Dumbing Down in the Name of Rigour

Today’s Independent carries a warning from 100 highly respected academics of the dangers of the new National Curriculum. See link:


As the letter points out, the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. However, it is hard to imagine that he can ignore the consensus of such a broad and well-informed group that ‘the proposed curriculum for England will result in a ‘dumbing down’ of teaching and learning’. After all,in his speeches the word ‘rigour’ has been oft repeated and he has presented himself as a St. George-like figure standing alone against the dragon of dumbing down.

Part of the problem lies in the interpretation of the word ‘rigour’. For Mr Gove the word seems to apply only to knowledge so that increasing rigour leads to the NC proposals having ‘endless lists of spellings, facts and rules’ and ‘mountains of detail for English, maths and science’ highlighted in the letter. However, there is no reason why the word ‘rigour’ should be applied particularly to knowledge, rather than other aspects of learning, as is clear from the dictionary definition of the word (the use of demanding standards). If we start with the misguided premise that learning is all about knowledge, then ‘rigour’ means remembering more. This premise has also led to another policy change: the switch to terminal examinations so that learners must remember for longer, with inevitable consequences for teaching strategies and students’ enjoyment of their learning.

Trained education professionals everywhere are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy:


Jurisdictions around the world, including those occupying the top slots in international league tables, are recognising the urgency of adapting their education systems to focus increasingly on the upper levels of the pyramid. In a global economy, the most successful nations will be those with the most highly educated populations. There is a growing realisation that rigour must be applied to ensuring young people understand what they learn, can apply their learning, can analyse and evaluate and go on to develop the confidence and ability to create for themselves.

China and other Asian countries, in particular, are aware of the need to move away from their over-reliance on memorisation and are taking steps to address the issue.

So the obvious question is:

Why is it that, when the rest of the world has a focus on deepening learning, are we in England swimming against the tide?

Of course we can do better. Of course knowledge is important. However, as the 100 academics stress in their letter, this National Curriculum ‘…will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity’.

The Curriculum Foundation joins in urging ‘parents, teachers and other stakeholders to respond to the Government consultation in its few remaining weeks, and demand a fresh start’.


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One response to “Dumbing Down in the Name of Rigour

  1. Postscript: This post misjudged Mr Gove’s reaction to the academics’ letter. The author failed to recognise that the signatories to the letter were masquerading as highly respected professionals when they are actually, as the Secretary of State pointed out, ‘bad academia’.

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