Dumbing down, Minister? Michael Gove gets his educational facts from marketing surveys for Premier Inn and UKTV Gold

Education Secretary’s attack on lack of pupils’ knowledge not based on any academic research

They may provide comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price and broadcast some of the finest repeats on British television but few would consider either Premier Inn or UKTV Gold to be organisations on the cutting edge of educational research. Few that is except Education Secretary Michael Gove.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request by a retired teacher has left Mr Gove facing a torrent of criticism after it was revealed that he cited PR surveys commissioned by the two companies as evidence of British teenagers’ alleged ignorance of key historical figures and events.

In an article in the Mail on Sunday in March headlined “why I refuse to surrender to militant Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools” Mr Gove railed against the “enemies of promise” undermining the prospects of young people.

The minister, whose new plans for a fact-based history curriculum have outraged some teachers, wrote: “Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58 per cent think Sherlock Holmes was real.”

But Janet Downs, a member of the Local Schools Network, asked his department to reveal the evidence for the minister’s claim. It however could only identify the 2008 survey commissioned by UK TV Gold whose 3,000-strong sample included all age groups – not just teenagers.

Undeterred, the grandmother from Lincolnshire again asked civil servants to justify the assertion that “survey after survey” rather than a single source proved the point.

In its next reply, the Department for Education, which has previously been criticised for failing to respond to FoIs, cited a survey by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft which revealed gaps in secondary age pupils’ knowledge of the Second World War.

Yet it also emerged that Mr Gove had cribbed from a press-released survey carried on newspaper websites produced by hotel chain Premier Inn which claimed teenagers thought Sir Bruce Forsyth was a former British Prime Minister and Delia Smith was married to Henry VIII.

The three other sources used to support Mr Gove’s claims included a pamphlet by think tank Politeia, an article in London Mum’s Magazine and an article in the Daily Telegraph detailing a poll carried out by Sea Cadets.

Writing on her blog Mrs Downs, who has previously caught Mr Gove out on a number of claims including that Asian students worked harder than British pupils, said: “Gove says he is in favour of 'evidence-based' policies. However, it’s unclear what value there is in 'evidence' which includes surveys of dubious reliability – unless, of course, they’re chosen simply because they support Gove’s point of view.”

Mrs Downs, who taught English and business studies for 20 years in Lincolnshire, said she had first become "riled" with inaccurate comments made by Mr Gove in 2010.

"I think he has got an agenda to play down state education. It is demoralising to pupils and teachers.

"It shows a bit of disrespect for the public and the readers and the right wing press pick it up and run with it," she told The Independent.

Press releases cited by Gove

Premier Inn

“Teenagers believe Delia Smith, Jerry Hall and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall were among Henry VIII’s wives, research has revealed... Other clangers included thinking telly builder Nick Knowles built the pyramids and believing that William Shakespeare was the chairman of the BBC.”

Sea Cadets

“One in 20 children believe the Spanish Armada is a tapas-style cuisine, not the fleet of ships that sailed against the English. And one in six thought Raleigh was the brains behind the Chopper, not the adventurer responsible for bringing tobacco and potato back to our shores.”

Lord Ashcroft

“Children were shown pictures of various current and historical figures. All but a tiny handful recognised the Queen (and a stunning 97 per cent recognised Jedward). More than nine out of 10 identified Churchill the insurance dog – half as many again as correctly named Sir Winston Churchill (62 per cent).”

UKTV Gold

“Shame-faced Brits are increasingly confusing fact and fiction when it comes to historical knowledge... most people believe that fictional figures such as King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes and Eleanor Rigby really existed.”

More 'facts' debunked by Mrs Downs

Far Eastern education

In Far Eastern countries "school days are longer, school holidays are shorter.” Not according to OECD data.

Free schools

Department for Education claims Free schools are over-subscribed. In fact many "oversubscribed" free schools have free places.

Illiterate school leavers

Are 20% of school leavers functionally illiterate? Not according to ONS definitions.

Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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 General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London