JANE MERRICK SUNDAY 13 OCTOBER 2013
Michael Gove held talks with a leading scientist who believes that genetics, not teaching, plays a major part in the intelligence of schoolchildren, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Professor Robert Plomin, the world`s leading behavioural geneticist, met the Secretary of State for Education and ministers at the Department for Education in the summer. Mr Gove`s policy adviser, Dominic Cummings, provoked outcry yesterday when it emerged he had backed Professor Plomin`s research that genes accounted for up to 70 per cent of a child`s cognitive abilities. Mr Cummings, in a 250-page “private thesis”, said the link between intelligence and genetics had been overlooked in the education system and wanted to introduce Professor Plomin to ministers to redress the balance.
A spokesman for Mr Gove refused to respond when asked three times whether the Education Secretary also believed intelligence was genetic. “Professor Plomin has given a few talks to different groups including ministers,” the spokesman said.
“[He] suggested lots of different things, for example, that genetic research might allow us to help those with learning difficulties much earlier and more effectively.”
Linking intelligence to genes has long been controversial, but Professor Plomin has conducted research showing up to 70 per cent heritability for reading and maths tests at age seven, nine and 12, while scores for English, Maths and science GCSEs show up to 60 per cent heritability in a twin study.
The research is contentious because ministers and educationalists have long believed that any child, from whatever background, can achieve the highest academic ability.
In his document, leaked to The Guardian, Mr Cummings cited at length research by Professor Plomin, including the studies showing up to 70 per cent of a child`s performance is genetically derived. Mr Cummings said: “There is strong resistance across the political spectrum to accepting scientific evidence on genetics. Most of those that now dominate discussions on issues such as social mobility entirely ignore genetics and therefore their arguments are at best misleading and often worthless.”
In the document, effectively a lengthy and detailed parting shot before he leaves the Department for Education at the end of this year, Mr Cummings also claimed that mediocrity is ubiquitous in education and criticised the amount of money the Labour government spent on Sure Start and other measures to improve social mobility, claiming billions had been spent “with no real gains”. He added: “The education of the majority even in rich countries is between awful and mediocre.”
Kevin Brennan, the shadow schools minister, said: “His claim that most variation in performance is due to genetics rather than teaching quality will send a chill down the spine of every parent – we need to know if these views are shared by Michael Gove.”