Dear Mr. Gove,
I’d like to tell you a story, and it’s about my dad. My dad was the one that got away.
My dad was very stupid at school.
My dad was very stupid, and they told him he was stupid, and the tests told him he was stupid. They told him that he didn’t care because he was stupid; and he told them he didn’t care because he was stupid, and everyone was in agreement that my dad was stupid, and that he would never amount to anything. My dad’s dad, who was old, and sick, and had worked in a factory all his life until he got too old and sick to do it any more, did not think my dad was stupid, but he thought that the school knew best, probably. My dad’s mum was mostly only sad, and tired, and she shrugged and thought probably they knew best, and when they examined my dad (once, twice, three times) and every time he came out stupid, they said to him,
-Give up. School isn’t for people like you. University isn’t for people like you. Go and work in a factory. We are not for you. You cannot amount to more than you are.
And my dad did not. I have never asked my dad why not, but he did not.
And they examined him again, and he was a failure again, but less, this time, and then, because he was charming, and lucky, someone let him into university.
And at university, he did well. He did really, really well. And then he went to another university, and did really well there, too. And then a third. And once might be fluke, but three times is true, and it was true: he was not stupid. And from university he went to work, and he wore a suit every day, and rose up and up, and had four daughters, and he told them every day how clever they were, and how they would amount to anything they wanted to amount to, and he sent them all to schools where they were told every day how clever they were, how talented they were, and how they would succeed.
And we have.
My dad wore a suit every day until he could afford to not wear a suit every day, and now he sits on the patio looking at the sun on the hills, and people look up to him. We look up to him. Nobody thinks he is stupid, except himself.
My dad thinks he is stupid. My dad is the one who got away, and everybody looks up to him, and he has made something of himself. But the teachers, and parents, and a system that should have been designed to support him, they still follow him, saying you’re stupid, you’re stupid.
My dad is the example, the exemplar. He came from nothing; he is more than he was then, he is everything he was then, he is not stupid. They will tell you, look, it is the best way, to grow yourself just by your own efforts, and maybe it is. But what is not the best way- what isn’t right, what isn’t fair, what is totally, utterly unjust in every form- is that he should feel every day stupid, stupid because they told him that at school. That at eleven they said to him- you are stupid- and when someone you trust tells you at eleven- you are stupid- it is too hard to think that perhaps you might not be. And it never goes away.It even goes against the Conservative ethos- he does not feel he has earned the things he has earned, because he is stupid, they told him so. It does not go away.
It never goes away, even if you are the one that got away. That is what we have left, when we stopped having eleven-plusses. That is what we gave up, and that is what you want to bring back, Mr. Gove. All the ones who couldn’t fight at sixteen not to go into factories to go into factories; all the ones who fought told over and over you are stupid, knowing all their lives that someone deemed them less valuable. All the ones with parents who were too old and sick and sad and tired to work with them, to read with them, to tell them you will, you will succeed, you can be more than you are.
If I am ever more than I am, I will do it because of everything I have had given to me by my dad, who had nothing, and earned it, and wears the scars of earning it every bloody single bloody day, and doesn’t believe he deserves it, still, after all the years of working, and proving to everyone.
Mr. Gove- please don’t do this. Don’t sort children into stupid and non-stupid, because even the ones who succeed- even they will remember, and even they will be harmed.
Don’t do this, please.