Gove defends ‘Mr Men’ speech: ‘I have every right’

Michael Gove has insisted he has the right to force children away from popular books like Twilight in the search for "higher standards".

The education secretary's comments follow a controversial speech last Thursday in which teachers were attacked for inviting pupils to compare major figures from Nazism with Mr Men characters.

Gove, who is seeking to push through fundamental reforms of the national curriculum, said he wanted to take on the "lowest common denominator" approach he claimed is now endemic across the country.

"I have every right to argue we should have higher standards," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"I personally believe that if children are reading anything that's a good thing. But we shouldn't settle for children reading fiction merely that's assumed to be accessible for them today or easy to access. We should demand high standards of every child."

Gove's speech met with a torrent of abuse from teachers who accused him of interfering in teaching methods which seek to engage GCSE pupils' interest.

"One of the problems we've had in the past is the assumption that books like Middlemarch or plays by Shakespeare or poets like Keats or Wordsworth are only ever accessible to a minority, to a gilded elite. I think that's wrong," Gove added.

"One of the problems we've had in the past is a dumbed-down curriculum assumes that children can only be treated as infants even to the age of 15 or 16, when what I want to do is prepare them for the adult world by introducing them to greatness."

Gove pointed out in the interview that he has come a long way, identifying himself with the "children from humble homes" he hopes will grow to love great literature.

He demonstrated the impact they had had on his approach to speechifying by declaring at one stage last Thursday that he would "abjure such Ciceronian rhetorical tricks".

Coalition politics brought into the open

Gove also used the interview to call for coalition talks with Nick Clegg over childcare, after the deputy prime minister threatened to veto his department's proposals last week.

Education minister Liz Truss was hauled before the Commons on Thursday morning after Clegg raised question-marks about his support for the policy of increasing staff-child ratios.

"If there needs to be an adjustment here or there to make sure it works for everyone, we'll consider that," Gove offered.

He blamed Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Oakeshott's campaign from the Lords to destabilise Clegg's leadership in favour of his friend Vince Cable for the DPM's behaviour.

"Nick has to show a bit of leg on these issues. But we've seen these issues resolve in the past," the education secretary added.