Perhaps journalism and politics do not provide the best preparation for anyone finding themselves in charge of the nation’s education system.
Both politics and journalism are professions that tend to cultivate mindsets inclined to present almost everything as a clash between two competing views.
Journalists and broadcasters like to look for opposing voices because conflict makes for drama. And drama makes for good copy and compelling TV.
Similarly, locking party political horns on every issue is the main mode of discourse for politicians. Rarely does a debate in the house appear as a quest for understanding or a search for a truth that might be nuanced, multifaceted or even uncertain. We are usually presented with simple soundbites and encouraged to take sides.
Everything is presented as a contest between two opposites. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the current Education Secretary’s approach to curriculum reform.
Time and time again it appears that those with different views to his own are marginalised. Expert groups that fail to tell him what he wants to hear are brought to an end. Advisory groups are packed with like-minded people. One only has to look at the level of representation from Civitas and The Prince’s Teaching Institute engaged with the current review to appreciate the partial perspectives shaping the proposals.
Link to list of those consulted about primary programmes of study:
Worse still, those educators with a different perspective, many of them dedicated professionals who have committed their working lives to serving others, are dismissed as ‘Trots’ or ‘apologists for low standards.’ Incredibly, or perhaps simply because he selects his audiences for such offensive remarks, he has not been taken to task.
Recently Mr Gove has targeted Governors by dubbing them ‘local worthies who see being a governor as a badge of status and not a job of work.’ While not caring whom he upsets has earned Mr Gove some respect, there can be few who fail to recognise the lack of sound reasoning behind this ‘the only way is my way’ bulldozer strategy.
So here are some obvious (nuanced) truths about the curriculum for Mr Gove.
Just because you want more emphasis on knowledge does not mean you have to dismiss those educators who believe that developing skills and attitudes are equally important to children.
Just because you want to support the use of phonics doesn’t mean that you have to marginalise other approaches, such as word recognition, contextual clueing and the use of real books to nurture a love of language.
Just because you want more subject specific teaching doesn’t mean you need to undermine all the creativity, meaning and purpose that can flow from inter-disciplinary and thematic projects.
Just because it is challenging to assess more authentic expressions of capability through coursework does not mean that everything has to be reduced to pencil and paper tests.
Just because you want more people taking science or a language doesn’t mean you have to reduce the opportunities for those with a passion for design and making or expressing themselves through the arts.
Education is about rising above the debilitating effect of narrow polarised arguments. To be educated is about having a broader perspective, the ability to put oneself into the shoes of others. It is about having the wit and wisdom to recognise that the more you learn, the more you discover how much more there is to know.
We desperately need an open and balanced education debate. We need a little more humility from policy makers. We need them to listen and not just to a partisan few. We need evidence-based education policy.
What we do not need is a lecture.
Have your say about the new curriculum reforms when the DfE consultation opens ‘later in the year’. In the meantime, we would welcome your comments here.