Mike Duncan recalls Gove was likely to succeed

21st May 2010 at 01:00
Michael Gove's former teacher recollects a precociously talented youngster

He has just been given the daunting task of being in charge of every teacher in the country, but being the teacher in charge of Michael Gove was apparently the easiest job in the world.

Mike Duncan, who taught the new Education Secretary from the age of 12 at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, recalls Mr Gove as a pupil who was likely to succeed.

Mr Duncan was head of English at the independent school when the young Michael joined in 1979, but it was as a member of the debating team that the future Conservative MP first came to people's attention.

"I ran the team, which is something Michael became involved with at an early stage," said Mr Duncan. "He was a good debater, not just internally but representing the school in debating contests, and he gained an excellent reputation for it."

And it was this gift that Mr Duncan believes helped to further Mr Gove's career - and will continue to come in handy in Cabinet.

"I think his debating will hold him in good stead for his career," he said. "I am not terribly surprised he has reached the position that he has. Even as a teenager he had a courtesy about him that will give him a good footing in his role. He was always willing to listen to other people's point of view, which is a very good attribute to have."

Despite growing up in a historically non-Conservative area of Scotland, it was well known that Mr Gove was a Tory supporter, but it was not clear that a career in politics awaited the Scotsman.

"At the time I knew that whatever he turned his hand to he would be successful," Mr Duncan said. "He was always very interested in politics although he was not an overtly political animal at the time. Everyone was aware that he was a Conservative supporter, however.

"But he was accepted for that. He was very much his own person and he was well liked by his fellow pupils and staff. He had his own clear views and people took him at face value. He would get his leg pulled, but he always took it in good part."

According to Mr Duncan, the future Education Secretary was far from being a "goody two-shoes" during his school career, but claims that he had a maturity beyond his years.

He was a young man who could talk confidently to adults, and even as a 12- year-old he could carry a "profound conversation with teachers" and always had a very good relationship with staff.

But it was in his studies that Mr Gove really shone at school. "He had a tremendous talent in English, both verbal and written. He was incredibly well read - rather more so than one might expect from a sixth-former," Mr Duncan said. "He read widely and he read deeply.

"I remember we had a game that we would play. He would come up with the first line of a novel and I would have to guess the title of the novel. I would do the same and he would always guess the title correctly."

Whatever Mr Gove's future Cabinet career holds, Mr Duncan is clear: he was an outstanding pupil.

From little acorns. Gove's path to power

Born in Edinburgh in 1967, Mr Gove was adopted aged four months by an Aberdeen family. His father was a fish merchant and his mother a laboratory assistant at the University of Aberdeen.

He was educated at two state primary schools, before taking up a scholarship to the independent Robert Gordon's College. At university, he became president of the Oxford Union.

Before being tempted into politics in 2005, the Scotsman worked as a journalist for The Times, and it was after writing an article criticising the Conservatives that David Cameron asked him to run for Parliament.

Mr Gove has since become a key figure in the PM's inner circle, developing arguably the Tories' most radical set of domestic policies, including the acceleration of the academies programme.

Original paper headline: Michael Gove's former teacher recollects a precociously talented youngster

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