Tag Archives: education history

Quintin HoggTwice-Education Secretary Quintin Hogg died in 2001, however his words on ‘twitter’ are remarkably apt to today’s political context.

In his 1975 autobiography he wrote the following about his time as leader of the Conservative election strategy:

“Some of the makers of opinion are beyond reach, because they are on the other side. But before an election even these can be pressed into service. They can be made to take notice, to twitter with rage and scream in derision and, if they can be made to twitter and scream at the right things, or, rather from their point of view, at the wrong things, powerful allies can be wheeled into support from sources normally neutral, or, occasionally, even unfriendly

Two things are remarkable about this quote. One: if you put a capital letter on the word ‘twitter’ it would make absolute sense in the context of today’s social media use. And, two: this tool has been an absolute mainstay of Gove’s time in office. He has been unbelievably canny in using soundbites to start a twitter storm of opponents shouting out against things they would otherwise normally be more sensible about, or pushing them to be more extreme in their reactions and hence framing themselves as unreasonable.

It’s a good trick, but it’s an old one. And it’s one worth bearing in mind as we head further into party conference season.

While reading all the Education Secretary biographies I’m also thinking about ways to ‘measure’ their greatness. One academic working on a similar question is David G. Winter, a political psychology professor at the University of Michigan. Winter studies the personalities of US Presidents (in particular) and investigates whether certain personality types are more or less likely to become ‘great’ Presidents.

One of his early works “The Power Motive” (1973) argues that politicians have three main motives:

  • Affiliation – Wants to belong, be liked, favours collaboration over competition
  • Achievement – Wants to set and achieve stated goals, want to be ‘the first person’ to do something, thrive on overcoming difficult problems
  • Power – Wants to control and influence others, win arguments, gain status, enjoys competition and ‘winning’

By looking at the things President’s have said during ‘off-the-cuff’ interviews or speeches (and daily schedules of activities), Winter found that Presidents with a high “power” motive are mostly like to be rated rated as “great” by historians. Winter theorises that ‘Power’ people are more likely to be ‘great’ because they enjoy the feeling of being in charge so much that they even enjoy its downsides. Conversely, achievement and affiliation seekers become frustrated by the impossibility of achieving every goal or of being liked by everyone and therefore become disllusioned, withdrawn and leave their role earlier.

Could this explain Education Secretaries?

Ellen WilkinsonEllen Wilkinson – For much of Ellen’s life she appears to have held a ‘power’ motive however when selected as Minister, she appears to have gone into achievement overdrive absolutely obsessed with the implementation of the ‘Raising of the School Age’ and becoming very despondent when faced with difficulties. Several historians have argued this lack of ability to achieve what she wanted contributed to her untimely death while still in office.

Estelle MorrisEstelle Morris – Appears to be a classic example of affiliation. In her first interview after resignation she explained how she did not want togrow  “a thicker skin” to deal with the fact that people no longer liked her. Instead, she left the role.

Indeed, people often think that affiliation is the ‘nice’ motive – but the prickliness and defensiveness that comes when their motivation is shaken is not fun to work with.

Michael Gove

Michael Gove – So far Gove appears to be a classic “power” lover, perhaps most clearly revealed when recently questioned at an Education Select Committee about glitches in his policies he nonchalantly replied: “Coherence comes at the end of the process”. To think that whatever one does is inevitably going to come good suggests the motive is not meeting a clear goal, nor of being liked,  which leaves only one other choice!

This is only the start of my thinking about this issue, but it’s certainly an interesting thought. What has motivated past Education Secretaries? And does it matter?

Starting on July 9th 2013 and continuing for as long as it takes I am reading the autobiographies of every ex-Education Secretary of State since 1944. I’ll be blogging excerpts & thoughts as I go.

My driving question: Who was the greatest Education Secretary of all time, and why? (With a secondary aim of better understanding the people in this role. After all, teachers complain politicians don’t understand them, but teachers should also understand politicians).

The first book is Rab Butler’s “The Art Of The Possible” (yes, I know he wasn’t technically a Secretary of State).

Between 1944 and 1964, Education was only a Ministerial position. From 1964 it changed into a ‘Secretary of State’ role. Prior to 1944, the role was fulfilled by the President of the Board of Education. Rab Butler transferred from one position to the other, and he will be my starting point.

Jul 41 May 45 Rab Butler Conservative
May 45 Jul 45 Richard Law Conservative
May 45 Feb 47 Ellen Wilkinson Labour
Feb 47 Nov 51 George Tomlinson Labour
Nov 51 Oct 54 Florence Horsburgh Labour
Oct 54 Jan 57 David Eccles Conservative
Jan 57 Sep 57 Viscount Hailsham Conservative
Sep 57 Oct 59 Geoffrey Lloyd Conservative
Oct 59 July 62 David Eccles Conservative
July 62 Mar 64 Edward Boyle Conservative
Apr 64 Oct 64 Quintin Hogg Conservative
Oct 64 Jan 65 Michael Stewart Labour
Jan 65 Aug 67 Anthony Crosland Labour
Aug 67 Apr 68 Patrick Walker Labour
Apr 68 Jun 70 Edward Short Labour
Jun 70  Mar 74 Margaret Thatcher Conservative
Mar 74 Jun 75 Reginald Prentice Labour
Jun 75 Sep 76 Fred Mulley Labour
Sep 76 May 79 Shirley Williams Labour
May 79 Sep 81 Mark Carlisle Conservative
Sep 81 May 86 Keith Joseph Conservative
May 86 Jul 89 Kenneth Baker Conservative
Jul 89 Nov 90 John McGregor Conservative
Nov 90 Apr 92 Ken Clarke Conservative
Apr 92 Jul 94 John Patten Conservative
July 94 May 97 Gillian Shephard Conservative
May 97 Jun 01 David Blunkett Labour
Jun 01 Oct 02 Estelle Morris Labour
Oct 02 Dec 04 Charles Clarke Labour
Dec 04 May 06 Ruth Kelly Labour
May 06 Jun 07 Alan Johnson Labour
Jun 07 May 10 Ed Balls Labour
May 10 Michael Gove Con
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