Nick Gibb: Teach children important facts not ‘joyless’ processes, minister urges

The Independent is reporting that Nick Gibb has warned that schools are still relegating “timeless literature, scientific wonders and great historical events” to a “back seat” in the classroom in favour of teaching pupils “joyless” skills and processes”.

In a robust attack on the teaching profession, the schools minister Nick Gibb said he had witnessed “countless examples” of pupils being taught in ways that “systematically expunged” subject content in favour of fashionable “processes and concepts” that denied children the joy of learning…

However, his remarks have infuriated teaching unions which pointed out the Conservatives have already made extensive changes to the curriculum since 2010.

“Knowledge is a vital component of education,” said Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

“You cannot be properly creative without it, nor can you solve challenging problems without mastering some basic skills first. The majority of teachers would actually agree with this, I think, so the minister should be wary of painting too bleak a picture.”

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Nick Gibb’s views are profoundly wrong. He is wrong about teaching and he is wrong about learning in schools…”

In his speech, Mr Gibb said during his time in office he had visited around 400 schools and was often struck by the failure of teachers to instil robust knowledge and context into their teaching. 

“As schools minister I watched thousands of classes, and have seen countless examples of this philosophy in action,” he said. “It always saddens me to see the thrilling content of education, be it timeless literature, scientific wonders, or great historical events, being relegated to a back seat, so that these joyless ‘skills’ and ‘processes’ can come to the fore…”

More at: Nick Gibb: Teach children important facts not ‘joyless’ processes, minister urges


There’s a real entrenching of positions here between Nick Gibb and Christine Blower, with Russell Hobby finding a more conciliatory position.

What do you think? Does Nick Gibb have a point here – are facts useful things for children to learn and have they been inappropriately relegated to a back seat in schools?

Please let us know why/why not in the comments or via Twitter…


Has factual knowledge been relegated, wrongly, to a back seat in schools?

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  1. Ed_Tmprince

    SchoolsImprove I can’t think of anything more joyless than to memorise facts instead of developing lifelong skills of HOW to learn & create

  2. Mktadvice4schls

    SchoolsImprove I taught Y8 1) the parts of the heart, 2)how to measure pulse & 3) to plot graph around exercise. Why are 2) & 3) joyless?

  3. brighton118

    SchoolsImprove – Exactly ! Watching pupils undertake practical work & enjoy discoveries is great. NG doesn’t get it !

  4. Kathfanderson

    SchoolsImprove What a profoundly ill-informed comment that is. Frustrating that a man so ignorant of education could rise to his position.

  5. brighton118

    Nor_edu – I know as so many of them ☹ The wonder on children’s faces when doing science experiments, realise their cakes have risen …..

  6. Alan OSullivan

    Here’s a fact for Nick Gibbs: ‘Step down from your ivory towered existence and get to see what is REALLY happening then you’ll stop making teaching so joyless yourself’

  7. SRAN2012

    SchoolsImprove Dear NG planets are in our solar system? Was taught 9. What’s the correct answer to this ‘fact’ years later?

  8. SRAN2012

    SchoolsImprove Luckily I have now ‘learnt to learnt’, can research & reach an informed opinion. Facts (content) can cease to be facts!

  9. TeacherTrainer

    Wow! Thousands of classes. I’m really impressed. Is this another of the sort of facts he’d like children to learn?

  10. SRAN2012

    SchoolsImprove 2/3 Luckily I have now learnt to learn, can research & and reach an informed opinion. Facts can cease to be facts.

  11. SRAN2012

    SchoolsImprove 1/3 Dear NG planets are in our solar system? Was taught 9. What’s the correct answer to this ‘fact’ years later?

  12. SRAN2012

    SchoolsImprove 1/3 Dear NG how many planets are in our solar system? I was taught 9. What’s the correct answer to this ‘fact’ years later?

  13. SRAN2012

    SchoolsImprove 2/3 Luckily I have learnt how to learn, can research & reach an informed opinion. Facts can cease to be facts over time!

  14. peterabarnard

    SchoolsImprove Ahead of the game as ever. Telling the pros what to do, making things worse. Criticising those trying to make things work

  15. If Gibb is correct (and he isn’t) then he appears to be criticising his beloved academies since these are the only type of school that ministers seem to visit.

  16. Sarah_May1

    SchoolsImprove for sure, understanding and critical thinking is so boring, chanting the times tables is so much better :/

  17. SRAN2012 SchoolsImprove I was taught there were 5 continents: Europe, Asia, Australia, America and Africa.  Later I was taught there was another one: Antarctica.  But if you read Book One in the Core Knowledge sequence beloved of Gibb et al, you’ll learn there are 7: America has been split into two: North America and South America.
    Obviously the facts I were taught were wrong.

  18. One of Gibb’s facts was demolished by Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ last Friday.  Details here:

  19. And if the ‘facts’ are wrong?  In Book 6 of the Core Knowledge sequence (published by Civitas and promoted by Govt ministers), we learn Bolivia is the largest country in South America and they speak Portuguese.
    With ‘facts’ like these, the poor kids are stuffed.

  20. VictoriaJaquiss

    Nick Gibb is using words, randomly, in no particular order, saying school, skills, facts, in fact saying nothing. It is meaningless. Let’s hear a concrete example, Nick, I bet you can’t find one , bet you wouldn’t know one if you tripped over it. I watched on BBC Parliament one afternoon, and I concede he know he a thing or two about being joyless.
    I am third generation teacher in my family, but have told my kids to keep away from the profession that I love. In my thirty years plus in the game, “education” as a profession has moved from prioritising children and their educational and social needs to being a battleground on which the Suits try impress each other and a gullible voting public.

  21. RobertYoung3

    Another example of political rhetoric at its worse, polarising knowledge of facts at one end of the continuum and acquisition of conceptual processes and skills at the other. They are inextricably intertwined: the statement  that three times two is equal to six means nothing to the chilld if there is no conceptual underpinning! The best teachers surely promote the joy of learning, precisely because they are committed to nurturing the conceptual processes on which knowledge is founded and are able to do it imaginatively and progressively?

  22. colin_lever

    SchoolsImprove The only joyless process is rote learning, the one that is destroying education as schools are forced to pursue results

  23. Nairb1

    Good to see that Gibb is able to see that teachers often fail to instil robust knowledge into pupils by observing part of a lesson. He also says they fail to instil context. The minister presumably makes sure he knows the context of the lesson he’s glimpsing part of. Or does he think every lesson is a stand alone event? Or does he think?

  24. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Teach joyless facts instead of joyless processes; Gibb’s not worth the paper he’s printed on & has no place advising tchers

  25. GrahamFrost1

    SchoolsImprove I asked all our pupils whether they wanted more facts, more “how to do stuff” or a balance of both. Guess the answer…

  26. siepritch

    SchoolsImprove SchoolDuggery Gibb should try the process of removing his head from his own a**e. He may be able to see things clearer.

  27. TW

    Gibb is merely reflecting the fact that not only is Tory policy is a complete failure but that there is now hardly anyone left who seeks to defend it.  All they have left is insults and using brute force to implement it.

  28. brighton118

    SchoolsImprove – Saddens me no end to see people like Nick Gibb making these pronoucements & having an impact on education policy.

  29. angelsoft_ICT

    benwohl SchoolsImprove And, as in Hard Times, by children taught by teachers called M’Choakumchild, if memory serves…#Dickens

  30. markscott00

    benwohl SchoolsImprove angelsoft_ICT do GCSEs have “Knowledge & Understanding” and “Problem Solving” components like Standard Grades?

  31. pompeygeorge

    SchoolsImprove I left Uni in 93. No: Google, Wikipedia, mobile phone, email, Excel, Facebook, twitter. Yeah, let’s stick with facts only…

  32. Kathfanderson

    SchoolsImprove “Process” is where the real learning happens. Facts are all but useless without context, understanding, connection.

  33. RichardGrantham

    SchoolsImprove These ‘skills and ‘processes’ are what we have to do to get children to jump through the exam hoops these morons just love

  34. NDickson

    My phone in my pocket can tell me any ‘fact’ I need to know. Learning skills, processes, concepts and approaches to learning far more difficult and time consuming. What an R-Tard!

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