A shock international comparison of educational attainment levels has shown that the UK is languishing in mid-table. Attainment among politicians, that is.
The first worrying evidence of this came when Boris Johnson, who last week made a point of how 16 per cent “of our species” have IQs under 85, failed to answer a brainteaser on LBC. No, Boris, “brown” is not the answer to “A man builds a house with four sides of rectangular construction each side with southern exposure. A bear comes along. What is the colour of the bear?” (It’s a polar bear because the house would have to be on the North Pole.)
Then Tristram Hunt complained that he had only received a copy of Michael Gove’s statement on the OECD figures “11 minutes” before he made it in the Commons. Come on, shadow Education Secretary, do you think a little thing like that would hold back a 15-year-old in South Korea?
Finally, Gove showed himself deficient in political history. He didn’t want a Royal Commission on the education system, because as “someone” had once said, “Royal Commissions take minutes and waste years”. Someone? Only Harold Wilson, Labour PM and four times election winner.
Gove may have been following the example of the man he today claimed as his model, Tony Blair, who rarely mentioned Wilson. Gove is addicted to taunting post-New Labour about Blair. He invited Labour’s Luciana Berger – “like me, a Blairite” – to condemn “the failed, leftist, National Union of Teachers orthodoxy.”
All told, not especially edifying. Hunt chided Gove for his “partisan approach” and was just as partisan back, accusing him of “throwing chum at his back-benchers”?. Hunt argued that the top rating of schools in Asia proved his point that you had to have qualified teachers; Gove countered that it showed head teachers had to have autonomy.
More tellingly, Hunt invited Gove to condemn the “unpleasant whiff of eugenics” in his potential leadership rival Boris Johnson’s lecture last week. Gove declined to do so, possibly confident that Boris was in enough trouble without any help from him.