Mr Russell said Mr Gove misunderstood the whole nature and purpose of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reforms and the definition of “rigour”.
The Scottish minister, who was addressing the annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said Mr Gove’s attack was a “badge of honour” but also a slight on everyone who had been working hard to deliver the overhaul north of the border in the last decade.
Mr Gove, who went to school in Scotland, had urged Mr Russell to take off his “Nationalist blinkers” and follow an international trend towards more testing.
However, last weekend Mr Russell responded in front of a packed hall of delegates. He said: “His definition of the word ‘rigour’ is essentially systematised rote learning in which you politically decide the content of the curriculum and apply what one might describe as 19th century teaching methods to it. That is not where we are going in Scotland and it doesn’t work.
“A lot of his approach is based on a misunderstanding and he doesn’t even know how the Scottish system works.”
Mr Russell said CfE was collaborative, in contrast with England’s top-down model, which has been marked by perpetual conflict with teaching unions.
“Conflict doesn’t work and we know that too clearly from looking south of the border. Two weeks ago my counterpart condemned the English teaching unions as Marxist because they opposed his education reforms, but I fear even the most ideologically driven education system in the world – that is probably in the Cultural Revolution in China – involved less prescription.”
Earlier in the week, EIS delegates backed strike action before the end of the year over increasing workload from CfE. A few members heckled Mr Russell, one shouting “rubbish” when he said CfE support materials were in place. Mr Russell promised “needless red tape” would be reduced.