I was the author who asked you a question at a meeting last week, about school libraries. Why is it, I asked, that an Education Secretary who cares about literacy, who has spoken just now about the power of literature, is allowing school libraries to replace books with computers, school librarians to be sacked or replaced by unqualified staff, and School Library Services to close down?
Your answer was interesting. Yes, you care about reading, you want to see children challenged to read 50 books every year, you want to establish reading cultures in schools. Yes, you are concerned about the closure of the School Library Services. But you reject the idea of making it a statutory duty for schools to have a library. In small primaries that would effectively mean a corner with a few shelves of books, you said. In your lengthy answer, you didn't mention the word 'librarian' once. Not once.
I didn't get a chance to answer you there and then. People were fighting for the microphone. But this is what I would have said.
- Only very rarely do teachers take the lead in creating a reading culture in secondary schools.This is because the national curriculum has nothing much to say about reading widely or reading for pleasure. If you want teachers to become more involved in reading then you must require children to write book reviews. Take a look at the CSE curriculum from the 1970s which had a long reading list for candidates.
- If children are to be challenged to read 50 books a year, where are they to get the books from if there is no library in their school and the public library has closed down.
- a corner with some books on a shelf is better than nothing, particularly when the public library has closed down and so has the School Library Service.
- British librarians are doing a great deal already to create reading cultures, and their work needs to be celebrated, funded and supported, not ignored and attacked. You say you want to see more author visits to schools - how about a ring-fenced budget so that librarians can make that happen?
I would have been more impressed with you, Mr Gove, if you had seemed to understand the system that you rule over. Instead, throwaway references to Biology GCSE (nowadays kids in state schools do Double or Triple Science) and Technical Drawing (did you perhaps mean Design and Technology?) gave the impression that you were stuck in the past. Telling a student that you don't care about exam stress, when she's quoted figures proving that the current system is giving teenagers mental health problems, is not impressive. And suggesting that exams, which test mainly speed and memory, are the only way to filter candidates for jobs, is just ignorant.
I am a journalist, Mr Gove, and so are you. I would love to edit your columns, you have a nice turn of phrase, you can argue well. I'd go as far as to say you'd make a great newspaper editor. But writing opinion columns is not a great qualification for power. I hope you move on very soon.