The schools crusade that links Michael Gove to Rupert Murdoch

Michael Gove
The schools crusade that links Michael Gove to Rupert Murdoch
The education secretary has close ties to Rupert Murdoch and
would be a key figure if he attempts to move into the UK schools
On a freezing November day in 2010, the education secretary, Michael Gove,
turned out in east London to inspect a desolate stretch of dockside ground
near City airport, where Rupert Murdoch had offered to build an academy
The cabinet minister was accompanied by Rebekah Brooks, then News
International chief executive, and an entourage of other top Murdoch staff,
including James Harding and Will Lewis.
Despite the unprepossessing venue there was no mistaking the company's
enthusiasm for the project. Murdoch described himself in a speech as the
saviour of British education, thanks to his company's "adoption of new
academies here in London".
It was a high-water mark of the love-in between Gove, Murdoch and the
Conservative government. Gove, a former Times journalist, had previously
Shortly after the Docklands visit, the phone-hacking scandal disrupted these close relations. News International's
proposed academy was quietly abandoned. Newham council says nothing was subsequently done to fulfil
Murdoch's promises.
But Gove returned to his pro-Murdoch theme last week, publicly attacking the Leveson inquiry, set up in the
wake of News International's misdeeds, as a threat to press freedom. "Whenever anyone sets up a new
newspaper – as Rupert Murdoch has with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised," he
It was a reminder of the extraordinarily close links that still exist between publishing tycoon and Tory politician.
One of Murdoch's long-term projects is what he calls a "revolutionary and profitable" move by his media
companies into online education. Gove would be a key figure in any attempt to penetrate the British schools
The education secretary meets Murdoch frequently and is an enthusiastic backer of the ideas of Joel Klein, the
head of Murdoch's new education division. Within a week of his promotion in 2010, the minister was at dinner
with Murdoch, according to officially released details of meetings.
The atmosphere could only have been warm. Gove once sang Murdoch's praises in a 1999 Times column as "the
greatest godfather of mischief in print" who possesses "18th-century pamphleteering vigour". He wrote that
Murdoch "encourages … free thinking. His newspapers … are driven by public demand and the creativity of
chaotic, cock-snooking, individuals."
Murdoch in turn was kind to his former employee. When Gove first arrived at Westminster in 2005 as a
backbench MP, the Times topped up his salary with a £60,000-a-year column. His wife still works for the paper.
Murdoch's publishing arm, HarperCollins, also gave Gove a book advance in 2004, when he was first selected for
the safe Conservative seat of Surrey Heath. It was for a history of an obscure 18th-century politician, Viscount
Puzzlingly, the book was never delivered. HarperCollins refuses to disclose the size of the advance and its size is
not specified in Gove's register of financial interests. Asked if his advance should be returned eight years later,
HarperCollins says Gove "is still committed to writing a book on Bolingbroke but obviously his ministerial duties
come first for now". Gove will not comment.
At the Gove dinner on 19 May 2010, Murdoch was accompanied by his then right-hand aide in Britain, Rebekah
Brooks. Brooks was also with the education secretary at a second dinner three weeks later, on 10 June, for what
his department terms "general discussion".
In a subsequent speech to the National College for School Leadership, Gove singled Joel Klein out for praise. Klein
was a US lawyer then running the New York school system. But Klein was also Murdoch's own favourite US
educator. His clashes with the teachers' unions and his enthusiasm for academy-style "charter schools" had
caught the tycoon's interest. Murdoch planned to hire Klein himself.
Gove told his British audience on 16 June that US reformers such as Klein were insisting on "more great charter
schools … free from government bureaucracy" because they were "amazing engines of social mobility".
Within 24 hours of that speech, the minister was once more at the lunch table with Murdoch himself, again with
Brooks in attendance and, according to the department, other "News International executives and senior
editors", for "general discussion".
At the end of summer 2010, Murdoch formally hired Klein for $2m (£1.3m) a year, plus a $1m signing bonus, to
launch what he called a "revolutionary, and profitable, education division". Murdoch bought Wireless
Generation, a US educational technology firm, for $360m, and gave it to Klein to run. Murdoch's vision was that
he would digitise the world's so far unexploited classrooms. He told investors: "We see a $500bn sector in the US
alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs." He envisaged some of News
Corporation's large library of media content being beamed to pupils' terminals.
Gove seemed to be an enthusiast. He met Klein on 30 September 2010, before the announcement of his link-up
with Murdoch. The Department for Education does not explain the circumstances, other than saying "more than
10 others" were present for a "general discussion".
The following month, Murdoch flew to London again, to deliver the Margaret Thatcher lecture at the Centre for
Policy Studies. He called for a revolutionised education system in the UK "that really teaches … In the last
decades, I'm afraid, most of the English-speaking world has spent more and more on education with worse and
worse results".
He boasted: "That is why so many of my company's donations are devoted to the cause of education – including
the adoption of new academies here in London. There is no excuse for the way British children are being failed" .
Gove was with Murdoch for the celebratory dinner afterwards, along with Murdoch's son James and all his
editors. And in the new year, Klein flew to England along with Murdoch himself for three days spent at Gove's
department. He was "visiting UK as guest of DfE to explain and discuss US education policy and success", say
officials. Gove was photographed visiting the King Solomon academy with Klein, who addressed a free schools
conference. Gove dined with Murdoch, and with Brooks yet again, at a dinner hosted by businessman Charles
Dunstone, an academy sponsor.
On 19 May, Gove breakfasted with Murdoch in London. The tycoon flew on from that meeting to address a Paris
conference of internet entrepreneurs. This time, he went into some detail about News Corp's plans for
educational technology. He and Klein had been touring educational projects around the world, in South Korea,
Sweden and California. Schools were the "last holdout from the digital revolution" he said. "Today's classroom
looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age …The key is the software."
"I'd expect in the next [few] months we'd be making some acquisitions," Klein told the Financial Times. "There's
the willingness to put in significant capital."
He cited the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit producer of educational videos through YouTube, as an example of
how technology could add value.
On 16 June, Gove addressed the teachers' college in Birmingham on strikingly similar lines, calling for "technical
innovation" in the classroom. He cited the "amazing revolution" of iTunes U in publishing lessons online. The
same night, he dined with Rupert Murdoch yet again.
Four days later, Gove returned to the theme in another speech, praising News Corp's new hiring, Joel Klein, and
urging his audience to read an "excellent article" Klein had written promoting charter schools.
Murdoch himself, returning to London, spoke at a conference of chief executives. The Times recorded: "Mr
Murdoch detailed a vision whereby almost all children would be provided with technology such as specially
designed tablet computers. He said that through such advances, 'You can get the very, very finest teachers in
every course, in every subject, at every grade, and make them available to every child in the school – or if
necessary, in some cases – in the world.‘
"Mr Murdoch said that News Corporation, parent company of the Times, would help to spearhead this change by
growing its business in providing educational material. He said he would be "thrilled" if 10% of News
Corporation's business was made up of its education revenues in the next five years."
On 26 June, Gove was at yet another dinner with Murdoch. He followed it up with the most explicit endorsement
to date of News Corp's education project in an address to the Royal Society entitled Technology in the Classroom.
He even held up for praise Klein's favourite model, the Khan Academy, which was "putting high-quality lessons on
the web".
He said: "We need to change curricula, tests and teaching to keep up with technology … Whitehall must enable
these innovations but not seek to micromanage them. The new environment of teaching schools will be a fertile
ecosystem for experimenting and spreading successful ideas rapidly through the system."
Murdoch's education project now began to falter, however, because of the looming British phone-hacking
scandal. In the US, voices began to question the links between Klein and contracts awarded by the New York
education department to Wireless Generation, the technology firm acquired by Murdoch. Klein and Murdoch's
education division lost a hoped-for new $27m contract with the New York authorities.
Klein himself was catapulted into a central role in the company's attempts to firefight the scandal. He flew over to
London to the parliamentary committee hearings in July. While all eyes were on Wendi Deng as she landed a
punch on the foam-pie thrower who attacked her 80-year-old husband during the televised session, few noticed
the dry legal figure sitting just behind her.
He now plays a key role in controlling the controversial management and standards committee (MSC) that is
house-cleaning at News International by handing over journalists' incriminating emails to the police.
Until Murdoch's UK operation has been fully cleansed of its hacking toxicity, the way will not be open for Klein to
resume his education projects, and his formerly close political links with Gove. But the end of the process of
"draining the swamp", as one MSC source put it, may now be in sight.
Invited to respond to these issues, a Gove spokesman declined to comment.
Joel I. Klein
Joel I. Klein is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. (read
In January 2011, Joel I. Klein became CEO of the Educational Division and Executive Vice President, Office
of the Chairman, at News Corporation, where he also serves on the Board of Directors.
Prior to that, Mr. Klein was Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education where he oversaw
a system of over 1,600 schools with 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees and a $22 billion budget.
He launched Children First in 2002, a comprehensive reform strategy that has brought coherence and
capacity to the system and resulted in significant increases in student performance.
He is a former Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., a media company, and served as Assistant U.S.
Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice until September
2000, and was Deputy White House Counsel to President Clinton from 1993-1995. Mr. Klein entered the
Clinton administration after 20 years of public and private legal work in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Klein received his BA from Columbia University where he graduated magna cum laude in 1967, and
earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1971, also graduating magna cum laude. He has received
honorary degrees from Amherst College, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Duke University,
Fordham Law School, Georgetown Law Center, Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, Manhattanville
College, New York Law School, and St. John’s School of Education. He was selected by Time Magazine as
one of Ten People who Mattered in 1999, by U.S. News and World Report as One of America’s 20 Best
Leaders in 2006, and was given the prestigious NYU Lewis Rudin Award in 2009 and Manhattan Institute
Alexander Hamilton Award in 2011.
Jeb Bush is Founder and Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for
Excellence in Education. He served as the 43rd governor of Florida, from
1999 through 2007. (read more)
F. Philip Handy is a member of the Board of Directors and Secretary of the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. (read more)
Since October, 2001, F. Philip Handy has served as the Chief Executive
Officer of Strategic Industries, a portfolio of companies in diversified service
and manufacturing businesses. All of the companies have been significantly
restructured and taken to a global presence and enhanced profitability.
Until January, 2007, he served for six years as Chairman of the Florida State
Board of Education, a seven person board appointed by Governor Jeb Bush,
which has constitutional responsibility for Florida’s public educational
system (over 4 million students).
Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah is a member of the Board of Directors and
Treasurer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. (read more)
Dr. Zachariah is one of the leading cardiologists in the nation. He is
President of the Fort Lauderdale Heart Institute, a thriving private practice
with five cardiologists/physicians and 30 employees. He is the Director of
Cardiology for Holy Cross Hospital, a 570 bed not-for-profit community
hospital in Fort Lauderdale and serves as a volunteer Clinical Professor of
Medicine at the University of Miami.
Dr. Zachariah serves on the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the
management of Florida’s university system, and a Trustee for Nova
Southeastern University, the largest private university in the Southeast
United States with more than 26,000 students. He is a member of the
Council of 100, a statewide organization of business leaders who advise the
Governor on issues of public policy. He is also a member and former
Chairman of the Florida Council on Economic Education, a not-for-profit
organization that educates students in kindergarten through high school on
economic principles to better prepare them for personally and professional
success in our free enterprise system.
eginald J. Brown is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation
for Excellence in Education. (read more)
He is a partner at the WilmerHale law firm in Washington, DC., where he is
Vice Chair of the firm's Public Policy and Strategy Group and a member of
the Regulatory and Government Affairs and Litigation/Controversy
Departments. Mr. Brown joined the firm in 1997, and served as special
assistant to the President and Associate White House Counsel from 2003 to
2005. Mr. Brown also served as Deputy General Counsel to Former
Governor Jeb Bush, Assistant to the CEO and Vice President of Corporate
Strategy for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, and as a Peace Corps
Volunteer in the Federated States of Micronesia early in his professional
career. Mr. Brown is a member of the Board of Visitors of the George Mason
University in Virginia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit Advisory Committee on Procedures and the American Council on
Germany. He is an honors graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, and
lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife Tiffeny and their two children.
Cesar Conde is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for
Excellence in Education. (read more)
He is president of the Univision Networks at Univision Communications Inc.,
the premier media company serving Hispanic America. He is responsible for
overseeing Univision Communications’ television networks, which include
Univision Network, TeleFutura, Galavisión and TuTv Networks (including De
Película, De Película Clásico, Telehit, Ritmoson Latino and Bandamax). He is
responsible for Univision Studios, which was created in December 2009 to
build on the 4,000 hours of original programming that the company
produces across multiple genres annually. He also oversees various
corporate functions, including government relations, community affairs,
corporate communications and public relations. He reports directly to the
Joel I. Klein is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for
Excellence in Education. (read more)
In January 2011, Joel I. Klein became CEO of the Educational Division and
Executive Vice President, Office of the Chairman, at News Corporation,
where he also serves on the Board of Directors.
Prior to that, Mr. Klein was Chancellor of the New York City Department of
Education where he oversaw a system of over 1,600 schools with 1.1 million
students, 136,000 employees and a $22 billion budget. He launched
Children First in 2002, a comprehensive reform strategy that has brought
coherence and capacity to the system and resulted in significant increases
in student performance.
William Oberndorf is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation
for Excellence in Education. (read more)
William Oberndorf is chairman of the board of Aggregates U.S.A. and
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, director emeritus of Plum Creek Tiber Co, and
founding partner of SPO Partners & Co. He is also co-founder, board
member and past chairman of the Alliance for School Choice, a nationwide
organization that works to bring about K-12 education reform and expand
school choice for low-income families. Oberndorf also serves as a trustee of
The Thacher School, The University of California San Francisco Foundation,
University School in Cleveland, Ohio and former trustee of Williams College.
He has a M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and B.A.
from Williams College. He and his wife reside in California and have two
William Simon
William Simon is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for
Excellence in Education. (read more)
He presently serves as president and CEO of Walmart U.S., responsible for
the strategic direction and operational performance of the U.S. business,
including more than 3,700 stores and 1.3 million associates. Previously, he
was the chief operating officer and executive vice president of professional
services and new business development for Walmart U.S. Before joining
Walmart, in March 2006, Simon was vice president of professional services
and new business development at Brinker International. He is retired from
the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves and holds a Bachelor of Arts in economics
and an MBA in management from the University of Connecticut.
Brian Yablonski is a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for
Excellence in Education. (read more)
Currently, Mr. Yablonski is Vice President of Public Affairs for the St. Joe
Company, Florida’s largest private landowner. In this role, he is helping to
strategically plan nearly 800,000 acres of land in Northwest Florida. From
1999 to 2002, Yablonski served as Director of Policy and Deputy Chief of
Staff for Governor Jeb Bush, where he assisted the governor in crafting the
major policy initiatives for his first term in office. He also previously served
as the communications director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future,
editing its quarterly policy journal, Impact magazine, and co-authoring the
book, Profiles in Character, with Jeb Bush.
Reformer Toolbox
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Reform Agenda
Advancing High Expectations and Rigorous Academic Standards
Requiring Data-Driven Accountability for Schools
Rewarding Effective Teachers
Funding for Achievement
Expanding School Choice for Families Choice creates a more effective
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choice and a voice in their child’s education – more freedom over their
student’s schooling options.
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