Snow in late March is as unexpected as Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, embracing the world we live in today.
Unlike the weather, Gove does not disappoint. True to form Gove uses his media platform of choice, Mail Online, to articulate clearly his contempt for those who oppose his reforms, castigating them as Marxists. Indeed, he paints a picture of conspiracy at the heart of education saying:
“School reformers in the past often complained about what was called The Blob – the network of educational gurus in and around our universities who praised each other’s research, sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula, drew gifted young teachers away from their vocation and instead directed them towards ideologically driven theory.”
Golly – The Blob has a great deal to answer for if this is indeed the case. Gove’s academy and free school agenda is designed to destroy this cabal, as is his determination to move responsibility for teacher training from the ideologues in universities into schools.
As someone who has worked in schools for nearly 30 years I am struggling to reconcile Gove’s world view with my experience. As Principal of an independent school, I can hardly be described as a Marxist or indeed a card carrying member of The Blob. Yet I share the concern of fellow educators about the direction Gove is determined to take us. His talk about standards and rigour is all sound and fury. Standards and rigour are not antithetical to an education which values higher order thinking.
The trigger for Gove’s diatribe would appear to be a letter published in the Independent, signed by 100 eminent academics and teachers, which is acutely critical of the proposed educational reforms. Referring to a recent CBI report (not known as a hotbed of Marxism), it notes the “need to end the culture of micro-management” in schools and (citing the Cambridge Primary Review) the propensity to value memorisation and recall over understanding and inquiry. The driver for Gove appears to be the PISA international tests where the UK is slipping in performance. Setting aside the debate about the true validity of this particular league table, the 100 academics make for me an unanswerable argument:
“Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning.”
In the internet age, this particular trivium is absolutely essential. Of course knowledge matters but to focus on this without any reference to the learning challenges of the digital revolution is not just shocking but irresponsible. At the touch of a finger on a myriad of devices young people can access so much information. How are they to understand this world unless they learn in ways appropriate for this century and not the last?
It strikes me that Gove is living in a world of certainties which looks in upon itself with wonder – he will slay The Blob and all its works and the Holy Grail of standards will be achieved. Actually, Mr Gove, the future is uncertain and the rigidity of thinking evidenced in the Mail Online article is deeply concerning.
Living in Cambridge cheek by jowl with Silicon Fen, we enjoy an insight into the future. It is extremely odd that whilst other ministers in the government fete this city for its innovation and excellence, the Secretary of State for Education does not appear to understand how our future success depends on an educational system which values “cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity.” Our young people deserve better from the true “enemy of promise”, Mr Michael Gove.
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