THE UK is suffering from a “bias against knowledge”, according to Michael Gove who has warned of a growing prejudice against education for the sake of learning.
The Education Secretary even defended “French lesbian poetry” against critics who dismiss the arts as “useless luxuries” and others who have railed against plans to raise the school leaving age and demand higher qualifications for teachers.
Mr Gove argued while it is important to study subjects that teach vital skills, it was also important to study for the sake of knowledge and learning.
He told the Independent Academies Association Conference in London: “I fear the anti-intellectual bias in our way of life has, at times, become a bias against knowledge and a suspicion of education as a good in itself.
“The bias against knowledge was displayed when MPs argued against raising the school leaving age, when trade unions argued against demanding higher qualifications for teachers and when teachers demanded that texts in literature classes be relevant rather than revelatory for their readers.
“This bias against knowledge manifested itself most recently when the otherwise saintly inventor Sir James Dyson had a crack at people who want to go to university to learn French lesbian poetry rather than applying themselves to matters technical.
“Having devoted as much of my department’s discretionary budget as possible to attracting more teachers into maths and science subjects, including computer science, I am certainly no enemy of equipping people with the skills required to master technology.
“But I am certainly an enemy of those who would deprecate the study of French lesbian poetry.
“Because the casual dismissal of poetry as though it were a useless luxury and its study a self-indulgence is a display of prejudice. It is another example of the bias against knowledge.”
Sir James had argued for a greater focus on technology so that “little Angelina wanting to go off to study French lesbian poetry will suddenly realise that things like keeping an aircraft industry, developing nuclear energy, high-speed trains, all these things are important”.
Mr Gove also told delegates that passing exams gave children a sense of satisfaction and happiness, though he warned easy exams were worse than no exams at all. His speech yesterday came after a former Government adviser warned the conference that parents and students had lost faith in the country’s exam system.
Sir Mike Tomlinson also dismissed suggestions of grade inflation in GCSEs, arguing instead that teaching had improved dramatically. He said: “It annoys me intensely that we don’t give credibility for that, and one of the consequences of that is young people working harder, with support from their schools, parents and communities, to achieve as high as possible.”
Sir Mike raised concerns about the Government’s plans to reform the education system, adding: “We should be starting not with qualifications and accountability, we should be starting with the curriculum in its fullest sense.”
Mr Gove’s department was also facing criticism from unions last night over plans to axe 1,000 jobs and halve the number of sites it uses to cut costs.