But perhaps none is more potent – apparently plausible and yet subtly dangerous – than the simplistic idea that education can be a universal route out of poverty. The argument goes something like this: if schools can only get it right, then every child can escape his or her background or, at the very least, jump up a social class or two.
No one doubts that education can profoundly affect an individual life course. The poor pupil made good, thanks to the 11-plus, remains one of the most romantic cultural narratives of post-war Britain. During New Labour's time in office, "aspiration" became the favoured, if rather more amorphous, buzzword. The 2009 Milburn report on fair access to the professions, for example, made much of the right of parents to get their children into a better school, while failing to make clear what should happen to those unlucky enough to remain stuck in a worse one.
Gove brought both rhetorical passion and political bad temper to this ongoing debate and a similarly impatient yet evangelical tone can be detected in the mission statements of Gove-era organisations, from Teach First to the free school movement to the tougher-minded academy chains.
The power of this collective message has long relied on a cynical caricature of comprehensive mediocrity. Poor children, we are told, have been held back by an army of inadequate teachers in the grip of progressive methods and the "soft bigotry of low expectations". Sweep away "the blob", get every child a clutch of good GCSEs and a place at university and the class cards will be decisively shuffled.
Not so, according to a thoughtful new study on education and social mobility by academics Kate Hoskins and Bernard Barker. Based on in-depth interviews with 88 children in two high-performing academies – schools with socially mixed intakes, strong teaching and excellent results – it asks some acute questions of this unrealistic narrative that has held sway for so long.
What Hoskins and Barker uncover is a complex, and poignant, picture of today's schools and the educational mindset that reigns there. Almost all the pupils interviewed believe that future exam and work success will depend almost entirely on their own hard work. Yet it is resoundingly clear just how much their choices, chances and prospects are shaped, and so often constrained, by family background on the one hand and wider economic forces on the other.
Far from breaking down social divisions, the vast majority of schools confirm them. From the moment they arrive at secondary school, children are academically sorted, usually along clear class lines. Even at high performing schools, poorer children are still less likely to get GCSE results that are as good as their more affluent classmates'.
Parents' education and work inevitably has a strong influence on children's choices, but often in a surprisingly positive sense, with young people keen to do similar things to their mums and dads – as long as they are paid well and can live happy lives – rather than to escape into more glamorous, wealthier circumstances.
Meanwhile, professional families pass down all sorts of advantages to their offspring. This even includes the right to fail, as an interesting new study from the National University of Distance Learning confirms; middle-class children get second and third chances that are denied their poorer classmates. None of this is an argument for static or low expectations. But it does force us to recognise that schools can only do so much and that, unless other changes are put in place, the elite will always find a way to reproduce itself.
As Barker puts it pithily, "If every child got into a Russell Group university, then there wouldn't be such a thing as a Russell Group university…" Some new hierarchy would emerge. Already, many poorer pupils are being channelled into lower-status universities yet often end up paying the same crippling fees as their better-off peers.
The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) states unequivocally that if education is to make a real difference, fairer school systems have to go hand in hand with policies to enhance economic equality. Since 2010, coalition policy has widened the gap between rich and poor.
Even so, I cannot recall a single example of Gove or his allies publicly conceding that poverty has a significant impact on educational outcomes, or admitting the brazen elitism of our school system. Historians will judge these silences to be as politically significant as any dazzling set piece speech or ritual bit of "blob" bashing.