Sorry I was such a rebel, says Gove. Not a bit of it – you were a goody two-shoes, says his teacher

Education Secretary makes grovelling apology in letter, but mentor of 30 years ago remembers things differently

It is something that most of Britain's teachers could only dream about – receiving a written apology from Michael Gove.

But rather than expressing contrition over his controversial GCSE reforms or drive to create more free schools, the Education Secretary has apologised to his French teacher for misbehaving in lessons 30 years ago.

In an open letter to Daniel Montgomery, a teacher at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen where Mr Gove was educated, he claims he was one of a "cocksure crew of precociously assertive boys who recognised you were only a few years older – a rookie in the classroom – and therefore ripe for ragging."

He continues: "When I look back at the 15-year-old I was, lurking at the back of your French class... I cringe."

However, Mr Gove's former teacher – who is still teaching at the school – promptly wrote a glowing letter back to his former pupil, saying he in fact remembered him for his "sharp wit, strongly held beliefs, backed by apparently limitless general knowledge and keen debating skills, which resulted in the downfall of many opponents."

"I remember the words of one of my colleagues at the time: 'That boy is a future leader of the Conservative party'," Mr Montgomery added.

Mr Gove's mea culpa – in which he praises the profession and argues that "respect for teachers is growing" – was immediately greeted with derision by teachers' leaders.

"The Secretary of State's words are really welcome," said Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. "Isn't it a pity, therefore, that the once cocksure and precociously assertive boy of 15 who admits not treating his teacher with respect is repeating history, not with one teacher, but with 450,000 of them who feel deprofessionalised and hugely demoralised as a result of his policies?"

Adrian Prandle, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: "We are delighted that Mr Gove has finally realised that he is sometimes wrong and misguided in his views... [but] an apology in 30 years' time won't help today's pupils and will be far too late to undo the damage he is doing to education in this country. If he is going to write to all the teachers he has offended, he will have a full-time occupation for the next 10 years."

The Education Secretary's letter is published in today's Radio Times as his contribution to this year's Teaching Awards, which will be aired by BBC2 next Sunday. In it, he tells Mr Montgomery: "You were trying patiently, doggedly, good-humouredly, to broaden our horizons. You were, without any pretension or pomposity, attempting to coax a group of hormonal lads to look beyond familiar horizons and venture further... [yet] all we could do was compete to think of clever-dick questions to embarrass you and indulge in pathetic showing-off at your expense."

Referring to his former teacher as "Danny", the letter concludes: "It may be too late to say I'm sorry. But, as my mum told me, it's never too late to set the record straight. You were a great teacher – one of many who helped introduce me to the work of great thinkers and writers and thus gave me the greatest gift of all – the chance to write my own life story."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "I take this open letter as an apology to the profession... and a recognition that teachers do an amazing job."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Textiles / Fashion Technician

£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To contribute to the day-to-da...

Recruitment Genius: Health and Social Care NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It is also essential that you p...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'