Top UK headteacher: Michael Gove is ‘pressing the rewind button’

The Guardian is reporting that the principal of the British school ranked top in the world in the international baccalaureate diploma has launched a passionate attack on Michael Gove’s education reforms…

Tricia Kelleher accused the education secretary of “pressing the rewind button” and warned that attempts to chase global education-league rankings will lead schools into a creativity-free “cul-de-sac” of learning.

The head of the independent Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge said Gove was living in a parallel universe in which he bulldozed through reforms to qualifications and failed to recognise the importance of learning itself, including the role of new digital technologies in the classroom.

Stephen Perse equips each secondary-age pupil with an iPad and is working with Apple to publish its own curriculum apps. It is also contemplating abandoning handwriting in favour of screen-only working.

Kelleher rejected Gove’s recent ridiculing of the use of popular cultural references, such as Mr Men and Disney, as learning tools: “Why not, if they contribute to understanding and learning?”

She said modern pupils had a hugely varied cultural landscape. “I think the sober study of classic literature and dry narrative history do not register highly. Young people need an approach which connects with them and the values in their world.”

…Kelleher, whose school recorded the joint top score worldwide in the international baccalaureate diploma in the Sunday Times table published last month, urged Gove not to narrow education goals to the pursuit of Pisa scores: “My worry is we are now going to be driven towards Pisa because Pisa becomes the next altar we worship at. But it is really a cul-de-sac in learning terms.”

She said Pisa took no account of individual countries’ cultural differences, including the unrelenting pressure on pupils in top-performing countries, nor did they recognise the creativity of British learning. “If Michael Gove is saying we should just value what is in Pisa, then we might as well just collapse the curriculum and teach what will come top.”

Acknowledging the privileged position of her £5,000-a-term selective school, many of whose pupils are the children of Cambridge academics, Kelleher insisted that an approach focusing on sparking the imaginations of children applied across the schools landscape.

In a recent personal blogpost – she also blogs for the Guardian – Kelleher cited her own experience as a 13-year-old, when a BBC mini-series of War and Peace inspired her to read Tolstoy’s epic work, awakening a life-long love of history. “I am sure Gove would approve of such cultural aspiration from a working-class daughter of Irish immigrants, yet I should never have even considered reading such a vast tome without the stimulus of the TV series,” she wrote. “Just as the medium of television opened up the world of Tolstoy to me, today television is just one of a multitude of possibilities for engaging the young.”

Gove’s dismissal of “low-brow” cultural references missed the point, she argued. “The digital world is a game-changer, and we must change with it. If Angry Birds, the staple digital game of many youngsters, inspires a young person to learn coding, surely that is a desirable outcome?…

More at:  Top UK headteacher: Michael Gove is ‘pressing the rewind button’

Your reactions to Trish Kelleher’s attack of Michael Gove’s policies? And this is the second story we’ve had recently where the abolition of handwriting teaching is being discussed – is this really viable (or, more specifically, will the exam boards stop requiring it any time soon?)? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Policy.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove She’s spot on here & repeating what many have said since Gove’s rise to Ed Sec. A bit like saying that apples grow on trees

  2. cathy_farr

    SchoolsImprove It’ll depend on the criteria – hitting ‘performance targets’ or actually improving children’s ability to read and write!

  3. staley_staley

    SchoolsImprove The digital age is here and T&L in schools is paramount. Digital methods should just be another tool in the teachers toolbag

  4. ArtsworkLtd

    SchoolsImprove – Interesting perspective on challenges associated with current DFE thinking and general direction.

  5. rob_kelsall

    SchoolsImprove BillEstersonMP Gove is fast becoming the ‘Billy no-mates’ in the world of Education. Not ideal for an Education Secretary!

  6. LiterateCynic

    SchoolsImprove What utter bollocks! [Excuse my French!] ‘New’ is often good but by no means always. ‘Old’ is also often still good!

  7. deveritt

    staley_staley SchoolsImprove needs to enrich learning, that is the Latin route of educate, to draw out. Psychology of how we learn leads.

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