For main site: www.changingschools.org.uk
ridiculing academic experts, dismissing the collective wisdom of the teacher unions and other professional organisations, and even ignoring the CBI
On 19 March 2013 a letter signed by a hundred professors and lecturers in Education warned Michael Gove that his new National Curriculum demanded ‘too much too young’. Its ‘endless lists of spellings, facts and rules’ would promote ‘rote learning without understanding’ and would dumb down learning. ‘This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.’ [Copy of letter]
Gove’s response was to accuse the 100 of being ‘bad academics’ engaged in a left-wing plot. In a blanket slur, he called academics in faculties of Education ‘the Blob’ and ‘enemies of promise’.
The draft of the new curriculum had already been condemned by the NUT and ATL, subject associations, the National Association for Primary Education and 72 children’s authors.
The CBI (scarcely a left-wing lobby) had also warned the government against reliance on rote learning, and called it to turn away from micro-management and over-prescribing the curriculum. (Key CBI quotes)
The Education Reform Act (1988) For a useful summary, see http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/chapter08.html
Teacher education (sometimes known as ‘teacher training’) See pages 23-26 of Enemies of Promise.
Stagnation and decline. According to the 2012 PISA international evaluation at age 15, England is now 23rd in reading, 27th in maths and 16th in science out of 65 countries. This compares with 8th, 9th and 4th in 2000. Most of the countries scoring lower than England in 2012 were poorer European, Asian and Latin American countries.
This data has led to fierce debate, including claims that the 2000 results for England were unreliable due to an inadequate sample, and PISA’s failure to point out that Shanghai (the highest scoring in 2012) doesn’t even allow migrant workers children to attend school beyond age 14, thus excluding the poorest half of its population. Even so, the 2012 results are scarcely inspiring, after two decades of standardisation and punitive quality control.
David Blunkett This information appears on pages 23 and iv of John Bangs, Maurice Galton and John Macbeath (2011) Reinventing schools, reforming teaching.
Tim Brighouse http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1924203.stm
Schools in poorer neighbourhoods...targets. A ‘floor target’ was instituted in 2008 under Gordon Brown’s government, putting any school where fewer than 30% of pupils gained five A*-Cs including English and Maths at risk of closure and conversion to an academy. No regard was paid to the extent of deprivation, and inevitably schools serving the poorest neighbourhoods were targeted. Gove has since raised the ‘floor’ to 40% for 2013. Primary schools in poorer areas are also threatened if they do not meet their ‘floor target’.
Finland The most detailed account of education in Finland – for many years the highest achieving country in the world, according to PISA – can be found in Pasi Sahlberg (2011) Finnish lessons.
Diane Ravitch Ravitch’s 2010 book is called The death and life of the great American school system: how testing and choice are undermining education. A more recent book (2013) focuses on privatization, including charter schools (the US equivalent of academies and free schools): Reign of error: the hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. Her campaign continues on dianeravitch.net.
A*-C grades at GCSE “or equivalent” Around 2000, a rough ‘equivalence’ was introduced between GCSE A*-C grades and various substitute qualifications. The most dubious decision was that a GNVQ Intermediate pass would equate not simply to a C grade or above at GCSE, but to four A*-C grades. Later, the same equivalence was awarded to many BTEC First certificates. This may provide encouragement to struggling pupils but it also seriously distorts education statistics.
For example in 2013 in state-funded schools, 82.9% of pupils obtained 5 more more A*-C grades if ‘equivalents’ are counted, but only 57.1% without the ‘equivalents’. [Department for Education statistics SFR01_2014_FINAL.pdf]
Including the ‘equivalents’ makes it appear as if the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has shrunk, and as if academies has improved more than other schools. Neither claim holds up once we start digging below the surface. (See Wrigley and Kalambouka’s research report http://www.changingschools.org.uk/academiesfolder/acadtitlecontents.pdf )
‘many come to regard themselves as failures and switch off’ This becomes even more serious as a result of the government’s plans to change assessment in primary schools. For example there will be a single expected level for 11 year olds in science and parents will be told whether they have reached this or not. This is already the case in the phonics tests at the end of Year 1. [Department for Education: Reforming assessment and accountability for primary schools, March 2014]. GCSE exams are also to become harder.
Too much too soon: the campaign to protect childhood
Details of the Too Much Too Soon campaign, and links to research and publications, can be found on www.savechildhood.net.
The reference details can be found at the end of an extended version of this chapter.
For more discussion of the issues, we strongly recommend Richard House ed. (2011) Too much, too soon? early learning and the erosion of childhood (Hawthorn Press)
Children or targets? the threat to primary education Pages 9-12
The National Association for Primary Education (NAPE) has worked actively with teacher unions and other organisations in resisting harmful government policies. Its special conference early in 2013 was an important step in analysing what was wrong with Gove’s new National Curriculum. It involved curriculum experts such as Andrew Pollard, who had recently resigned one of the DfE’s chosen advisers in protest at the government’s failure to listen. Membership is open to teachers, teaching assistants, heads parents, governors, inspectors and administrators (just £20, or £10 unwaged, including a termly magazine).
John Coe, who wrote this chapter, was a founder member in 1980, and has held various offices in the organisation.
A key initiative in defending primary education is the Charter for Primary Education, which arose from a local conference for parents and teachers called by a London NUT branch.
www.primarycharter.wordpress.com The Charter can be downloaded from the Resources section of the blog, which also includes a powerpoint and speakers’ notes for anyone wishing to explain the problems of the new National Curriculum to teachers, parents or school governors.
The new National Curriculum can be downloaded at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum
The most important analysis of primary education in recent times has undoubtedly been the Cambridge Primary Review, coordinated by Professor Robin Alexander.
http://www.primaryreview.org.uk The final report Children, their world, their education (Routledge, 2009) is essential reading, and is supported by 28 detailed studies now published as The Cambridge Primary Review Research Surveys.
The interim reports ‘Towards a new primary curriculum’ (2009) can be downloaded:
Ofsted (2013) HMCI Annual report on schools 2012/13
HMCI (March 2014) letter to early years inspectors. http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/letter-hmci-early-years-inspectors-march-2014
Hadow (1933) Infant and nursery schools: report of the Consultative Committee. London: HMSO A useful summary can be found at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/articles/24hadow.html
How Gove and his predecessors ruined secondary English Pages 13-16
English teachers substantially transformed their subject in the 1960s and 70s, from an overwhelming emphasis on disconnected writing exercises and practice comprehension tests. The subject became a particular target of attack by Margaret Thatcher’s government, and more recently Gove’s curriculum.
An important organisation in this field is the National Association of Teachers of English (NATE). It has been outspoken against these negative changes over the years. www.nate.org.uk
The History Man Pages 17-19
Defend School History was set up by teachers, parents and history enthusiasts in response to the February 2013 draft of the new National Curriculum for history. It contributed to a wide-ranging campaign of opposition that forced a substantial rewrite of the proposals.
One of its current projects is to identify alternative resources to the World War I centenary which do not glorify war. It can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or through its Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/148390168657768/ also @defschhist for Twitter.
Gove had appointed Simon Schama in 2010 as his special adviser to investigate history teaching in schools. The anger and sarcasm with which Schama, just three years later, denounced Gove’s proposals for history teaching must have been a shock. He called it ‘insulting and offensive’ to teachers, and remarked that the syllabus was like “1066 and All That, but without the jokes”. He ridiculed the content overload: “Vroom, there was Disraeli, - vroom – there was Gladstone... the French Revolution, maybe if it’s lucky, gets a drive-by ten minutes at this rate”. He described as “Gradgrindian” cramming children with so many facts, and ridiculed the arbitrary selection of detail: “There are no key-developments in the reign of Aethelstan, because it’s stupid really.”
Above all, Schama explicitly challenged the re-emergence of a New Right “glorious heritage” version of English history, and Gove’s attempt to remove controversy from its study:
“There is a glory to British history, but the glory to British history is argumet, dissent – the freedom to dispute. It’s not an endless massage of self-congratulation.”
He was particularly outraged by the offensiveness and insensitivity of the new National Curriculum’s glorification of Empire:
“Clive of India... Robert Clive was a sociopathic corrupt thug whose business in India was essentially to enrich himself and his co-soldiers and traders as quickly and outrageously as possible.”
The speech can be heard at http://www.hayfestival.com/p-6108-simon-schama-and-teachers.aspx or read the transcription (with thanks to Robert Guymer).
Steven Mastin, head of history at a Cambridge school, and a Conservative candidate in the 2010 general election, was another of Gove’s hand-picked advisers. He revealed how Gove had effectively ignored even the experts he himself had chosen.
“Between January and the publication of this document – which no one involved in the consultation had seen – someone has typed it up and I have no idea who that is. As far as I am aware, we will be the only jujrisdiction in the western world that won’t teach world history... There is no world history in there at all except when Britain bumps into these places. And age-appropriateness is something else to worry about. Children are expected to understand the complex problems of democracy, nation and civilisation by the age of six. The idea that they will understand the concept of civilisation by the age of six just doesn’t work. I don’t think this is a teachable document.”
Vulnerable young people: the impact of markets and privatisation Pages 20-22
The references are
DfES (1989) Discipline in Schools (The Elton Report), London:HMSO
DfES (2005) Learning Behaviour (The Steer Report), London:HMSO
DfES (2009) Learning Behaviour (The Steer Review), London:HMSO
DfES (2010) The Importance of Teaching (White Paper), London:HMSO
Initial teacher education at risk Pages 23-26
The British Educational Research Association (BERA) has recently published a strong and well evidenced defence of university involvement in teacher education. It can be downloaded at http://www.bera.ac.uk/project/research-and-teacher-education
A letter, setting out concerns about School Direct and the future of univeristy based ITE, signed by over 200 educationalists was printed in The Independent in October 2013 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/letters-teacher-training-faces-crisis-8894465.html
For more information on the deprofessionalisation of teaching linked to School Direct see Tim Brighouse’s article http://www.newvisionsforeducation.org.uk/2013/04/15/government-induced-crisis-in-initial-teacher-education/
Defend Education, Defend Teacher Education is a campaign set up to fight against the privatization of ITE and ensure quality through university-led partnerships with schools. More information will be available shortly.
Bidding for government: missed opportunities, misguided priorities
The Labour Party consultation paper Education and Children can be downloaded from http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/agenda-2015/policy-commissions/education-and-children-policy-commission
M Allen and P Ainley (2013) The great reversal is available free from Radical Books
Academies and free schools
Regular updates on the crises in these schools, and campaigning against forced academisation, can be found on the Anti Academies Alliance website www.antiacademies.org.uk
Important arguments for reconstructed and radically democratised local authorities in education can be found in M Allen and P Ainley eds (2013) Education beyond the Coalition: reclaiming the agenda. Available free at http://radicaledbks.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/richard-hatcher-leas.pdf
Taking back control: rescuing children and education
This conclusion, agreed by all the chapter authors, brings together key arguments against continuing to allow government ministers to dictate what happens in nurseries and schools.
Page 31, para 2.
‘The goals of education... neglected.’ See Stephen Ball’s (2008) The education debate, and its 2013 update (since the Coalition) second edition.
For a critique of assumptions that driving schools harder will help boost the economy and create jobs, see Allen and Ainley: The great reversal (details above)
Page 31, para 3
Finland: see Pasi Sahlberg (2011) Finnish lessons. For further details of Finland’s curriculum and how it is well adjusted to children’s age and development, see the powerpoint ‘The new National Curriculum: damaging children and education’ in the Resources section of www.primarycharter.wordpress.com
Synthetic phonics: The DfE responded to an email “The evidence is inconclusive on whether systematic phonics has an impact on pupils’ reading comprehension. Findings from the National Reading Panel show that it improves pupils’ comprehension skills in kindergarten and in 1st grade, but not for older pupils (National Reading Panel, 2000; Ehri et al, 2001). On the other hand, evidence from the Torgerson et al. systematic review (2006) and based on four studies, didn’t find a statistically significant effect.”
[The National Reading Panel was an American survey of earlier research. The Torgerson systematic review was commissioned by England’s Department for Education.]
For a clear explanation of how the Government adopted synthetic phonics as the way to teach children to read, based on inadequate research, see Dominic Wyse and Morag Styles (2007) Synthetic phonics and the teaching of reading: the debate surrounding England’s ‘Rose Report’, published in Literacy, vol 41, no 1
Academies: T Wrigley and A Kalambouka’s research report Academies and achievement: setting the record straight can be downloaded from http://www.changingschools.org.uk/academiesfolder/complete%20report.pdf
Page 31, para 4
PISA: The academic debate about England’s PISA results remains unresolved. The starting point is a decline from 8th position (2000) to 23rd (2012) in reading, from 9th to 27th in maths, and from 4th to 16th in science. John Jerrim has argued that the decline is smaller, since the 2000 sample was too small and the results therefore unreliable. It is also important to recognise that new countries and states have entered since 2000, pushing England down the table. PISA has also shamed itself in 2012 by failing to acknowledge that Shanghai (the new gold medal winner) excludes the children of migrant workers – roughly half the child population – not just from PISA but from education itself beyond age 14. However none of these arguments contradict the fact that, in 2012, England’s literacy and maths results remain uninspiring, despite two decades of relentlessly ‘driving up standards’, and that most of the countries scoring significantly lower are less developed European, Asian and Latin American countries along with the USA and Sweden which have embraced a similar marketised school system.
Page 32, para 1
National Curriculum: For details of inappropriate demands on young children, see the powerpoint ‘The new National Curriculum: damaging children and education’ in the Resources section of www.primarycharter.wordpress.com
‘Academics’ and ‘vocationals’: The Labour Party’s draft policy proposes to “transform vocational routes for the 50 per cent who do not go to university”. It proposes a parallel qualification to A-levels at age 18. However, it does not clarify when the division would occur. This risks a return to the past Labour Government’s 2006 Education and Inspections Act, which denied any entitlement to creative arts, history, geography, design and technology, or a foreign language to 14-16 year olds following a vocational course. In most European countries, all young people to the age of 16 have a broad and balanced curriculum, and in some countries vocational students post-16 continue with some general academic courses. For example, in Norway this includes Norwegian, English, maths, science, citizenship and PE, and if they wish the vocational students are able to switch to university preparation part way through.
Page 32, para 2
The ‘gap’: In 2013, 38% of students entitled to free school meals achieved five or more A*-C grades or equivalent, including English and Maths. This compared with 65% of students not entitled to free meals. This gap has remained largely unchanged for over a decade.
Page 32, para 3.
In 1960, when around 20% of children were selected for grammar schools, some 16% of 16 year olds achieved five O-level passes. In a still mainly comprehensive system in 2000 over 50% achieved the equivalent five GCSE’s at A-C. In 1970 , 47% of children left school with no qualifications, by 1999 only 10% did so. (from Sally Tomlinson, University of Oxford, article in Improving Schools, October 2002)