Sir Anthony Seldon: Gradgrind test obsession wrecks education

The Independent is reporting suggestions from Sir Anthony Seldon that Thomas Gradgrind, the notorious school-board superintendent in Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times, is alive and well and running education systems around the world.

…Even in the UK, he said, too many schools are adopting the fictional character’s “exams-factory” approach to education and neglecting students’ wellbeing and character development. He is embarking on a project to bring Hard Times to the stage to show what a catastrophic effect a “Gradgrindian” education can have on a human being…

Sir Anthony believes that, by bringing the book to the stage, he can help expose the pitfalls of a Gradgrindian approach to schooling. Gradgrind, he thinks, would be salivating today as he contemplated a world dominated by Pisa tests, the international system that ranks nations’ educational performance.

“We have a situation where Gradgrind is running most education systems around the world,” he said. “Anybody who says you can reduce the purpose of education to the passing of tests is guilty of adopting that approach.

“Exams and tests matter but they’re not all that matters and the problem is they are seen by many to be all-embracing.”

The Gradgrinds of the world, he said, are adopting a “sinister” approach to educating “vulnerable” children and should be stopped in their tracks. However, he exempted Education Secretary Nicky Morgan from his criticism…

“I think that Nicky Morgan has done more than any other Education Secretary to advance the idea that character and well-being of students really matter,” said Sir Anthony…

More at: Sir Anthony Seldon: Historian says test obsession wrecks education


Would you share Sit Anthony’s concerns about Gradgrind approaches running most education services around the world?

And is he right to praise Nicky Morgan for doing more than her predecessors to promote the importance of character and well-being?

Please give us your reactions in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. Nairb1

    Many years ago I worked for a headteacher who ran a school with a very narrow academic curriculum. English and maths were pretty much all that mattered. Those pupils identified as unlikely to pass the 11+ were left behind. One term we had a series of sessions from an LA adviser on what would now be called creativity and independence in learning. At the end of the last session the head said ‘I wan’t you to implement everything Mr. X has been talking about, but you’re not to stop doing one iota of what we already do.’ Guess what happened to the creative curriculum!
    That, I suspect, is the Nicky Morgan approach to the character and well-being of students really mattering.

  2. Seldon is right that education, particularly in England, is dominated by tests.  Funny, then, that the head of Wellington Academy, the academy sponsored by Wellington College, had to leave with immediate effect after poor GCSE results in 2013.

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove I usually wouldn’t agree with Seldon but he’s a point regarding exam factories; he’s miles off the mark regarding character

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