Michael Gove got another hammering recently by 100 academics who all signed a letter criticising his proposals for the new national curriculum.
It is quite prescriptive and uses words like grammar, spelling and times tables that always worry people ready to believe things are retreating to some Thomas Gradgrind world of ‘fact, fact, fact’.
The problem is that Mr Gove seems to be adopting a scattergun approach to educational reform at a time when anyone who knows anything about it is advising a period of consolidation so that all the changes that have already been introduced or are agreed and in the pipeline, might have a chance to be evaluated when they have bedded in.
But Michael Gove is a man in a hurry – whether it’s because of his driving ambitions for education or for Michael Gove remains to be seen.
Clearly there is data showing there is much to be done. One in six are not confident readers leaving primary school.
The number of those without five GCSEs at C or above remains stubbornly high.
But then teachers are not known for being complacent.
There are constant reviews and developments in individual schools focused on what teachers think are the needs they face in their context, without a lot of imposition from on high.
Of course the proposals are just that and are currently going through the consultation phase. It is therefore quite proper that different views are expressed. That is the point of consultation with the end result therefore, one hopes, being better than the original proposals.
There is, however, something slightly galling about the academics’ view that ‘‘a system which is very, very heavily prescribed and which encourages cramming through tests actually reduces fairly sharply the development of thinking. The pupils memorise just enough detail to get over the hurdle of the tests’’ (Professor Michael Bassey).
After all, universities when they make admissions offers, put almost total reliance on examination results which are themselves entirely based on heavily prescribed syllabi. There are many ways to achieve a literate and numerate population.
It is likely the teachers who see pupils on a day-to-day basis know what in their school will work – if only they could be allowed to get on and do it.
* Sarah Evans, Principal, King Edward VI High School for Girls