Telford teacher in row with Education Secretary over Mr Men history lessons

A history teacher from Telford today found himself embroiled in a row with the Education Secretary after using Mr Men books as a teaching aid for pupils studying the rise of Hitler.

Teacher – Russel Tarr
Teacher – Russel Tarr

Mr Gove claimed the use of Mr Men proved the “infantilisation” of history teaching and revealed a culture of “low expectations”.

In an attack, he claimed pupils were being told to compare Hitler and his henchmen to Mr Men characters.

However, teacher Russel Tarr, 41, who grew up in Leegomery and went to Orleton Park School and New College, Wellington, today said the popular Roger Hargreaves’ characters were actually used as a revision aid for pupils aged 15 and 16 after an in-depth and extensive six-week study of the rise of Hitler.

And he criticised Mr Gove’s claims saying the use of Mr Men characters had been taken completely out of context and misrepresented while Mr Gove had misunderstood the point of what he was doing. In a blogpost on his Active History website, Mr Tarr has drawn a caricature of a Mr Men book in which Mr Gove is Mr Point.

It reads: “Mr Point was too lazy to read anything himself. His friends always missed the point too as they couldn’t be bothered to read every word.”

Mr Tarr said pupils were encouraged to use Mr Men as a metaphor to encourage historical interpretation.

He said the revision technique started with the discussion “If the Weimar Republic was a Mr Men character, which one would it be and why?”.

He said: “It produces some interesting answers – for example Mr Worry (inability and unwillingness to take firm action against the Nazis) to Mr Bounce (the dramatic “recovery” of 1924-28) and Mr Mean (refusing to increase unemployment benefits after 1929 with disastrous results).”

He stressed that pupils also wrote an externally moderated 1,000-word essay analysing the causes for Hitler’s election as German chancellor in January 1933 and sat a GCSE exam last week.

Mr Tarr, a teacher for 16 years and who has taught at the fee-paying Wolverhampton Grammar School and the International School of Toulouse, said hundreds of teachers agreed with his viewpoint after he made an appeal on a social media site. He changed his Twitter profile picture to Mr Bump and asked teachers who agreed with him to change their pictures to a Mr Men character too which hundreds quickly did.

Mr Gove criticised the use of Mr Men at a Brighton education conference.He said teaching was being 2crushed under the weight of play-based pedagogy which infantilises children, teachers and our culture2.

Mr Tarr, who graduated with a 2:1 in Modern History from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University – also Mr Gove’s old college – today said he welcomed the chance to have a debate on methods of teaching.

He said the revision technique was an established method which pupils often found challenging. He said Mr Gove seemed to think learning history was just learning facts like a “pub quiz knowledge”.

He added: “His criticisms betray a lack of knowledge, understanding, and interpretation that would make a GCSE History student blush with shame.”