Michael Gove held talks with 'IQ genes' professor

Meanwhile, Education Secretary's adviser is under fire for praising academic's controversial theory and saying free schools are at risk of 'fraud and disastrous teaching'

Michael Gove held talks with a leading scientist who believes that genetics, not teaching, plays a major part in the intelligence of schoolchildren, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Professor Robert Plomin, the world's leading behavioural geneticist, met the Secretary of State for Education and ministers at the Department for Education in the summer. Mr Gove's policy adviser, Dominic Cummings, provoked outcry yesterday when it emerged he had backed Professor Plomin's research that genes accounted for up to 70 per cent of a child's cognitive abilities. Mr Cummings, in a 250-page "private thesis", said the link between intelligence and genetics had been overlooked in the education system and wanted to introduce Professor Plomin to ministers to redress the balance.

A spokesman for Mr Gove refused to respond when asked three times whether the Education Secretary also believed intelligence was genetic. "Professor Plomin has given a few talks to different groups including ministers," the spokesman said.

"[He] suggested lots of different things, for example, that genetic research might allow us to help those with learning difficulties much earlier and more effectively."

Linking intelligence to genes has long been controversial, but Professor Plomin has conducted research showing up to 70 per cent heritability for reading and maths tests at age seven, nine and 12, while scores for English, Maths and science GCSEs show up to 60 per cent heritability in a twin study.

The research is contentious because ministers and educationalists have long believed that any child, from whatever background, can achieve the highest academic ability.

In his document, leaked to The Guardian, Mr Cummings cited at length research by Professor Plomin, including the studies showing up to 70 per cent of a child's performance is genetically derived. Mr Cummings said: "There is strong resistance across the political spectrum to accepting scientific evidence on genetics. Most of those that now dominate discussions on issues such as social mobility entirely ignore genetics and therefore their arguments are at best misleading and often worthless."

In the document, effectively a lengthy and detailed parting shot before he leaves the Department for Education at the end of this year, Mr Cummings also claimed that mediocrity is ubiquitous in education and criticised the amount of money the Labour government spent on Sure Start and other measures to improve social mobility, claiming billions had been spent "with no real gains". He added: "The education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre."

On Mr Gove's flagship policy, Mr Cummings said: "Some [free schools] will fail and have predictable disasters, from disastrous teaching to financial fraud. Supporters of charters and academies need to focus on how to get a regulatory system that deals promptly with failure and allows successful organisations to expand."

Mr Cummings finished writing the document titled "Some Thoughts on Education and Political Priorities" in August, but it was revealed only on Friday, days after it was announced that he was leaving. His admission on free schools comes at the height of a difficult period for Mr Gove over the policy.

Last week, Annaliese Briggs, the 27-year-old with no teaching experience who was appointed headteacher of a free school, Pimlico Academy primary, stood down. There is also controversy around the teaching and policies towards women at the Islamic free school Al Madinah, in Derby.

Mr Cummings leaves the department under a cloud, with complaints including accusations of bullying and intimidation of civil servants. There are also suspicions that he used an official Conservative Twitter account, @toryeducation, to mount personal attacks against critics and journalists. Mr Cummings has not denied contributing to the account.

The policy adviser also talked about wanting to "break down the barrier between private-state school", another idea which will be toxic to teaching unions.

"There is no doubt that many academies are badly run," he wrote, "and may, like regular state schools, have gamed the league-table system under huge pressure from Whitehall."

Kevin Brennan, the shadow schools minister, said: "His claim that most variation in performance is due to genetics rather than teaching quality will send a chill down the spine of every parent – we need to know if these views are shared by Michael Gove.

"It seems that the brains behind Gove's flagship Free Schools admits the policy will result in failing schools and criminality. It seems that Gove and his closest allies are willing to allow children's learning and the good name of our education system to be sacrificed in a reckless experiment."

Professor Plomin said last night: "After my talk at the DfE, Mr Gove asked some good questions, but I don't know if he agreed with the evidence presented on substantial genetic influence in individual differences among children in their educational achievement as measured by national curriculum scores, including GCSE scores."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee