the strength of the UK’s fiction. The statistics on teenagers were a subgroup from a poll surveying all UK adults.
Downs then further challenged the department, asking why Gove’s article had referred to “survey after survey” if only one poll had been used.
After another four weeks, she received a response detailing “the other survey’s [sic] the secretary of state referred to”.
These included a poll commissioned by Premier Inn, which used its research to suggest historical ignorance was something that “can be rectified by visiting all the fantastic landmarks and places of interest the UK has to offer”, and an article in the London Mums magazine.
None of the pieces included links to the original research, and none of the articles cited stated whether the research was commissioned by professional polling companies, or met the standards of the British Polling Council.
The response to the FoI request also cited research commissioned by the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft and a poll commissioned by the Sea Cadets, though it linked to a newspaper writeup rather than the original research.
- We’re going on a Gove Hunt (gogwit.wordpress.com)
- “Michael Gove and ‘correct grammar’: let me explain this slowly” #dbpreads (dbpxhaust.wordpress.com)
- Gove v Rosen: grammar wars – the shoot off (schoolsimprovement.net)
- Michael Gove revealed to be using PR-commissioned puff-polls as “evidence” (newstatesman.com)