An important lesson for Michael Gove from Old Etonians

Roger Titcombe's picture
This is from the Independent of 6 February.

"In 1909, when four old Etonians decided that it was time to put something back into the community to offer fresh hope for teenagers from disadvantaged homes, they probably never thought their actions would still be having a profound impact on lives in the 21st century."

"The four friends – Arthur Villiers, Gerald Wellesley, Alfred Wagg and Sir Edward Cadogan – thought that the best they could do for the youngsters was to give them a chance to succeed at sport by setting up the Eton Manor Boys' Club in the East End of London."

"At the turn of the century, the name of the charity was changed to the Villiers Park Education Trust, in memory of the key role that Arthur Villiers played in its development. Today, the trust offers a unique programme to persuade the brightest pupils living in some of Britain's most "forgotten" disadvantaged areas to seek places at the country's most selective universities. Essentially, it helps those who could be considered to be the "hidden" poor to lift their academic expectations."

"According to Richard Gould, the chief executive of the trust: 'The starting point is: we want to help them develop a passion for their subject. And the way of doing that is by not getting them to do anything that's in their exam specification.'"

"He cites research showing that pupils who take part in such enrichment classes away from the rigid exam syllabus end up getting better grades at A-level than their counterparts who sat in rows listening to teachers trying to 'teach to the test'."

"The best way to secure a top grade pass, Gould argues, is not necessarily by putting nose to the grindstone or sticking it in a book that just deals with the exam syllabus. A survey of those who finished the Scholars' Programme last year revealed that 78 per cent gained a place at university and 71 of the grades they achieved at A-level were either A*, A or B grades. Eighty-six per cent said that the programme had bolstered their confidence and 89 per cent believed that it would lead to better job prospects."

This is in direct contradiction to the pedagogy of the Core Knowledge Foundation of E D Hirsch, so beloved of Michael Gove and David Green of Civitas. Gove wants to force state schools to emulate the likes of Eton College, but I wonder if the teaching in such institutions really is anything like that which they praise and endorse.

The impression I get is that there is a great deal of pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher talk in the context of Vygotsy's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

All very Shayer and Adey and Blob-like.

This is certainly the argument put by the Old Etonian's Villiers Park Trust. The Trust is currently involved in a project in Hastings.

"On the residential course, they tackle issues such as how to break codes and a day in the life of a media journalist, during which they look at the different slants that can be put on an individual story. They do presentations to the rest of their year group to show how they have tackled problems, which is a key element in boosting their confidence and the communication skills they will need at job and university admissions interviews."

"I feel sorry for the teachers at the schools because the syllabus is so dense they don't have the time to depart from it," says Gould. "They're risk-averse and they haven't got time to do anything that's outside the syllabus."

Just how Blobby can you get?

I didn't expect to get from Eton College such powerful support for my arguments in favour of developmental teaching and condemnation of the behaviourism of the knowledge-focussed rote learning advocated by Toby Young, David Green and Michael Gove.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 07/02/2014 - 18:45

This is very interesting. Before Christmas I visited Eton College, which was fascinating, and talked to several teachers including Mike Grenier who posts regularly on the Slow Education site .His comments in this Daily Telegraph also reinforce the "deep learning" principles behind Slow Education. There is definitely more to an Etonian education than chalk and talk and being crammed to pass exams. It would seem that there is agreement across the state and private sector that all our children should be entitled to enrichment and deep learning , but I am not sure it is quite what Mr Gove has in mind for them.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 08:01

The best schools (in the educational sense not as in the league table sense) encourage deep learning. But state schools are increasingly prevented from doing so by an excessive emphasis on getting pupils through tests. It is this that stifles innovation and encourages schools to play safe.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 08/02/2014 - 14:51

The Slow Education movement seems to me to fit with my general scepticism about apparent school improvement and also with Daniel Kahneman's 'Slow Learning'.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.