An Open Letter to Michael Gove MP

Last Friday I had lunch with Michael Gove MP.  Well, not lunch in the sitting down at the same table and passing the butter sense, but a big networking lunch where the speaker was the Secretary of State for Education, the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP.  I’ve thought long and hard about posting about it, but with time to reflect, here’s my letter to him:

Dear Mr Gove

I attended the St Albans Chamber of Commerce Networking Lunch at which you were speaker.  I was there in both a business sense (I have my own business and was representing one of my key clients) and as a parent of two children of primary school age who have additional medical needs.

There were several points that you made that I completely agree with.   The culture of ‘instant gratification’ needs to end, employers need employees who can write and spell well, have a good grasp of maths and are prepared to, and want to learn.  Having a degree does not mean an automatic entitlement to a job, let alone respect in the workplace.  Businesses need resourceful, industrious and flexible candidates applying for jobs – as you said, they need ‘character’ and at the moment, this just isn’t happening.

I agree things need to change and appreciate that changing anything within the education system is incredibly hard because there will always be children in the midst of examinations.  There is no point for a really clean break but I do think that being able to give enough notice for a cohort to finish what they’ve started has to be a better plan than changing things mid-way through.  Change is important – in business if we were not monitoring our competition, our business strategy and our results and changing things accordingly we would be accused of stagnating.

The Education system seems to find change very difficult.  Schools operate at a far slower pace than businesses do – they are bogged down in bureaucracy, paperwork and boxes to tick.  Making sweeping changes quickly is not something schools ‘do’ and by implementing them as a Government policy very fast will alienate those who are, as you said, doing such an amazing job on the front line.

If you alienate those who are teaching the next generation of business men and women, the next generation of teachers, healthcare professionals and public servants, things cannot improve.  Changes need to be made in a consultative way, implemented with support and monitored to see the results.  If those results are not as they should be, you should analyse why and change accordingly – not try and ‘fix’ it with another massive set of changes.

Those that are truly affected by all these changes are the children that you are trying to educate.  To quote a much used phrase, “every child matters” – as a father yourself, you will, I hope, observed how every child is different.  Every child learns in their own unique way – you can prescribe the techniques that should be used for teaching but you must also allow teachers a degree of freedom to adapt that teaching to fit the children in their class.

My daughter, for example, is an auditory learner.  She finds visual processing difficult and she also has a medical condition that, amongst other things, affects her speech.  Synthetic phonics for her do not work.  She cannot say the sounds, she finds it difficult to remember the patterns of the letters and thus her writing and spelling are behind compared to her numeracy levels.    She was discharged from the Speech & Language Team saying that more work was needed but with the sub-text that they didn’t have the funding to keep working with her.

My daughter is bright, engaged at school and wants to learn.  She knows more about grammar than I was ever taught – that is a good thing.  But she doesn’t learn in the way that you want her to.  She’s not the only one either – some children are not able to learn and recite dates and times by rote.  I also don’t want someone in the workplace who learns like that – flexibility and adaptation are really important – there are few businesses who can teach what they do by rote.  Children need to investigate, discuss, understand, experiment with and draw conclusions – learning should be around the needs of the children, not what you believe businesses need.

Some people in business are visual learners, some auditory and some kinaesthetic.  Children learn in different ways too – especially those who have additional needs, be they educational, medical or social.   As much as you cannot prescribe one drug to cure all ills, you cannot prescribe one way of teaching and assessment to ‘cure’ the education system at the moment.

Please be assured that the NHS, Support Services and the Education System are not working well together to support children with additional needs.  Every parent of a child (or children) with additional needs is fighting a daily battle to get their children adequately supported in school.  I use the word ‘adequately’ because at the moment, the possibility of “well supported” seems impossible.  Teachers are working their hardest but there isn’t any joined up thinking.  Instead there is resentment, a “can’t do” attitude and an unending sense of frustration.  For some children their experience in school is tortuous – that start in life is not going to bring a positive impact in the work place over time.

I would urge you to bypass your advisers and to actually come and talk to some parents of real children in real schools.  Teachers as well – those who are teaching 30 children who all have their own unique needs and ways of being them.  Those, like those who teach my son, have to administer medication and have never had any input from the school nursing services to support them.  Those who support the children in mainstream school with autism, epilepsy and a myriad of conditions of which I suspect you will have never heard.

Ask them about learning styles, why child centred learning does have a vitally important role and watch as children enjoy hands on, kinaesthetic learning that stays in their memories.  Watch as a teacher tries to inspire children to learn and regurgitate dates and facts without understanding the importance of them – if indeed the importance was ever there.

Then, talk to employers about what they want their interns, school leavers, graduates and other staff to have in terms of their skill sets – their motivation, their ability to problem solve, to be flexible, ethical and responsible in the world of work.  Build your policies, curriculum and syllabi from there – encouraging every child to flourish in their own way – albeit with a solid grasp of the basics of life, but as them – not as a government formed information storage unit lacking the ability for independent thought.

Yours sincerely

Jenny Smith

Author of Cheetahs In My Shoes

Mother of 2 children with additional needs

Start Up Business Owner





  1. Mums do travel says

    This is all so true. My youngest has additional needs and I always feel like I’m hassling to get the support he needs. What really worries me though is the number of children like ours whose parents don’t hassle for them.

  2. Not a frumpy mum says

    Great post with some excellent insights. Cants agree enough with letting one cohort of students finish the course they started. My year 13 students had theirs jan exam session taken away from them but only discovered this half way through year 12.
    I really wish more consultation with parents and teachers was done before changes are brought in.

  3. Jo says

    Very well said… The system of health and education are miles apart. That someone can’t explain to a teacher that little bendy hands and body find sitting hard and writing even harder. That there just any joined up thinking around it all. That it time and time comes down to budgets…and too many people being in meetings!!!
    School was just too much for my son.
    I hope you send this to Mr Gove.

  4. Lisa Nichols says

    Oh don’t get me started about Learning Differences and every brain is different Jen. Bloody good job you put the frock on and went to Sopwell. They may have had to drag me off him (I know he means well but really ..) This is the 21st century. We have the technology, as they used to say in the 70’s series The Six Million Dollar Man! There have been so many advances in science to understand the brain and technology to stimulate every type of learner. What the hell is everyone waiting for? Completely agree scrum x

    • Jo says

      Lisa and Jenny
      Not only is every brain different but so is every “body”. My youngest is bendy from top to toe 9/9 on Beighton score.
      Writing is hard for my son. Thank goodness we live when we do. We recently bought him and his brother a tablet. We are mixing the old with the new. Traditional OT/physio to develop motor skills but why wear him out with writing when he can type on a tablet keyboard…
      Drives me crazy all this. These children work so much harder than their peers just being them.. Let us use what we can to help them reach their full potential.
      If there is a way we could add our signatures to your fab letter then I would love to.

      • Jenny; Cheetahs In My Shoes & Just Photos By Me says

        Jo – You can tweet him on @educationgovuk and forward it to your local MP. And please, just spread the word online, if you can highlight it to the blogging networks, the SEN networks, the hypermobility teams – anyone that would be brilliant. x

    • Jenny; Cheetahs In My Shoes & Just Photos By Me says

      This has already gone to Anne Main but if you’d like to forward it to her as well saying you weren’t able to go but wholeheartedly agree…?

  5. Anya from The Healer and Older Single Mum says

    I’d be surprised if he doesn’t offer you a job after such a wonderfully articulate, heartfelt and sincere letter, spelling everything out so perfectly, Jenny X

  6. MummyNeverSleeps says

    Totally echoing what Anya said, Jenny. Absolutely brilliant, concise and eloquent piece.

  7. Liz Burton says

    A brilliant letter Jenny. I hope he’s listening!

    As a mother of a child just entering into the education system it frightens me to talk to friends and family who are in the teaching profession and absolutely disillusioned with it all.

  8. downssideup says

    Hear bloomin’ hear Jenny. Brilliantly, intelligently and concisely put.
    From a Mum with a kinesthetic and visual learner daughter, you have hit the nail on the head.

  9. Jo says

    The more I read the more I realize that too much is being asked of children before they are developmentally ready especially as far as writing goes. So it becomes even harder for children like ours. Sadly the powers that be think it is great if children can write by 3 or 4 but they are not developmentally ready. Perhaps if more time was spent on developing gross, fine and pre writing skills in the early years instead of the nappy curriculum then there would be less struggles for children.
    I am so disillusioned by the school system and its adverse affect on children needing a little extra.


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