Is Michael Gove familiar with the works of Jean Piaget ?

Stephen Smith's picture
Today the Government unveiled its plans for the revised National Curriculum (which of course won't be truly national because lots of schools won't have to follow it).

The BBC trumpets its introduction :

Curriculum changes 'to catch up with world's best'

Sounds great - what will that entail I wonder ? The first paragraph has us off to a flying start :

"Five year olds will start tackling fractions and computer algorithms, as a more stretching national curriculum is announced for state schools in England."


However, I remember studying - as I'm sure all UK trained teachers do - the works of one Jean Piaget.

According to Piaget, most five-year-olds will be developmentally at the 'intuitive thought' sub-stage of the Pre-Operational Stage of development.

A key feature of this stage of development is that children will rarely have the cognitive ability to demonstrate "conservation" - and there are a range of Piagetian tests - which will be familiar to all teachers - which demonstrate this.

Ask a 5 year old to make two balls of plasticine the same, and give one to you and one to their self. Then roll yours out into a snake - and ask "Who has the most plasticine" . They probably won't get this right.

They'll also struggle with "Less than and more than" - Give a 5 year old child 8 jelly babies, and 3 starbursts, and ask them whether there are more jelly babies or more sweets - they'll probably say "More Jelly Babies"

In fact (theory), children don't usually start getting their heads around this sort of thing until they're about 7. (Assuming normal development).

So ... If a child can't with any consistency recognise that two halves of a whole will remain the same size relative to each other however you move them around - how are they supposed to get their head around fractions ?

I'd suggest that until a child develops Concrete Operational skills then they won't just find fraction work hard - most of them will find it impossible - and most children won't start developing the ability to take those skills on board, until around 7 years old.

In the National Curriculum as it stands, other than odd mentions, fractions are introduced at Key Stage Two - ages 7 to 11. Which oddly enough roughly coincides with the expected ages for Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage - a coincidence ? I think not.

I wonder if Michael Gove has a position on Piaget's theories?
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