Dear Damian Hinds, so employers value rote learning? Excuse my bitter laugh

Did you read the recent speech by the president of the CBI, Paul Drechsler, who called on policymakers “to make education in England about more than results and rote learning and prioritise teaching that encourages thoughts, questions, creativity and teamworking”. Michael Rosen, children’s writer and broadcaster writes in The Guardian.

Was this a shock? After all, it flies in the face of what we’ve been told. In January 2015 your schools minister, Nick Gibb, said that the government’s reforms, which emphasise the acquisition of knowledge, were what employers were demanding.

In case your first thought is that these matters are best decided at the court of Pisa(or any other international testing apparatus), Drechsler reported the Pisa chief, Andreas Schleicher, saying that English policymakers “are reacting to [his] test results in a different way to other nations. In other countries, policymakers are trying to improve performance by encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning.” Excuse the bitter laugh.

Let me imagine your objection to Drechsler’s argument: data. Before your time, someone convinced your department that the more you test, the better education becomes. It seems to add up: teach, test, find out who needs help and give it to them; those schools where those who need help aren’t getting better are bad. Close them; reopen them; carry on.

The fallacy is it assumes that all that is worthwhile can be tested and all that is tested is worthwhile. What really matters is the stuff that can be turned into data. The ease with which data can be collected determines what is taught. So primary English has to help children “infer” what’s going on in a text. They are only allowed to make one kind of inference. All other inferences are wrong; zero marks, including for fiction.

This runs counter to why some of us write fiction: we hope that readers will infer several different things at the same time and that they will talk about these to each other. What did Drechsler call that? “Teaching that encourages thoughts, questions, creativity and teamworking.” No time for that.

Yours, Michael Rosen

Read more Dear Damian Hinds, so employers value rote learning? Excuse my bitter laugh

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