Gove’s reforms took state education ‘backwards’, says prep school head

Janet Downs's picture

This site’s being saying it for years: reforms to state education in England introduced by Michael Gove are a retrograde step.

Now it’s being said by Christopher King, head of the Independent Association of Prep Schools.  In a speech today, he will say how the focus of fee-paying prep schools ‘really needs to be on creative work, because that is where you are likely to remain employable in the future.’

King will criticise Gove’s reforms:

The Michael Gove-directed changes focused on the rote and robotic. It would seem the state has travelled a long way to go backwards.

The reforms may have raised test results, King will say, and these scores ‘are all good for rankings.’   But, he will ask, are these scores ‘relevant to the present and most importantly the future world?’

He is right.  Primary school tests have no educational value.  Their only relevance is to judge schools.  They tell teachers nothing they don’t already know and sideline subjects which aren’t being tested.

King will remind his listeners that Gove’s reforms attempted to mimic private schools by focussing on grammatical rules and learning tables mechanically.  But independent schools have moved away from this to a more nurturing and caring approach.  This is a long way from those much-lauded state schools which expect pupils to adhere to rules  far stricter than you would find in good fee-paying schools.  It is doubly ironic when these schools say they have adopted a ‘private school ethos’.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Good Schools Guide said prep schools face a ‘slow and gentle good night’ because of competition from good state primaries in England.  But destructive Gove reforms undermine the ability of state primary schools to provide education in its widest sense.

There are, of course, thousands of English primary schools who still offer such an education despite high-stakes tests and funding cuts.  But it’s a struggle.  It’s time to free English schools, not just primaries, from being prey to ministerial prejudices and inadequate investment.

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 26/09/2019 - 13:33

Too right Janet, I agree with all of that.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 26/09/2019 - 16:00

As much as I feel the existence of private schools perpetuates inequality and narrows opportunities for older students particularly at university entrance, I was a little surprised to learn that, if elected, the Labour Party will take positive action to restrict the sector financially while not actually proposing more positive action to eradicate these schools altogether. Clearly that would be a step too far, even for the far left. That point aside, it's interesting that a spokesperson from the private sector comes out with such direct criticism of Gove. It's because he feels great sympathy for those poor kids in our state schools whose education development has been set back generations by the 'little man's' meddling.
I attended a climate rally last week and noted the number of independent schools proudly supporting their students in this cause. By contrast, at a meeting of the organisers at which the success of the rally was discussed, one colleague informed those present that one primary school teacher has been suspended by the school for attending the rally. What sort of message does this send to the young people who understand, as do you and others, Janet, that the testing of students is primarily intended to measure school performance? Are we to believe that these same young people are any less informed than Mr King?
They need encouragement to ask, "are these scores ‘relevant to the present and most importantly the future world?’" rather than to be subjected to bullying behaviour control tactics in state financed schools?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/09/2019 - 07:57

John - I suspect King's message was more to do with marketing than concern for state-educated pupils.  He was promoting fee-paying prep schools as a more humane alternative to state primaries which are hampered by Gove reforms.  It's an effective pitch.

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