Michael Gove: 'I was beaten at school for rudeness'

Saturday 22 October 2011 22:00

Education Secretary Michael Gove today revealed that he was beaten with a leather tawse while a schoolboy in Scotland, for "cheek, insubordination and sheer rudeness towards staff".

But Mr Gove made clear he had no intention of allowing a return of corporal punishment in schools, insisting: "We are definitely better off for the fact that we no longer beat children."

Looking back to his time as a secondary schoolboy at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, Mr Gove hailed his former English teacher Mike Duncan as "a man who changed my life" because of his passion for literature and his ability to inspire pupils.

He said that the current generation of teachers was "probably the best ever" and added he wanted to free them from bureaucracy and central direction so that they could follow Mr Duncan's example and instil children with a love of learning. And he refused to follow some predecessors as Education Secretary by estimating the proportion of teachers he believed were not up to the job.

Speaking at a fringe meeting sponsored by the Telegraph Media Group at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, Mr Gove voiced his backing for actress Emma Thompson's call for children to be encourage to speak and write correct English.

"She talked about going back to her old school and all the girls were saying 'Innit?' and 'Whatever' and 'Am I bovvered?', said the Education Secretary.

"Well, I am bovvered by the fact that our English language, our birthright, the language that Shakespeare used, is not being passed on to the next generation in all its beauty and its clarity."

Asked if he had ever endured corporal punishment at school, Mr Gove said: "I was beaten. In Scotland they tended not to use canes, they had a tawse - which was basically a leather belt - and I was belted on the hand a couple of times, mainly for cheek, insubordination and sheer rudeness towards the staff."

When interviewer Peter Oborne asked whether corporal punishment had done him good, he answered: "I was a cheeky beggar when I was at school so I probably needed taking in hand, but I don't think we should hit children, myself.

"I went to secondary school from 1979-85. Margaret Thatcher only got rid of corporal punishment in schools in 1986. I don't know whether she had a particular downer on me.

"My own view is that there are lots of things we can look back on with nostalgia, but on the whole we are definitely better off for the fact that we no longer beat children."

Mr Gove named Mr Duncan as "my favourite teacher", adding: "He was an amazing man... the person who really made a difference."

Having come from a state primary to a direct grant school which attracted many of the most gifted children in Aberdeen, Mr Gove found he had gone from being one of the brightest in his year to being surrounded by pupils who he thought smarter than him.

"Mike Duncan, both because of the way he taught and his passion for English literature, lit a spark," he remembered.

"He was a traditional Scots teacher - the education equivalent of Dr Finlay in Dr Finlay's Casebook. He went into teaching because he wanted to communicate the same love of literature to the next generation that had been kindled in him when he was a boy at school.

"When he taught us about the authors he loved - Lewis Grassic Gibbon or Jane Austen - you never wanted the lessons to end, because you were in the presence of someone who felt his life had been transformed by communing with some of the great minds of the past and he wanted you to join the party."

Mr Gove today said he wanted schoolchildren to study authors like Austen, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. But he declined to say which modern writers he would take off the curriculum, saying it was "not for me to single out names".

While Mr Gove has always remembered his old English teacher, it is clear that Mr Duncan too did not forget his former pupil.

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement when Mr Gove took charge of schools in the coalition Government in May, Mr Duncan said: "I am not terribly surprised he has reached the position that he has... At the time I knew that whatever he turned his hand to he would be successful."

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