A week ago Michael Bassey and myself drafted a letter
and circulated it to a number of colleagues working in Education faculties in English universities. We were overwhelmed by the response and after two days had over 100 names, including more than 50 Professors of Education. We never imagined it would make front page news.
All parents should be concerned about this, and the time to campaign is now, with the “consultation” well under way. The new National Curriculum will make children’s lives a misery, and they will quickly see themselves as failures.
Just a few examples:
Year 3 (age 7-8) must know how to spell accidentally, business, eighth, possession and reign. (Gove’s earlier version also included chauffeur and champagne!)
They must distinguish between accept and except, affect and effect. (How many seven year olds use affect or effect when speaking?)
In years 1 and 2 children must understand “the concept of nation” as well as “concepts such as civilisation, monarchy and democracy” and become interested in William Harvey and Christina Rossetti as “significant British individuals”.
Around year 4 they must learn about “key developments in the reigns of Athelstan and Cnut; de Montfort’s Parliament; Llywelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd; the Hundred Years War”.
Michael Gove seems to think this is the way to “raise standards”. It will simply drive teachers to rely even more on rote learning without engagement or understanding, so that they can parrot their “knowledge” when the inspector calls.
The problem is that hundreds of facts don’t add up to thinking
. This is what Gove’s advisers (whoever they are) don’t seem to grasp. They have looked at the curriculum of high achieving jurisdictions (Finland, Singapore, Massachusetts, Alberta etc.), trawled their content, stirred it all together, pushed many of the expectations down a year or more… but haven’t understood that these other countries encourage their children to think.
One example: 7-8 year olds in Finland are cutting up cakes into halves and quarters and learning how to write fractions, but English children of the same age will be expected to calculate 5/7 – 1/7 =… Finland knows how to lay the foundations, not just follow the rules. This is why they do so well in PISA.
Singapore is probably the one Gove loves best, but hasn’t noticed how hard they are working to transform their curriculum to be more creative and involve more problem solving.
The children have simply disappeared. Gove, in his zeal, doesn’t understand that growing up and learning take time. He doesn’t seem to grasp that children can be trained to parrot the right answer but thinking comes from children having the opportunity to relate the words and ideas and symbols with sensory experience and activity.
Apart from that, the new curriculum is very narrow. There are hundreds of spellings and grammar rules, scientific facts and arithmetic rules and procedures, but (apart from the detail in History) a skeletal view of other aspects of the curriculum. Even within English, there is no Speaking and Listening section: speaking is only referred to within the context of literacy, and is generally very formal.
This curriculum will fail millions of children, but it will also fail schools, so that they can be academised, and fail teachers, so that their pay can be cut.
This is the Titanic curriculum: fastest engines, biggest ship, complacent captain, full speed into the ice.
It is high time for the crew and the passengers - teachers and parents - to organise and speak out, arrange for meetings in schools and areas, write to local papers and pester MPs.
Terry Wrigley, author of this piece, is editor of Improving Schools