Tin hats on. Michael Gove has stirred up another hornet’s nest, this time about school holidays (too long) and the school day (too short). Gove attracted the epithet “Gove the Holiday Snatcher” in one of the red tops – a topical reference to Lady Thatcher who, as the Education Secretary, assumed the role of pantomime villain when she was dubbed the ‘Milk Snatcher’ for ending school milk for children.
It is difficult to know how to interpret Gove’s most recent pronouncement. He did not so much open a debate as unleash a cacophony of noise. Gove’s now trade mark tendency of making grandiloquent statements with little reference to an evidence base underpinned his declaration on school holidays. Twitter, where embedded teachers engage in virtual guerrilla warfare against Gove, was on red alert as outraged educators hissed and booed Gove’s latest hobby horse. An inconvenient truth quickly emerged. A document, collated by the European Commission listing term dates in every country in Europe, went viral. It placed this country near the top of Gove’s new league table of countries with the shortest holidays. So if the UK had to think again about school holidays because of the perceived educational advantage of students in Asia then so too had our European neighbours – who, to the best of my knowledge, are not beating this particular drum.
As someone who would value debate about the best configuration of school terms for learning, I find Gove’s intervention really unhelpful. A political approach elicits a political response. And without a doubt, the simplicity of Gove’s panacea in response to a complex set of educational issues can only be explained as the thinking of a politician.
Anyone actively involved in education knows that the physical corralling of students in a classroom does not necessarily equate to learning. Learning is not a mechanical process to be packaged and measured by length of service in schools. Indeed with the digital revolution transforming our lives, it can be argued that the Pandora’s Box is open and learning has escaped its physical footprint. If this is indeed the case, discussions about length of school terms become, at best, about child care and, at worst, a very twentieth century preoccupation.
Yet again it seems to me that Gove is posing the wrong question. And he is hugely underestimating the importance of time outside of formal schooling in the development of a young person. Children do not stop learning just because of location. With the right mindset, learning is everywhere.
Yet herein lies the rub. The curriculum proposals favoured by Michael Gove are characterised by weight of knowledge to the detriment of developing the attributes of a successful learner. The generation of school children entering schools in the second decade of the twenty first century should be engaging in an educational journey which takes them beyond the constraints of a very English curriculum. Our global inter connectedness is an important feature of our lives and will be integral to theirs.
Thankfully there are other voices contributing to the educational debate. Sir Ken Robinson (@SirKenRobinson) enjoys an international reputation for his work on the importance of creativity in education. For him creativity is important for the economy, culture and personal growth particularly in our inter connected world. Indeed his efforts to persuade the previous incumbents of the Department of Education of the importance of creativity in learning were politely rebuffed. Yet his views have become a meme of our age, his talks on the highly regarded TED Talks watched by millions across the world. At the very least there should be some engagement with this thinking in our own national debate. Rather than – dare I say – a very uncreative discussion about length of school terms.
watch here: Sir Ken Robinson on creativity