Too much, too young? Why Gove’s reforms ‘spell danger’

When 100 leading academics wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph in March expressing concerns about national curriculum reforms, Michael Gove hit back by accusing them of “bad academia”. Michael Bassey, who initiated the letter and is a Schools Improvement reader, has now responded to the Education Secretary. This is an extract from the Telegraph…

University lecturers in departments of Education today are well informed on the work of school teachers and this is why, when a colleague and I sent out a ‘round robin’ seeking support for a letter to this paper expressing concern for Mr Gove’s plans to reform the national curriculum, we received within three days the support of 100 university staff, half of whom were professors of Education.

The letter was published on 20 March and a front-page article by Graeme Paton, Education Editor, elaborated on our worry.

Our concern was that Mr Gove’s proposed curriculum for primary schools puts too much emphasis on young children being taught a large number of rules and facts. We believe that the extensive rote learning that he advocates will restrict the development of their critical faculties, their ability to solve problems, and their creativity. We were not denying the value of some rote learning, but expect it to be coupled with comprehension. In a nutshell we wrote: ‘Much of it demands too much, too young’.

And then the s— hit the fan. “Michael Gove’s critics are afraid of change’, ‘With enemies like these, Michael Gove doesn’t need friends’ and “Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts’ were the headlines of three articles in this paper. The Times had an article by the Chief Ofsted inspector: ‘Get out of your ivory tower, academics told’. A Guardian article was headed “Michael Gove labels professors critical of new curriculum as ‘bad academia’.

But it was the Mail that went for the jugular with: ‘Repeat after me: if 100 experts say it’s wrong for children to learn by rote, they must all be nitwits’, ‘Revealed: Socialist links of academics trying to sabotage Gove’s reforms’ and then an article by Mr Gove himself ‘Why I refuse to surrender to militant Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools’.

The Mail, self-proclaimed champion of the free press, chose not to publish my rebuttal. I wrote: ‘It is disappointing that the Secretary of State for Education, instead of presenting rational arguments for his proposed changes to the curriculum, chooses to abuse us by claiming we are militant Marxists who are hell-bent on destroying our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.

‘Improving the educational achievements of children from impoverished homes is as much a matter of concern to academics in universities and teachers in schools as it is to Mr Gove. It will not be achieved by an over-demanding National Curriculum that will inevitably set up many pupils, their teachers and their schools, for failure.’

…the real worry in Mr Gove’s article was the statement that ‘We are moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools’. It is vital that teacher preparation should be a joint venture between schools and university departments of Education.

In simple terms schools train students for teaching in today’s schools, while universities educate them for teaching in tomorrow’s schools – by giving them theoretical insights into schooling that can hardly be provided in the day-to-day bustle of schools.

No one knows what schools will become in the forty-plus-year span of the teaching career of someone starting today but we can be certain that theoretical knowledge about how children learn and develop and how society impacts on this, coupled with familiarity with the educational thoughts of some of the great philosophers of the past will be invaluable to teachers coping with the consequences for schools of the economic and environmental problems of the future.

Certainly the autonomy that Mr Gove wants schools to have will need teachers who can think beyond the immediate concerns of their current classrooms.

We were awarded the Bad Grammar of the Year Award for our letter by the Idler Magazine. A spate of newspaper correspondence about the grammatical merits and demerits of our phrase ‘too much too young’ has at least kept our challenge about the curriculum proposals in the public eye.

Michael Bassey is an emeritus professor of Education of Nottingham Trent University and a former president of the British Educational Research Association. Much of his working career was spent training teachers and engaging in school-based research.

See the full article and a poll on Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms (currently with half against rote learning and the rest either supportive or saying Gove’s reforms don’t go far enough) at: Too much, too young? Why Gove’s reforms ‘spell danger’

Your thoughts and feedback on the reaction to the original letter and to Michael Bassey’s broader arguments set out in this new response to Michael Gove. Please use the comments below, Twitter or this form.

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  2. annietrev

    SchoolsImprove if we could keep kids down a year until their 3Rs are up to scratch their learning capacity would be maximised @tory_edu

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