Why is Simon Cowell rude? Does Tinie Tempah like eating kangaroo? The GCSE exam questions condemned by Gove

Trendy teaching methods have abandoned the tradition of imparting knowledge to allow children to chat about what they find interesting, Michael Gove claimed in a speech yesterday. This is from the Daily Mail

The Education Secretary attacked GCSE exam questions about why X-Factor guru Simon Cowell is rude and whether or not rapper Tinie Tempah likes eating kangaroo.

…In a major speech in central London, the senior Conservative said the work of good teachers was under attack on four fronts.

He dismissed the idea that teaching is a ‘depressing and demotivating activity’ in decline and the claim that teaching cannot make ‘any real difference’.

He also claimed teachers are under attack from people who think they cannot be trusted and need outsiders ‘at every turn to monitor, police and approve their activities’.

But he saved some of his most outspoken criticism for the ‘sidelining of the teacher from the activity of learning’.

Mr Gove went on: ‘Allied to these teaching methods which have nothing to do with passing on knowledge there has also been an emphasis on teachers having to put their own learning aside so that work is ‘relevant’ to the students.

‘This has resulted in the dumbing of educational material down to the level of the child – with GCSE English papers that ask students about Tinie Tempah, or Simon Cowell – rather than encouraging the child to thirst after the knowledge of the teacher.’

In an English language GCSE exam in 2011, students were asked to read an extract from Cowell’s autogibraphy and an article from Hello! magazine before asking answering questions about the media mogul.

The questions set by the WJEC/CBAC exam board, included: ‘Simon Cowell admits he’s rude. What explanations does he give for his behaviour?’

In another test, set by the AQA exam board, pupils had to read an interview with rapper Tinie Tempah about his favourite food from The Guardian.

Asked to ‘list four things you learn about Tinie Tempah from the article’, markers were told to award points for answers including ‘he works in the music business’ and ‘he didn’t like eating kangaroo’.

Mr Gove called for teachers who ‘actively pass on knowledge’, instead of leaving children to their own devices.

‘Children naturally learn to talk; they do not naturally learn to read, or to play the violin, or to carry out long division,’ he said.

Mr Gove said: ‘It’s the belief that education should not be an activity in which the teacher imparts knowledge to the child but a pursuit – by the child – of what it finds interesting.’

Educational thinkers have repeatedly argued that the importance of teaching should be downgraded, he claimed with classrooms reorganised to reduce the teacher’s central role.

‘All too often, we’ve seen an over-emphasis on group work – in practice, children chatting to each other – in the belief that is a more productive way to acquire knowledge than attending to an expert.

‘Some schools have been pressured to fit in with prevailing doctrines, even against their own instincts.

‘Some nurseries and schools in Kent, for example, reported to us that they were told to remove tables and chairs from their classrooms.’

Teachers were also told not to keep children sitting still for longer than one minute for every year of their lives, even if listening to a story.

Children could not be allowed to tidy up, or be asked to put their coats on, in case it interrupted ‘child-initiated play’, Mr Gove claimed.

Where teaching is marginalised, inappropriate fun activities are used in place of proper learning, the minister suggested.

He pointed to a string of examples collected by teacher Matthew Hunter, who uses a blog a series to chronicle ‘intellectually impoverished’ schools and the content of history lessons aimed at 11 to 16-year-olds.

More at:  Why is Simon Cowell rude? Does Tinie Tempah like eating kangaroo? The absurd GCSE exam questions condemned by Gove

You can view Matthew Hunter’s blog at: goodbyemisterhunter

Your thoughts on Michael Gove’s comments about what he calls trendy teaching methods? Do you agree with him that some of the approaches he mentioned  have moved too far from the idea of teachers imparting knowledge to students or is he missing the point? Please share your reactions in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Teaching.


  1. OllyFurnival

    SchoolsImprove Surely the skill being assessed in the question was more important that the subject of the article? Can`t #Gove see that?

  2. Trisha_the_doc

    SchoolsImprove I’d have thought the subject is less important than the ability of the teacher/examiner to analyse the language used?

  3. Janet2

    Another string of Gove anecdotes about what “some schools” have allegedly been told to do is publicised uncriticially (and one expects with glee) by the Daily Mail.  It was in the Mail that Gove claimed that “survey after survey” showed that teenagers were ignorant of history.  These surveys turned out to be from such intellectual heavyweights as UKTVGold and Premier Inn.
    And the GCSE questions weren’t absurd – they were checking comprehension.  The fact that they were using contemporary newspaper articles about celebrities is immaterial.

  4. StephenBrain

    SchoolsImprove. It strikes me that Gove has not cited any research in his criticism of ‘trendy’ teaching methods.

  5. oldandrewuk

    OllyFurnival SchoolsImprove The idea that generic academic skills, independent of content, exist has been widely discredited.

  6. hecharden

    OllyFurnival SchoolsImprove In general it is the question that is key. A popular context does not necessarily equate with trivialisation.

  7. hecharden

    OllyFurnival SchoolsImprove You can create a trivial question about facts or a challenging one on an engaging context ( or vice versa)

  8. artmadnana

    SchoolsImprove most academics would see the value in these contemporary questions producing lively debate. Young people would love answer.

  9. OllyFurnival

    hecharden SchoolsImprove I agree, pity #Gove is short sighted and looking for trouble. Might as well have the Daily Mail running schools

  10. OllyFurnival

    oldandrewuk SchoolsImprove They were basic comp qu`s. The subject of the articles are not important but the skill of finding the info.

  11. OllyFurnival

    oldandrewuk SchoolsImprove Depends what goal of qu is. Most subjects rely on comprehension skills yet we use for different reading topics.

  12. frankfarrell

    OllyFurnival oldandrewuk SchoolsImprove I think it was from The Guardian;sort of thing that anybody might read in everyday life

  13. frankfarrell

    OllyFurnival oldandrewuk SchoolsImprove which is the type of ‘broadsheet newspaper’ benchmark ED Hirsch suggests

  14. Cinderhills

    SchoolsImprove Oops. We used the Tinie Tempah paper on Friday to look at Unit 1 skills. There is an exam to pass, after all…

  15. obeeI

    OllyFurnival dew_walker hecharden SchoolsImprove OMG! don’t say that – some Tory outlanders will think, “Hey, what a great idea!”

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