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Why those of us on the left should support Michael Gove’s efforts to “clever-up” the curriculum

January 20, 2013

Apologies for the length of this post, particularly as it is just an opinion piece, but I thought it worth giving plenty of background before I launched into a rant about something I really care about.

I’m not a big fan of the label “The Left”. It is usually used either by Tories to attack all their opponents, no matter how varied, as one ideologically homogenous, middle-class mass, usually made up of well-off public sector professionals and Guardian journalists, or by those at the other extreme to assert that they are the true representatives of an entire half of the political spectrum. I have even less time for it in education debate where attempts to apply left/right labels to the spectrum of educational opinion are used to conceal a much richer variety of positions. For these reasons I rarely blog about my personal political opinions. But I think it is important to make it clear in what follows that I am (literally) a card carrying member of the Labour Party and that if I am attacking Labour’s education policy it is because I want it to be better, not because I want the Tories to win the next election. However, I do want to add my voice to a couple of other teacher bloggers (also definitely not Tories) here and here, who have been expressing their frustration at the increasing habit of opposing ideas or proposals because they are seen as the work of Gove regardless of the merits, popularity, or even egalitarian ethos, of those ideas.

Those on the British left have always been philosophically split on education. There has been a predominantly (but not exclusively) working class tradition that saw knowledge as something, like healthcare and job security, which the working class were entitled to and should fight for. My favourite example of this attitude is probably from “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”:

‘What do YOU mean by poverty, then?’ asked Easton.

‘What I call poverty is when people are not able to secure for themselves all the benefits of civilization; the necessaries, comforts, pleasures and refinements of life, leisure, books, theatres, pictures, music, holidays, travel, good and beautiful homes, good clothes, good and pleasant food.’

Everybody laughed. It was so ridiculous. The idea of the likes of THEM wanting or having such things! Any doubts that any of them had entertained as to Owen’s sanity disappeared. The man was as mad as a March hare.

‘If a man is only able to provide himself and his family with the bare necessaries of existence, that man’s family is living in poverty.Since he cannot enjoy the advantages of civilization he might just as well be a savage: better, in fact, for a savage knows nothing of what he is deprived. What we call civilization–the accumulation of knowledge which has come down to us from our forefathers–is the fruit of thousands of years of human thought and toil. It is not the result of the labour of the ancestors of any separate class of people who exist today, and therefore it is by right the common heritage of all. Every little child that is born into the world, no matter whether he is clever or full, whether he is physically perfect or lame, or blind; no matter how much he may excel or fall short of his fellows in other respects, in one thing at least he is their equal–he is one of the heirs of all the ages that have gone before.’

But there has also been a contrasting progressive education tradition, which if not explicitly anti-knowledge, was more concerned with how children learned. This can be found in the work of that old Etonian, George Orwell, who describes sympathetically the doomed efforts of Dorothy to transform teaching at a small private school:

She had seen at a glance that what the children most needed, and dividing them up into three separate classes, and so arranging things that two lots could be working by themselves while she ‘went through’ something with the third.  It was difficult at first, especially with the younger girls, whose attention wandered as soon as they were left to themselves, so that you could never really take your eyes off them.  And yet how wonderfully, how unexpectedly, nearly all of them improved during those first few weeks!  For the most part they were not really stupid, only dazed by a dull, mechanical rigmarole.  For a week, perhaps, they continued unteachable; and then, quite suddenly, their warped little minds seemed to spring up and expand like daisies when you move the garden roller off them.

Quite quickly and easily Dorothy broke them in to the habit of thinking for themselves.  She got them to make up essays out of their own heads instead of copying out drivel about the birds chanting on the boughs and the flowerets bursting from their buds. She attacked their arithmetic at the foundations and started the little girls on multiplication and piloted the older ones through long division to fractions; she even got three of them to the point where there was talk of starting on decimals.  She taught them the first rudiments of French grammar in place of ‘Passez-moi le beurre, s’il vous plait’ and ‘Le fils du jardinier a perdu son chapeau’.  Finding that not a girl in the class knew what any of the countries of the world looked like (though several of them knew that Quito was the capital of Ecuador), she set them to making a large contour-map of Europe in plasticine, on a piece of three-ply wood, copying it in scale from the atlas.  The children adored making the map; they were always clamouring to be allowed to go on with it.  And she started the whole class, except the six youngest girls and Mavis Williams, the pothook specialist, on reading Macbeth.  Not a child among them had ever voluntarily read anything in her life before, except perhaps the Girl’s Own Paper; but they took readily to Shakespeare, as all children do when he is not made horrible with parsing and analysing.

Historically, this difference became most important with the move to comprehensive education and away from selection.  Although a consensus was achieved on the left (and far, far beyond) over the need to end the tripartite system (academic grammar schools for the most able fifth of the population; a sprinkling of technical schools, and “vocational” secondary moderns for the majority) there were severe philosophical differences which were often not clearly expressed. Some wanted to move to a system where working class kids were able to succeed academically in large numbers and move up the social ladder. Others wanted to move to a system where working class kids were encouraged to feel good about themselves regardless of their academic success or lack thereof. For the latter, the progressive tradition, focused on feelings, interests, self-expression, social integration and abstract and immeasurable intellectual qualities was a far better match for working class children than the rigours, discipline and demands of a traditional academic education.

Fierce conflict took place on the left, most noticeably over William Tyndale school and Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin speech condemning progressive ideology. Greater unity was achieved after Labour lost office in 1979 as a divided Labour Party found many other issues to disagree over while the Tories managed to unite the left on education (particularly when Kenneth Baker was education secretary) by offering any number of contentious policies and a newly acquired, and quite unprecedented, hostility to the teaching profession. However, once Labour returned to electability in the mid 1990s conflict broke out again when Tony Blair and David Blunkett pushed forward an agenda, framed in impeccably modern terms, based on academic standards, setting and whole class teaching. Howls of outrage emanated from those in the progressive education tradition on the left. Ideological spasms from university lecturer Tedd Wragg and backbench MP (and later Lord) Roy Hattersley were particulary memorable. However, Labour’s “standards” agenda was soon abandoned after Blunkett left education in 2001 and under a succession of weak education secretaries the policy shifted back towards a progressive curriculum. Every Child Matters marginalised the academic aspects of education. Languages ceased to be required. Progressive teaching methods were promoted, and then mandated by OFSTED. Vocational qualifications expanded to replace GCSEs. Various exams were abolished, apparently with the intention of replacing them with a criteria-based system known as “Assessing Pupil Progress”. Most of this happened, however, without great fanfare and often with great confusion over the point or objective of the changes that were happening. Less progressive-oriented initiatives were also introduced at the same time, such as a push for phonics and the removal of coursework from many GCSEs, and a certain amount of structural reform alienated many of those who would otherwise have embraced the general drift towards progressive education.

By the time the Conservatives (and their Liberal Democrat allies) took power in 2010, they faced a Labour Party absolutely incoherent on education and rapidly made the area their own. Conservative ministers, now willing to praise Blunkett and Blair and distance themselves from support for selection, pushed ahead with an agenda that left Labour mystified about how to react. Further structural reform along lines not dissimilar to that of the preceding Labour government left Labour politicians utterly confused over where they now stood. More importantly, a push for higher standards left Labour conflicted between winning the support of the educational establishment and trying to retain some credibility with a public appalled at years of lowering standards. It is here, where Labour now faces a stark choice. Michael Gove has pushed forward an agenda based on ending “dumbing-down” and instead “clevering-up” the curriculum. The key elements so far have been:

  • Removal of many non-academic aims from the curriculum, most noticeably the various strands of Every Child Matters;
  • Introduction of the English Baccalaureate, a performance measure for schools which counts students gaining grade C in a handful of the most clearly academic GCSEs;
  • The encouragement of phonics (i.e. teaching children to decode words rather than guess) in primary schools along with moves to test spelling and grammar and introduce a knowledge-based curriculum;
  • Removal of “equivalences” which allowed coursework based vocational non-qualifications to count towards performance measures;
  • Plans to reform exams further, including the introduction of new, more rigorous EBCs to replace GCSEs in certain key subjects.

Much of this has been met with sheer delusion from much of the left. It must be a trick. It must be unfair that educationalists and schools didn’t get to veto it. It must be about privatisation. It must be about the reintroduction of selection. It must be about declaring war on teachers. It must be about everything other than what it blatantly is, an attempt to ensure that our schools are making a marked effort to make all children cleverer. The most recent delusion is that nobody supports this and, particularly, that nobody in education supports this direction of travel. This reached it’s most absurd with this  story. Kenneth Baker, the former Tory education secretary, is reported to have attacked the EBacc for being too ambitious for most children:

“The EBacc is very similar to the exam I sat in 1951 when I was 16, the School Certificate. It’s exactly the same, exactly!…I was the last year that took it, because it simply wasn’t broad enough for most children. Only seven per cent of young people went on to post-16 education, I was part of a privileged elite. And the EBacc is a throwback to that.”

Here we have an arch right-winger, a one-time bogeyman to the left. Here we have somebody who had promoted selection through the creation of Community Technology Colleges and been marked out during his time in office by his hostility to the teaching profession. Here we have him claiming that the mass of the working population simply aren’t suited to the sort of exam that he himself did. Here we have a perfect example of a right-winger with utter contempt for the academic aspirations on the part of anyone outside of his own social class. If there is anything the left could unite against it should be this. However, the only reaction I saw from the educational left on social media was a widespread declaration that it showed nobody supported Gove’s agenda.  Worse, Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary is quoted as saying:

“When even Conservatives say that Michael Gove’s exams are a throwback to the 1950s, you know he’s got the wrong approach. We need an education system that prepares young people for the future, not a narrow and out of date exam system that risks undermining our economic strength in innovation and creativity.”

Now let’s be quite clear about this. This is a right-wing Tory attacking another Tory for attempting to provide the opportunities he had to too many people . This is a Tory who believes that an academic education is not suitable for the masses in much the same way as their party once believed free health care or good housing was not suitable for all. This is an attack on Gove for not doing enough to support selection. And we have Labour’s education spokesman welcoming it.

Is this the agenda Labour is to go to the general election with? Will Stephen Twigg (PPE, Balliol College, Oxford), Ed Milliband (PPE, Corpus Christi College, Oxford) or Ed Balls (PPE, Keble College, Oxford) actually be putting it to the public that an academic education is bad for the economy and unsuitable for the working class? Will they actually be declaring that Michael Gove is simply too ambitious in his plans for the electorate’s children? Will the dividing lines be that some kids (presumably not their kids) are simply not academic and should know their place? Will Labour’s position be “non-academic” kids need to be spared from the rigours of tough exams while Michael Gove’s position is that “non-academic kids” should be given the opportunity to become academic? Will they expect working class voters to agree with this?

Now Labour have much to attack the Tories on over education. Some of their structural reforms have encouraged the worst of the progressives. Their attitude to teacher’s pay and conditions is harming teaching on a daily basis. The EBCs, while good in theory, may be absolutely impractical to implement. But what Labour cannot afford to do is to declare its affiliation to the parts of the middle class left who have always felt that working class aspiration (whether it was for people to own their own homes, run their own businesses, or for their children’s quality of education) was somehow suspect and to be obstructed. A Labour Party which goes into the next election declaring that the important thing about education is that it recognises that we shouldn’t worry about leaving working class kids ignorant because they are probably good with their hands and leaving the Tories to talk about social mobility is one which will lose. Not because everyone votes on education, but because there is no issue like it for revealing to the electorate the prejudices and priorities of a political party and how they match up with the aspirations and ambitions of voters.

Update (18:40 20/1/2013):

I hadn’t seen this blog by Kevin Bartle when I wrote mine.

Along with the two I mentioned, that makes 4 of us, distinctly non-Tory bloggers, saying things that, according to a lot of people on Twitter, are believed by nobody other than Tory journalists.

Also feel obliged to mention two blogs I had read that might have influenced the above:

E.D. Hirsch is no right-winger

You don’t have to be a Tory to be a traditionalist in education

Update: (3/2/2013): Just found another Labour supporting teacher-blogger who doesn’t buy into the “Teachers disagree with Gove about everything” narrative: Are teachers like priests? Is it time to start believing in ourselves?

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55 comments

  1. [...] at the back end of Sunday afternoon I tweeted a link to it then returned to my timeline to find this wonderful post by my sometime twitter tango partner (I’ve been told it takes two to do so more times by [...]


  2. Your most coherent argument for ages! Nice one. Agree dismissing every MG policy on principle is short-sighted. I read your post and felt uncomfortable for ages (maybe it’s just the effect of agreeing with you!) but have now worked out why. Of course no one can argue with “clevering up” in terms of having high expectations, and few would dispute your point about not wanting to impose class limitations again. The issue is more I think about the nature of what we value as “clever” and how we measure that.

    1)The type of “clever” that is good at passing single shot terminal exams isn’t useful for very much in the real world, and if we limit university placement to people who can succeed in that task, we discriminate against perfectly intelligent, talented potential academics who don’t test well.
    2) That type of clever is even less helpful for wiring a house or designing a sports car, or even teaching children (unless it’s just to pass tests!) There are other sets of talents and abilities that are not less but different and those talents are not recognised in the EBC proposals.
    3) Just reducing the number of successful candidates does not actually help anyone. I can live with the constant upward movement of floor targets, even though I think it’ll plateau at some point. But norm referencing where you CANNOT increase the percentage of successful students will surely bring about just the type of social stereotyping you’re criticising – “oh they’re just an E student, they can’t have a well-paid job” rather than giving them the possibility of
    working hard and getting a C.
    Still, thanks for making me think… :-)


    • The type of clever that is good at passing single shot terminal exams is the type of clever that can retain information, show ability at an academic discipline, write clearly and to a deadline and apply knowledge to a particular context. This seems to me to be a remarkably useful type of “clever”. Much better than the ability to plagiarise coursework, get lucky when entering the same exam for the 5th time or willingness to let teachers do your work for you.

      Of course there are talents beyond the academic. Very important ones. But schools should be academic institutions first.

      Despite reports, last I heard there is still no confirmation that EBCs would be norm-referenced so I’ll worry about that when it is confirmed. I would be against it.


      • Is plagiarism that much of a problem in coursework and is there any way it can be mitigated?


        • I’m of the view that coursework was a hopeless idea from start to finish.


          • Could you say why? Is it because you believe the system will inevitably end up being abused? Many apologies if you’ve already posted on this topic but I’ve not found anything.


          • Not much to say. We had the system. It was abused. The attempt to reform it ended up with an even worse disaster.


          • Wow, you have to ask why coursework is a useless system? Presumably not a teacher then otherwise you’d be VERY well aware of the wholesale cheating and gaming that takes place. No?

            Andrew, your points are well-made and I agree with them.

            BTW Andrew as a card-carrying member of the Labour Party, you’re a right winger these days. Seriously.


          • eh?
            is this to suggest that viewing coursework as inappropriate is to be of a right wing disposition?

            I think I smell BS


    • “That type of clever is even less helpful for wiring a house”
      An electrician is in a safety critical occupation, yours and his. The rules governing electrical installations are written by both local authorities and the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), formerly the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE). Knowledge of these regulations plus a mathematical ability to calculate loads, fusing currents and etc is vital. Remember a lot of house fires are caused by faulty wiring. How else would you assess a potential electricians understanding other by asking him/ her questions in a controlled environment?


    • Rachel,
      You touched upon an issue dear to my heart.

      I 100% disagree with you I’m afraid.

      Testing provides evidence of ‘genuine’ competence and knowledge.

      Any other system of assessment is deeply flawed as its more subjective and open to abuse.

      I want my pilot to have passed a robust exam
      I want my surgeon to have passed challenging theoretical and practical exams
      I want my driver to have passed his driving test
      I want my lawyer to have passed his law exams
      I want my kids Geography teacher to have an exam based qualification in Geography
      I want my electrician to have passed a set of demanding theoretical and practical exams

      Seriously, would you not agree with me on the above?

      Right now, today, I aware of students in my school that have B’s in GCSE English that I believe are illiterate.

      By that I mean that many of the words I have used in this post they would misspell and that if they were to write a letter of application for a job it would contain glaring and embarrassing errors and in a conversation they would be unable to sustain a line of thought or opinion in any meaningful or functional way.

      Yet they have their B due to coursework.
      An exam would reveal them to be perhaps an E?

      This is why I support the reduction/removal of coursework with qualifications.


    • Is this perhaps an issue with the way in which exams have developed over the years, in that they have become too formulaic for fear of upsetting the consumers? With modular exams everything is broken down into smaller less connected pieces?
      Academic ‘cleverness’ is useful and should be promoted by why does this have to be at the expense of other skills/abilities. Surely the issue should be about high expectations whatever is being taught and to some extent assessed. The problem with vocational courses has not been that they are vocational is that they have low expectations and are often in reality insipid impersonators of academic qualifications. Perhaps they need to actually be more vocational and give students an opportunity to actually do the things they are meant be about, rather than rewrite assessment briefs about them!


  3. The ‘type of clever’ so objected to is rather useful.

    Wiring houses requires some knowledge of electricity. Designing sports cars requires some knowledge of physics and mechanics. Teaching something you yourself don’t actually understand is not likely to be successful.

    Actually I have second hand experience of this through the missus who is a Nurse.

    Mathematics, obviously useless in Nursing.

    But in Nursing, medications are often in one unit (e.g. grammes per cubic centimetre) on the box but the medication is often given in another different unit.

    So they are given the question (an extreme example) “to get a dose of 240mg of medication which is at 13g/cm3 how many millilitres are required” ?

    And they seem to be pretty much guessing AFAICS. They do not understand – any of them – the relationship between mass/volume/density and scaling between different units. They appear to rely on a few learnt recipes.

    Much of it is of course about willingness to make *effort*.


  4. A lot of misunderstandings in here as usual, the constant shaping of selective information to fuel the author’s narcissistic agenda.


  5. Thought-provoking piece, but makes some questionable implicit assumptions:

    1. The difference between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ skills is self-evident. It isn’t, and has been the subject of heated debate since the beginning of the state education system.

    2. It’s self-evident that schools should focus on ‘academic’ skills. Another subject of heated debate. In this context, the term ‘academic’ is tautological, since it means ‘of or related to education or scholarship’. It’s often used to refer to abstracted knowledge – ie the underlying principles involved in a particular domain. Last time I looked, vocational courses included a fair amount of abstract knowledge anyway. You don’t have to take a course in physics to understand the physics of electricity, or to have a maths GCSE in order to become a very competent carpenter – you can gain the relevant abstract knowledge via the vocational course.

    3. ‘Academic’ is somehow superior to ‘vocational’, though I’ve never heard anyone explain why. I think the idea has arisen because all children have been expected to tackle ‘academic’ skills – and we know that many fail to master them. Those who fail often fare better with ‘vocational’ skills, so we conclude those skills are inferior. I strongly suspect that if all children were expected to tackle ‘vocational’ skills we might accord them more respect. I know, because I’ve tried to learn, that I would be unable to earn a living as a dressmaker, carpenter or electrician however much effort I put in.

    4. The school certificate was replaced because of social class issues. It wasn’t. It was because able children were failing it due to weakness in one subject.

    5. Every individual is equally well-equipped to study everything and equally interested in everything and we’ll never be economically competitive unless all school leavers are equally competent in everything. Demonstrably untrue. What any community needs is a diversity of skills, and competence in those skills. Even the most ‘clevered-up’ society needs skilled plumbers, motor mechanics and builders.

    Why not equip schools/colleges to teach a wide range of courses and let students focus on what they are good at? Oh, and clevering-up teacher training might not go amiss.


    • Trying to work out which, if any, of these supposed assumptions I have actually made. I think that assumption 2 is the only one I believe, but given your definition of “academic” I don’t think I believe it in the way you suggest.


    • Why argue in the abstract? Just look at some of the false “equivalences” drawn between vocational and non-vocational qualifications. DIDA, for example, a.k.a. 4 GCSEs in Microsoft Office. It doesn’t really matter what you call them: the point is that we shouldn’t pretend that qualifications are equally difficult to obtain or equally valuable when they are not.


    • mmm

      1. I think most students do get exposure to both sets of skills, and to a degree get to follow their interests or things that they believe to be important for the future.

      However there is also the dynamic where very weak students do gravitate towards wood work etc because its the only thing they can have success at – they simply cant cope with maths or languages.

      However the very bright students could easily do wood work but it doesn’t intellectually stimulate them and they get more satisfaction from more academic pursuits.

      For this reason parents and students make their own mind up about the relative status of ‘vocational vs academic’ regardless of what the educational establishment says.

      I say all this recognising the clear exception of footballing prowess which in many schools is the ultimate talent.

      2. I would say you need to be have competent basic maths to be a decent carpenter. Otherwise you will have very unhappy customers. I know kids who cannot multiply or add- they would make poor carpenters even if their motor skills were exceptional.

      3. A lot of it is cash generation. If you have an excellent memory, have good social skills and an analytical mind you might make an excellent doctor with a good wage.

      An ability to sew a straight hem, in the absence of other skills, is unlikely to generate much cash or respect within our current society.

      Do you see why one set of skills has higher status than the other?

      4. I will take your word for that- unless others wish to contradict you.

      5. Diversity is desirable and inevitable. However don’t you think everyone should have the CHANCE of having an academic education- just in case they thrive on it?

      I mean they still have their option choices at 14? If they hate academic subjects they can focus on other subjects then cant they?


    • Amen to that. Totally agree, I have exams in physics, a degree and an a qualified teacher but I can’t put together a DIY shelf. What limitations we put for ourselves! My mother always used to tell me to look at my hand and ask if all the fingers (&thumb) were identical, would it work better as a whole? No. Each digit represents a slightly different perspective or experience of what we face as a society. One size does not fit all. And here’s a newsflash, IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO! There is one possible generic vale we should all have and that’s SELF FUFILMENT. Who measures that? Yet without it, or undermining it seems to be what all these qualifications do sooooo well. Bravo.


      • May I also add that I believe people hold skills that currently cannot earn them a living at this current moment in time, perhaps genetically great at calculating quantum physic flux (ok I have no idea if that’s anything but bear with the point) yet live in a time/ place/ reality where its useless. What do they do? Spend years studying on poverty line, since they are really good at abstract equations, and deny the excellent ability they have to unblock drains and make a decent living? Listen to yourseleves! I know many intelligent people just getting on with life best they can, perhaps giving the future a chance should that quirky ability be somehow a genetic trait, so when society is ready, that hidden latent skill can emerge and flourish for everyones sake! I have seen cave paintings that depict the almost identical animated sections of a buffalo hunt before language or a camera were invented! Intelligence serves a purpose, to help the individual survive. If it fails to do that because current thinking insists on one blinkered representation of intelligence then none of us benefit, not now, not tomorrow.


        • Sorry but on a rant and have to point out Charles Babbage the first designer of first computer and any Lovelace the first programmer. Ok they were not poor but they had skillsets that predate the courses they would have excelled in, possibly. or perhaps been average in. But I do hope I have made my point. We do what we can to survive. Food on the table and all that. Babbage died having failed to create his machines due to materials not being of sturdy enough quality and the government sank enough money into it to build a couple of battleships I believe. Don’t poo poo kids if they don’t fit todays educational system. Let them live with passion for whatever they can get from school and respect that not everyone is in the right space/time continumn to use it. Respect that, and you got a real start for the future.


      • I can’t agree with that. Fundamentally, this just seems selfish to me.


  6. This is an interesting article and you are right to point out not everything Gove is doing is universally opposed by the whole teaching profession.
    However, I would like to make two points. The first is not everything he does is properly thought out and as a consequence he’s hurtling ahead without proper consultation. Right or wrong, he should consult more with teachers – on all sides – and make decisions based on evidence not on ideological dogma and what he would most like to hear.
    My second point is not everyone who is opposed to Gove is a ‘Progressive’. I object to the idea that anyone who wants to open the debate up beyond the old battle lines is immediately ‘progressive’. Knowledge and skills are (as you’ve argued elsewhere) both important, so long as the skills are genueinely applicable and the knoweldge genuinely contextual (subject or otherwise). It is possible to argue for this and to argue education can be cross-curricular and built in collaboration with children in communities of inquiry, without being an elitist, middle-class, progressive, cough…


    • Well, I have to say the first complaint is the sort of charge that could be directed at any politician who ever made a decision, when people lack strong arguments as to why it is the wrong decision.

      As for my characterisation of progressive education. I think I’ll stick with it. Claiming to want to transcend old battle lines is what progressive educationalists have always done, but that’s because the progressive tradition is always disowning its past not because these debates can be side-stepped. Also I don’t think I claimed progressives were elitist. Just that in siding with Baker they are siding with an elitist.


  7. Agree with every word. I keep whispering how much I agree with Gove and Wilshaw (I have always voted Labour). In fact I believe Gove has managed to return some schools back to being comprehensives instead of tenth rate BTEC academies as they became under Labour.


  8. I have just watched the Gove interview (guardian) re A Level reform announced today. I agreed with every word he said. I remember my LEA subject adviser (remember them?) speaking to a room of subject leaders 13 0r 14 years ago (Curriculum 2000) how the new AS/A2 model would introduce …..yes, you guessed it, rigour.

    Ten years later we moan about being circus skills trainers endlessly preparing our charges to jump through shrinking and burning hoops. A two year course developing ‘deep learning’ – to quote Gove -Hell yeah, bring it on.


    • “A two year course developing ‘deep learning'”

      Sounds like the same old nonsense to me

      Why would a two year long course with a terminal exam help us?

      “deep learning”…………………..puleeeeeze!!


  9. I think Martins right.

    Having an exam after 2 years means you can really get to grips with topic material without worrying of cramming or coaching for exams.

    It means you can do long projects or topics without being interrupted by mocks and y12 modules.

    It saves the taxpayer a packet.

    It reduces paperwork and entries.

    whats not to like?


    • Although you may well correct rob, I fail to see benefits other than in admin. Why pick 2 years other than this is the length of grades 11 and 12 combined?

      We can define learning in a number of ways, but if we take learning to mean a relatively permanent change in knowledge or skills (or something similar) I can see that testing too frequently might lead us to fail to assess “relatively permanent”.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am not against change for a good reason and I can see that a 2 year course with a terminal exam might benefit some. However those helped are not in my view those that need the help.

      I don’t think we should throw out the current system with all of it’s benefits just because of the dumbing down effects resulting mainly from the use and abuse of coursework. Let us not forget also that teachers have to take a share of the blame here.


      • Hi,
        Fair points, and whilst I think it was essential to make ks4 a 2 year terminal course, I am less passionate about ks5, but I still think Gove has it right.

        against current system:

        – the admin is more of an expense and burden than perhaps people realise. 2 years ago I was stood in an exam hall aghast at the insane permutation of exams in front of me. The exams officer said her job had become impossible and there were over 40 different permutations being sat that day. Factor in laptop use, readers, scribes, extra time, modules, resit modules, y10, 11, 12 and 13. It was a circus. All paid by the tax payer. Lunacy. Lots of teacher time was spent/wasted tactically deciding with kids what exams to retake and how to play the system.

        – modules inflated grades and meant kids knew they could retake endless times leading to poor conduct and focus. They always knew they had another chance.

        – too many people were going onto A-levels and degrees. this should dissuade those simply not cut out for further education.

        – the AS grades didnt help with predictions for Uni as parents and kids still swore they would do better ‘next time’. The onset of external AS levels hasnt made the uni application process any better, efficient or accurate than 30 years ago. (well at least according to some of my colleagues in the system anyway)

        ‘for’ the current system:

        – having regular modules sometimes motivated some kids. Although some might say if such kids needed that type of motivation then perhaps they shouldn’t have been there in the 1st place….

        – an external exam gave a reliable grade. However some might say schools already do a big mock anyway so why not simply use that? (for assessment)


  10. My mother did her teacher training at William Tyndale school, while at the Sydney Webb Teacher Training College. She was extremely left-wing. But also very critical of the experiment. As she saw it, the great informality in the classroom meant that the more articulate middle class children colonised the teacher’s attention, while the working class children mucked about.


  11. Nicely expressed, but I don’t think you’re a very successful apologist for MG and if you think about the reasons why this might be so, you’ll understand why others can’t and won’t prioritise engagement over resistance at this point in time. It’s less about whether progressive or not, than how much you’re concerned for the social fall out of this kind of narcissistic headlong revisionism.


    • I’m assuming it’s because of their complete and utter lack of rational arguments. Something you seem to have dispensed with too.


      • AFAICS the Unions are sleeper agents for the Government, behaving ridiculously,making fatuous arguments and being obsessed with money and political campaigning.

        I cannot believe they are this incompetent without actually trying.


  12. I’ve been mulling this over, and, as someone also on the left, I’m afraid I disagree strongly with some of your reasoning on this. Forgive me for writing a long response.

    You say that “Michael Gove has pushed forward an agenda based on ending “dumbing-down” and instead “clevering-up” the curriculum.”, and then you list five points. You have conveniently forgotten other significant parts of Michael Gove’s agenda: ‘Free’ Schools and academies, with their creeping privatisation of a public good; whole scale attacks on the professionalism of the teaching profession; Appointing a Head of Ofsted who has attacked schools and those working in education at every opportunity; goading the unions into taking strike action; and generally forcing further change on a system sick of being a political football, based on prejudice, spite and an almost complete lack of understanding of the purpose and nature of education.

    You then say “It must be about everything other than what it blatantly is, an attempt to ensure that our schools are making a marked effort to make all children cleverer.” How exactly do (or will) any of the five points you attribute to Gove help children to be cleverer? The phonics/real texts roundabout goes round regularly, and we happen to be heading out towards pure phonics at the moment; but phonics in itself won’t make children smarter. The other four points have nothing to do with being clever.

    I’m no fan of Kenneth Baker, but his comment, “Here we have him claiming that the mass of the working population simply aren’t suited to the sort of exam that he himself did” at least recognises the huge cultural differences we in the UK have in our class based society; something you seem to completely ignore. Baker may be a Tory, and his terms ones those on the left might not use, but he seems to understand that the exams of the fifties had huge cultural bias in favour of the elite. Ignoring the huge difference between those from an ‘education-positive’ background (which many might label ‘professional’, ‘white collar’, ‘middle class’ or ‘aspiring working class’) and those from an ‘education-neutral’ or ‘anti-education’ background (which also go by the terms ‘blue collar’, ‘working class’ or ‘old money’), is surely ridiculous in an advanced, stratified countries like England and Wales. Ignoring it, as Gove seeks to do, is easy when, in common with the rest of the partliamentary Tory party, he will never subject his children to the state system he is in the process of messing with.

    I disagree with a huge amount which Stephen Twigg says, and he suffers from having a woefully inadequate understanding of the nature of education, but when he says “When even Conservatives say that Michael Gove’s exams are a throwback to the 1950s, you know he’s got the wrong approach. We need an education system that prepares young people for the future, not a narrow and out of date exam system that risks undermining our economic strength in innovation and creativity,” I can at least see the point he is making. Michael Gove is not pursuing a course which will prepare the average child for the future; he is continuing down a path which turns under-privileged children away from education, foists ill-thought out change on education via top down whim and holds schools accountable for social and economic factors far beyond their control.

    Finally, you say “A Labour Party which goes into the next election declaring that the important thing about education is that it recognises that we shouldn’t worry about leaving working class kids ignorant because they are probably good with their hands and leaving the Tories to talk about social mobility is one which will lose.” Let’s hope this isn’t the case, but either way, there is so much about Mr Gove’s headlong assault on education which is wrong-headed, pray to all that is holy that no-one on the left suggests that “He has a point.”

    The man is not someone anyone on the left should be defending.


    • Well firstly I have not “conveniently forgotten” anything. I wanted to write a post expressing my support for certain parts of Michael Gove’s policies. If I don’t mention a policy then it may well be that I don’t support it and, therefore, have no reason to mention it in a post such a this. That said I have little time for the politics of character assassination which is what you seem to be engaged in, and I think it is spectacularly misplaced when you turn it on Michael Wilshaw who is simply not the person you describe.

      As for how phonics will make children cleverer, well, I would argue that getting people to be be able to read makes them cleverer.

      The most ridiculous argument you give is that ignoring class is worse for the working class than naked class prejudice. Sorry, but we have tried discriminating on grounds of class and it doesn’t work even when it is claimed to be in the interests of the working class. I simply don’t accept that high standards turn the under-privileged away from education and can only attribute such an opinion to a very low opinion of the under-privileged. I think high expectations have the exact opposite effect and as long as some people on the left show this sort of contempt for the less well off I will willing criticise them and defend Gove on this point.


      • Thanks for your measured response, Andrew. I plead guilty: Yes, I was fairly contemptuous of Messrs Gove and Wilshaw above and I do find it hard not to express some exasperation when talking about them. They are clearly trying to improve the quality of education in England in Wales; I find their strident confidence that they have the answers to a very complicated question somewhat frustrating.

        Broadly, I feel that for every speech Michael Gove gives which contains a lot of sense ( http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00217008/secretary-of-state-gives-speech-to-iaa- is one example), there are others in which his reforming zeal overwhelms him, and he pursues untested theories as if they were proved fact (His comments on teacher training, academies, “a rich diverse ecosystem” of education here http://www.conservatives.com/News/Speeches/2012/10/Michael_Gove_Politeia_Think_Tank_Speech.aspx are huge leaps into the dark). Sir Michael may say that he just wants excellent teaching (http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/what-ofsted-say-they-want/), but as far as I can see, Ofsted under his guidance continues to be a negative force in education.

        I’m sorry that you regard my comments as in some way showing contempt for the less well off, and as you can imagine, I mean to suggest no such thing. Whilst you “simply don’t accept that high standards turn the under-privileged away from education,” I wasn’t suggesting that. I was suggesting that Michael Gove is “pursuing a course which will not prepare the average child for the future”, one product of which is that I believe that this will turn (by implication many but clearly not all) under-privileged children away from education, an issue which is of huge concern for many people, not least those like yourself who want good discipline and ‘education-positive’ students in school.

        Have high standards by all means, but we need a system which recognises and supports those children who can’t, for whatever reason, attain the high standards which are set. Michael Gove seems to think everyone can and should be an ‘A’ student. What does he suggest we should do with those who aren’t?


        • Maybe get a job or an apprenticeship?

          Or a less demanding academic course?


  13. Gandar,
    shheeesh… so wrong…aww… it hurts its so wrong…

    1. so you are on the left- good for you- can we drop the left/right/centre references please? Can we all agree we want all our kids to be as well educated as is possible yes?

    2. Academies were already started by Labour. PFI has been around a long time.

    3. Wilshaw has done more for working class kids and disadvantaged kids than you ever did- yet you feel you should attack him?

    4. Attacked schools? with mortars or words or policy? Any examples?

    5. Goading? Not sure about that- but I do know that I have never met a member of the public (not a single one) with the slightest sympathy for the teaching unions (and as I feel I must point out, most of the people I have spoken too were not Tory)

    6. Yes, the incessant change is tiresome- especially for someone like me who has been around a bit- but I know lots of teachers who like some of his policies- the eradication of endless GCSE modules is mostly welcomed.

    7. “prejudice, spite and an almost complete lack of understanding of the purpose and nature of education”

    well thats just straightforward bollocks

    8. Phonics- I would accept there is an absence of peer reviewed research supporting synthetic phonics- however anecdotally I have heard good things. Either way it seems to me the motivation is noble. I certainly don’t think it needs to exclude creativity or a love of reading.

    9. cultural bias? please give it a rest.. either you can solve a quadratic equation or you cannot… you either know the Kings of England or you don’t… and even a kid from a housing estate in Hull can show this in an exam.

    10. You seem very confident in your understanding of education and view it above that of others- dare I suggest this confidence is misplaced? I personally think the old O-level was too hard. But the GCSE C-grade is now waaaay too low. A proper appraisal of standards and assessment is not a blow against under privileged children.

    11. I can think of a lot of people on the left who would/should like what Gove is doing.

    For example the humble taxpayer on modest means.

    I can think of a few people on the right who might/should not like what Gove is doing.

    For example the less than humble publishers and certain exam boards.

    You know, if you insist of viewing things in those terms…


  14. Rob,

    Thanks for your response. I’ll start with point 10 – yep, I’m opinionated, otherwise I wouldn’t be replying to a blog post.

    I’ve move this to a new thread because my post was about TeachingBattleground’s post, and if I post this below my original, it’ll head off at a tangent. So…

    1. “Can we drop the left/right/centre references please?” The OP is titled ‘Why those of us on the left should support Michael Gove’s efforts to “clever-up” the curriculum.’ The first paragraph in the OP explains why discussing left/right is relevant.

    2. “Academies were already started by Labour.” And are now significantly different, and part of Gove’s agenda. Half of all secondaries are now “academies”; this is significantly different to Labour’s version of “academies”.

    3 & 4. Re: “Michael Wilshaw has done more ( ) than you ever did” You have no idea what I do or have done. Ad hominum on me. I attacked MW’s actions. MW attacks on education – here’s one from a quick search. There are many more. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9685479/Ofsted-head-Sir-Michael-Wilshaw-tells-head-teachers-to-stop-moaning.html

    5. Goading – see the Mail article. Support for Teaching Unions – see the You Gov poll linked in the LocalSchoolsNetwork article.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2245459/Gove-war-footing-teaching-unions-expected-launch-industrial-action.html

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/12/yougov-poll-shows-support-for-teaching-unions/

    6. “Change is tiresome.” Isn’t it just?

    7. “Prejudice, spite and an almost complete lack of understanding of the purpose and nature of education”

    “Well, that’s just straightforward bollocks.” No, it’s an opinion, held by me. It’s not the key point of my response to Teaching Battleground’s OP, which is – to repeat – my view is that Michael Gove isn’t doing anything to “clever up” education, and that “those of us on the left” should definitely not “support Michael Gove’s efforts to “clever-up” the curriculum.”

    On the point about Gove’s lack of understanding of education, he appears to hold the view – held by many in the UK and elsewhere – that “schools” are responsible for “education” and that “improving schools” would significantly change the educational outcomes of children in this country. (Each of the aspects in quotes probably needs a bigger clarification, but, hey, life is short.)

    As Chris Cook (see link below) has demonstrated repeatedly, schools do not hold sole responsibility for children’s outcomes, as social and economic factors have a much higher impact. The best estimates I can find (and, believe me, I’ve looked for the evidence) suggest that schools are responsible for no more than 20% of a child’s educational “outcome” (jrf link below).

    In forcing schools to deny the significant factors affecting any given child’s ability to progress, pursuing an “academic” agenda and pretending that ‘we are all equal’, Gove sits squarely within the mainstream which believes that teaching performs miracles. He dislikes teachers generally (prejudice, spite) and, to those like me who don’t think “education” makes anything like the difference many people think it does, he demonstrates “an almost complete lack of understanding of the purpose and nature of education.”

    I hope this clears up the “bollocks.”

    http://blogs.ft.com/ftdata/author/christophercook/

    http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/2063-education-schools-achievement.pdf

    8. Phonics. As I said, “phonics in itself won’t make children smarter.” Teaching Battleground was suggesting that it would. I disagree.

    9. Cultural bias. Schools are an educated person’s good, and those from an educated background have huge cultural advantage accessing education. Again, have a look into if you haven’t.

    10. ”You seem very confident in your understanding of education.” Yes, I do. Extremely confident, in fact. I work as a teacher, in primary, and I think and research my ideas a great deal (see the various links I’ve posted). I’m not plucking things out of the ether based on a vague feeling and anecdote. You may not agree with me, but I do hold my (strong) views and I wouldn’t contribute to blogs like this if I didn’t.

    11. “I can think of a lot of people on the left who would/should like what Gove is doing.”

    Good for you. I see that some, like TeachignBattleground, have begun to express support for Gove, and I’ve explained why I think this is a bad idea. Feel free to disagree…


    • 1. Right- so now he;s now made the point that its wring to draw inappropriate political battle lines- lets drop the right- left labelling…

      2. Sure, they are different, but the process was started by Labour- as was the PFI- a privatisation tool.

      3. Im assuming you never took on a school full of underprivileged kids and made it successful thus massively improving their life chances- but if you did, then I apologise.

      5. I wouldn’t call that goading. I disagree with Goves ideas about pay myself, quite strongly actually. But he can afford to be strident, because in the current climate he knows the public, largely, wont back the teachers complaints.

      6. I have already mooted by pet idea that major educational changes could maybe be restricted to every other parliament, but others have suggested it inhibits democracy. But either way, change is inevitable, despite the bleatings of crusty old sods like myself.

      7. well the ‘spite’ comment is bollocks- its an out and out insult and I don’t for one second believe thats where Gove comes from.

      I don’t think anyone, from any perspective thinks background has no impact- do they?

      But some schools make no difference, and then you have these schools that DO make a difference and turn things around. Well why not try and emulate that rather than admit defeat.

      Hey- if we only make a 20% difference to a kids outcome we may as well just show them videos of BlackAdder and fire up a pipe in the staffroom…

      8. Im not sure OA did say that. I myself am 50/50 on it. Ive explained why.

      9. So that means those from a certain background shouldn’t have access to a good education? whats your point?

      10. Ive had secondary experience and many varied posts- I dont see myself as more or less insightful than the Sec of Ed or his shadow counterpart. Or you. You seem to think you have an advantage- sorry but Im not so sure..

      11. Will do


      • Thanks again for your reply.

        For the points which need a further response, here they are:

        3. As I understand it, Michael Wilshaw didn’t “on a school full of underprivileged kids and made it successful thus massively improving their life chances”. He ran a previously successful, oversubscribed Catholic Secondary School, and opened a brand new school, with an intake biased towards those whose parents made an effort to get their children into it. Mr Wilshaw’s Wikipedia entry – clearly not always reliable, but substantiating my original point – suggests that he has been accused of “negative rhetoric and bullying”. As I said, “a Head of Ofsted who has attacked schools and those working in education at every opportunity.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Wilshaw

        5. “I wouldn’t call that goading.” Fair enough. I would.

        “He can afford to be strident, because in the current climate he knows the public, largely, wont back the teachers complaints.”

        I posted an independent poll suggesting that this isn’t the case. 45% polled said “Teaching unions are right in most of their concerns about education policy and schools, and the government should listen more to them:” 26% said “Teaching unions are an obstacle to necessary reforms in education and schools, and the government should take a hard line against them.” 11% said neither, 17% didn’t know. That’s 54% of those who gave an opinion “backing the teachers’ complaints.”

        7. “Well, the ‘spite’ comment is bollocks – it’s an out and out insult.” Yes, it is, but I have seen little from Gove to suggest that he cares a jot about the chaos he is causing within schools, and I feel that this is motivated by spite. Sometimes personal feelings creep in to an argument. My apologies.

        “But some schools make no difference, and then you have these schools that DO make a difference and turn things around. Well why not try and emulate that rather than admit defeat.”

        But what exactly do these schools do, and can it be replicated? If it could be replicated, and there was an answer, it should have happened by now – we’re at least sixty years into universal 5 – 15 education in the UK. But it hasn’t, because “education” is much, much more complicated than politicians and their ilk like to suggest it is. This is why I hold the view that those in charge seem to have a “lack of understanding of education.”

        “Hey- if we only make a 20% difference to a kids outcome we may as well just show them videos of BlackAdder and fire up a pipe in the staffroom…”

        Again, I posted a link to a study showing that schools make between 4% and 18% difference to a child’s educational outcome. That small percentage is hugely important, which is why so many of us work our socks off to help the children we teach to learn, and to learn how to learn. But “outcome” is not solely our responsibility and we should neither take all the blame – or the credit – when children are “unsuccessful” or “successful” in some spreadsheet. The 80+% which is down to background, attitude, stability, whatever else you can come up with to explain why privileged children generally “succeed” and underprivileged children generally “fail” – is why Gove will never understand that a EBACC or SPAG test won’t improve the “education” of all children.

        9. I didn’t say that “those from a certain background shouldn’t have access to a good education.” I said that education has a distinct cultural bias towards children of a certain background. I was referring back to my point that the exams of the 1950s were biased towards that group.

        It’s not an original thought of mine – there are plenty of people who have researched and written about this.

        http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000000357.htm

        http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/schools-in-1950s.html


        • 3. I was referring to Mossbourne- where he made incredible improvements. Still today, its FSM data is remarkable. I know there is certain amount of denialism with Mossbourne because it proves that students from difficult backgrounds CAN make great progress.

          The press have misquoted and misrepresented Wilshaw many times – if you wish to swallow or that fine. I prefer Tom Bennetts take on him.

          5. Well a poll may reflect general anti-government opinion as there may be some residual ‘public worker’ affiliation BUT when it came to strike day, and you have to take time off to look after the kids, lets just say support dwindles rapidly. And the TV polls on London Tonight (if I have the right channel?) at the time reflected that too. Polls can say all sorts of things.

          Certainly at the last strike I didnt know a single non teacher friend who agreed with the strike. And on a Question TIme last year the studio audience resoundingly felt that teachers got a wonderful pension. Thats not my view- just an example public perception at that time. In my current school we all think we shouldn’t go on strike because we feel the public wont support us. We have limited bargaining chips.

          7. What can be done? Lots….

          Same day detentions
          Strict uniform
          Enforced code of conduct
          Personal responsibility- no excuses
          Evening Clubs for low progress kids
          Weekend clubs
          Enrichment
          HW to be set
          Tests to be set
          Marking to be done
          Whole class teaching AND group work
          Setting classes
          Celebrating Success

          I have worked in schools that do this- it works
          I have worked in schools that don’t- kids dont progress nearly as much

          9. Lowering the bar, wont cause improvements either! Why not have decent qualifications and improved teaching?

          Is it really such a crazy aspiration that normal kids should be able to read and write fluently?

          And please do not provide Michael Rosen as any sort of authority on anything- that does little to support your position- seriously.

          Im not up for a 1950s curriculum myself but I do think standards have slipped and kids with a C last year are likely not competent in that subject to any degree I would recognise.

          I think Gove, the public, employers etc want a trustworthy qualifications system that can be trusted and is based on exams.

          So they know the grades are obtained independently and on merit and are a true reflection of decent skills and knowledge.


          • 3. “I was referring to Mossbourne- where he made incredible improvements.”

            Sir Michael Wilshaw opened Mossbourne, so there were no previous results to ‘improve’. Great results, but no improvements.

            “Still today, its FSM data is remarkable. I know there is certain amount of denialism with Mossbourne because it proves that students from difficult backgrounds CAN make great progress. The press have misquoted and misrepresented Wilshaw many times – if you wish to swallow or that fine. I prefer Tom Bennetts take on him”.

            Mossbourne is remarkable, on just about every level. It’s also hugely oversubscribed, with around ten applications for every place, and parents clearly, really, really want their children to go to the school, which I would expect to be a major key to the school’s success. The school’s own film (http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/School-Improvement-Mossbourne-Community-Academy-6044449/) shows how extraordinary it is. It opens on Saturday. It has staff who can hold daily detentions at 6pm in the evening . Teachers have “no hours” contracts, and Wilshaw claimed in a New Statesman interview that they work from “six o’clock in the morning and leave at nine o’clock at night” (http://www.newstatesman.com/education/2011/10/school-wilshaw-mossbourne). Teachers also work regularly on Saturdays. They appear to have a huge amount of money to fund all of this.

            It’s also in London, with a huge throughput of people aspiring to improve their life chances, where jobs and opportunities abound, in a city which is almost entirely different to the rest of the country.

            It is not a typical school to which the rest of the country can all aspire, unless someone actually asks us all to start over again, with a much improved budget, with genuine competition for places, and then moves all our schools into inner London with its multitudes of advantages.

            Mossbourne is remarkable, but to reiterate my point, Michael Wilshaw has “attacked schools and those working in education at every opportunity” in his role as Head of Ofsted. These are latest news stories from Ofsted’s Media department:

            • 5 Feb 2013 Plans to introduce a new framework for inspecting the school improvement functions provided by under-performing local authorities have been published today.
            • 31 Jan 2013 A new survey published by Ofsted today finds that more needs to be done to ensure disabled young people can access youth work provision available in their locality.
            • 17 Jan 2013 Teams of Ofsted inspectors have today begun the first in a wave of focused school inspections across local authority areas, where thousands of children are being denied the standard of education they deserve.

            All critical, all typical of Ofsted under Sir Michael.

            5. “Polls can say all sorts of things.”

            And so can anecdotes.

            7. “What can be done? Lots….”

            And yet schools all over the country continue to struggle to help and support their children, with people taking wildly different views as to the solution (here’s yet another: http://headteachersroundtable.wordpress.com/). I wish it was that easy, Rob, I truly do.

            And by the way, thanks for the civilised debate. It’s certainly made me think long and hard about the issues we’ve discussed.

            I’ll end by saying that, in my view, Michael Gove is still rushing into headlong change based on little other than his own limited experience of education, and I am amazed that anyone with any level of basic left wing thought would wish to support him. But before you argue with this – it is simply my opinion and I fully respect your right to feel differently, as you clearly do.


          • 3. what on earth are you talking about? He inherited one of the worst schools in the uk, let alone London. It was the old Hackney Downs. Surely you know this.

            Its over subscribed NOW- so going forward your argument about parental motivation may be correct. But of course it doesn’t explain away his ‘valued added’ during its transformation.

            Daily detentions-excellent
            Saturday detentions- superlative.

            As to your media references I would remind you that biased and untruthful reporting is always a cause for lament.

            5. Maybe but plausible and commonly recognisable anecdotes dont half carry a lot of weight…

            7. Yes I know people have wildly different views about the right way to do things. Tis human nature no less.

            Im afraid its anecdote time. i once knew a teacher who was enthusiastic about student rights and ‘learning experiences’. I kind of knew she was full of BS at the time but nothing crystallised it till I saw her in action- her classes were a zoo. and I mean a bad zoo. The sort of zoo that would get ‘notice to improve’.

            But I have seen schools do the Wilshaw approach get fantastic responses from the kids.

            Lets just say its a notable contrast.

            Im not saying its easy (it jolly well isnt)- Im merely saying its possible.

            On that note, i say OA for the next Ed Sec.

            I may not agree with everything OA says but hes the safest pair of hands for the kids in my book. maybe be Bennett can be Chief inspector.


          • Rob,

            Hackney Downs closed in 1995. Mossbourne Academy opened in 2004 on the same site. It’s a completely different school.


          • You are just spouting bollox. Downs was closed due to being the worst school in the country. It was located in Hackney.

            On the VERY SAME site they built a new school with exact same intake and admissions policy.

            Due to Wilshaw’s regimented and common sense approach its now outstanding.

            TODAY, Im sure local house prices are up due to its success and fame.

            But even you, surely cannot detract that his formula worked and is repeatable. You may not like it- but you cannot deny it. Thats the point.


  15. Gander,

    Whether or not schools are responsible for only ‘20% of a child’s educational “outcome” ‘, they should still be 100% about educating. Yes, I am one of the many in the UK who you casually dismiss because we do indeed believe that schools are responsible for education.

    The best way of giving all children a better chance is by educating them so that they can read and write competently when they leave primary school regardless of their background. This is what state education is for, equality of opportunity. Otherwise they struggle at secondary school, get behind, and miss out on the chance to do well academically. It may be idealistic when some of them have no support at home, but that’s what makes school so important.

    I cannot nail my political colours to any particular flag but believe that Gove is reflecting the views of many in wanting to raise standards. Despite that I have an instinctive mistrust of him and suspect he is moving responsiblity for education away from the state with the aim of eventually disowning it.


    • Sorry for “casually dismissing” you – I hope my point is made more clear above. In my view, teachers and schools should be doing all they can to help their children, but that holding them “responsible for education” – which has come to mean “for children’s SAT/GCSE/A Level results” shows a lack of understanding of society, and the role which formal education plays in a child’s life.

      I agree with most of your second paragraph, and I’m sure that you acknowledge that success in learning to read, write and add up at primary can often be swept away at secondary by factors beyond a school’s control.

      I’d expect to find it difficult to find anyone who doesn’t want to “raise standards” – but the OP was about supporting Gove wanting to ‘clever up’ the curriculum, and I’m not sure that what Gove is doing is the opposite to ‘dumbing down.’

      I agree with your final point, however.


  16. [...]  Or that somehow facts are right wing, and empathy uniquely left wing. As the ever-excellent Old Andrew tweeted: ‘It’s all: “How dare these right-wing bastards suggest that things actually [...]


  17. [...] On the left there have long been debates about education (and everything else). Paul Ernest (drawing on the work of Stephen Ball) has identified two different policy positions: progressive educators, who favour child-centred approaches, and public educators, who have a more political analysis of education and how it reproduces inequalities. There are also debates about how to balance giving oppressed people access to socially-valued knowledge with focus critiquing this. Paolo Freire talks about “reading the word and reading the world”, advocating that literacy always being related to emancipation. Others, like Marilyn Frankenstein, have applied this to mathematics. I would recommend Gove engage with the richness of this and other thinking on the left rather than cherry picking from it to support his own agenda. [...]


  18. Excellent! A pleasure to read. Thank you.


  19. The problem with Gove, IMHO, is that he’s far too left wing, because he seems to want to extend high-quality education to every child, regardless of ability, something that most right-wingers (myself included) find abhorrent.


  20. [...] debate stirred by Michael Gove’s speech to the Social Market Foundation on 5th Feb. An earlier Scenes from the Battleground post gave an almost prescient insight on the subject. I’ve looked at a few tweets and one or two blogs [...]


  21. […] how have we got to the puzzling situation where many modern progressives have aligned themselves with ultra-elitists in restricting high culture to the elite? It’s too simplistic to […]



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