Friday 4 April 2014

Gove and Wilshaw go on a Bear Hunt - with rigour and structure

Department for Education

Room 405

Michael Wilshaw walks in.

Michael Gove is seated at his desk.

Gove is shuffling through papers to do with the Kings Science Academy in Bradford. It’s clear that he’s been doing this for several hours now.

Gove: (looking up) I’d prefer it if you knocked.

Wilshaw: I’m sure you do.

Gove: So?

Wilshaw: I thought we ought to run through a few things to do with under-fives strategy.

Gove: Oh that.

Wilshaw: I think we need to flesh out some of the small print.

Gove: What? Now?

Wilshaw: (ignoring) I want to go public on a lesson plan I have in mind. The press have picked up the story very nicely, but we’re weak on detail.

Gove: Good, keep coming.

Wilshaw: So, what we’ve done is take a classic wishy-washy enemies-of-promise way of doing under-fives work and toughen the whole thing up with rigour.

Gove: Remember, I do the ‘rigour’ thing. You can do ‘structure’. I do ‘enemies of promise’. You do ‘lost generation’.

Wilshaw: I had no idea it was a bloody demarcation matter.

Gove: It is.

Wilshaw: OK, have your ‘rigour’. Now let me get on.

Gove: Shoot.

Wilshaw: ‘Bear Hunt’ - do you know it?

Gove: Unfortunately, yes.

Wilshaw: Now the way your enemies of promise do ‘Bear Hunt’ in nurseries and playgroups, I gather from my informants - sorry - inspectors - is that the children chant the bloody thing whilst wandering all over the place sometimes doing the words in the books, sometimes making up their own nonsense, getting their hands messy, climbing all over bits of apparatus or some old junk that they’ve made.

Gove: Really? That is pretty hopeless.

Wilshaw: Worse. So, this is my plan.

Gove: Are you going to take me through this now, I am busy, you know, I’ve got the whole bloody Ecat mess to sort out.

Wilshaw: But you’ve got the Kings Science Academy stuff in front of you.

Gove (losing it) I know, I know, I know, I know, I know. (quietening down) OK, give me your ‘Bear Hunt’ routine, then. I can’t believe I’m spending time on this.

Wilshaw: So, we issue all playgroup, nursery, and reception class teachers and assistants with instructions on how to do ‘Bear Hunt’.

Gove: (grudgingly) Fair enough.

Wilshaw: Something like this - and some of it’s mine.

Gove: For christ’s sake, Michael, I appointed you, I big you up on every possible occasion, there’s no need to tell me which bloody words you write in your reports and documents. Carry on.

Wilshaw: OK, here goes:

“Teacher enters nursery or playgroup area.

Children stand up.

Teacher looks round the room of 2, 3 or 4 year olds.

‘Sit down, class,’ she says.

If she sees that any of the children haven’t blown their noses, are fiddling with their hair, clothes or with each other she says:

“Darren, stop that now,’ and looks sternly straight into the child’s face.

‘Today,’ she says, ‘We’re going to go on a bear hunt.’

If there’s any reaction from the children other than quiet smiling, she restrains them with,

‘That’s quite enough of that, Darren.’

She holds up the book.

‘This is a book,’ she says.

‘These are the pictures. These are the words. You look at the pictures. I read the words. Please don’t try to read the words because they are not phonically regular.’

She should now say clearly to the children.

‘What did I say?’

She should then get them to repeat after her:

‘We are not going to read the words because they are not phonically regular.’

Gove: I hate saying this, but this is bloody good.

Wilshaw: If I liked you, I would take that as a compliment. Even so, thanks.

The teacher now opens the book, saying, ‘I am opening the book.’

She then recites:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt’

and invites the children to repeat after her.

Any child not repeating it, she should say,

‘Darren you didn’t say it. Stand up. Now say, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt.’

She should do that over and over again until such time as Darren says the line.

If he still refuses, he should sit separately from the other children with his face to the


The teacher should now say,

‘We’ is the plural of ‘I’, and it is one of the personal pronouns. and invite the children to repeat it several times.

Gove: Bloody hell, Wilshaw, did you write this?

Wilshaw: With help.

Gove: Who from?

Wilshaw: If I said the word ‘Toby’ would that give you a clue?

Gove: Smart move. Carry on.

Wilshaw: Well, I’ve got the same sort of thing with ‘going’ - verb but I’ve run into a spot of bother with ‘bear’ and ‘hunt’.

Gove: They’re bloody nouns.

Wilshaw: But is it a noun phrase? Or is there an argument for saying that ‘bear’ is an adjective? I mean it ‘describes’ what kind of ‘hunt’ it is.

Gove: Just say, ‘nouns’. They’re 2 and 3 year olds. So long as they chant, ‘it’s a noun’, that’ll be OK.

Wilshaw: Great. So, we go on through the rest of the book, like that.

Gove: What about all that action stuff that kids do, waving their arms about when they say, ‘big one’?

Wilshaw: Absolutely not. This is about eyes and ears.

Gove: Good. Eyes and ears.

Wilshaw: Are you writing that down?

Gove: Sure, I’m thinking of using that. I’ve got a big one coming up with the W.I. That’s the sort of stuff they’ll understand.

Wilshaw: Oh, I was rather hoping to keep that one for myself.

Gove: Tough. Too late.

Wilshaw: I’ve put in some strong guidelines for all the later stuff in the book, when they’re running away from the bear.

Gove: Like?

Wilshaw: A lot of stern looking, some warnings about ‘staying on your bottom, Darren’ in case he gets carried away.

Gove: And that stuff about getting under the covers?

Wilshaw: I have the teacher breaking off there for a short lesson on heat retention.


And why do we cover ourselves with blankets, duvets and quilts?

Then, not waiting for the answer, the teacher says,

‘In order to retain body heat.’

She asks the children to repeat:

‘In order to retain body heat.’

And then, and only when all children have repeated this, she says,

‘We’re not going on a bear hunt again.’

She should then close the book and say, ‘And that is the end of the book.’

Gove: What about that picture of the bear at the end?

Wilshaw: What about it?

Gove: No, I was just thinking I quite like that.

Wilshaw: So?

Gove: No, nothing. Fine. You mean, the children don’t look at that bit?

Wilshaw: (irritated) It comes after the words. It’s only a bloody picture. What do you want the children to do with it?

Gove: No, no, of course not. Sorry, that’s good. That’s very good. The teacher closes the book. That is very rigorous.

Wilshaw: Structured.

Gove: OK, good, so I launch this at the W.I next week, right?

Wilshaw: Like hell you do. This is for my talk to the Early Years conference this Friday.

Gove: You’ve got a bloody cheek, you know.

Wilshaw: What are you going to do about it?

Gove: OK, OK, you can go now.

Wilshaw: I was going anyway.

Wilshaw leaves.

Gove goes back to his papers.

He can be just heard muttering about someone at a free school somewhere issuing invoices for rent that was not being charged in the first place.