Gove’s new primary curriculum will hurt but it won’t work


Over the weekend we have had the steady drip of stories spun out of the Department for Education on the outcome of Michael Gove’s curriculum review. Sadly the Secretary of State is no longer listening to his instincts not to dictate from Whitehall, instead he is dictating times tables, compulsory languages and poetry recitals. This approach will fail while the rest of the world learns that school success is down to autonomy for heads, trusting teachers and innovative ways of engaging children.

Labour’s inheritance in 1997 was a school system that was rundown and demoralised. Literacy rates at primary had been stuck for 30 years. David Blunkett’s literacy hour dramatically improved things by demanding more teacher time on tackling the problem, but ministers soon learned that dictating the content of curriculum was not productive. With Alan Johnson, I agreed a less prescriptive secondary school curriculum and commissioned Jim Rose’s study to do the same for primary.

Michael Gove inherited a school system in 2010 where more money and more teachers were slowly improving things, but not fast enough. Labour ministers established independent quality regulators to ensure standards were maintained and to protect us from the charge of political interference. Academies were mostly working, as were extended schools and interventions like the London and Black Country Challenges. But the disadvantage gap was still too wide and as many as a quarter of school leavers had failed to be engaged by learning and are still woefully ill-equipped to enter the labour market.

This problem of a residual disengaged group has been a problem for generations, regardless of what tinkering with the curriculum successive ministers have engaged in.

The biggest problem is the gap between the best and the worst. The majority do well, a large minority go to university and most get into work. The best state schools are the best the world and we have great teachers and school leaders. We learned from academies that developing that teaching talent and then trusting them to decide what and how to teach works.

This primary curriculum review does not learn from what works. It is a curriculum designed to win plaudits with Michael Gove’s friends in the newspapers by reviving what is perceived to have worked in the 1950’s. That was a time when most left school at 15 to get work in factories, where your level of education was not a big issue. What worked then will not work for an economy where everyone needs skills.

Sadly we do not build the future by looking to the past.

Rather than prescribe what has to be learned when, it is time for politicians to stop meddling. It is time to trust teachers, to celebrate their success and build a culture akin to the most successful education systems, like Finland and Singapore, where teaching is held in the highest regard. That is why we started Teach First.

By contrast, no one has done more to demoralise and alienate teachers than Michael Gove.

We all want to end the disadvantage gap between education outcomes for rich and poor. We all want real social mobility. That is about more than rigour in the three r’s. It is about three other “r’s” – risk, responsibility and resilience.

The great teachers that I meet who are really changing outcomes are innovating to build an appetite for risk and responsibility and raising the capacity to persevere. These are essential for learning to take place and for success at work. These teachers are reintroducing reading for pleasure, rather than as a skill needed to pass phonics tests. Children are taking more responsibility for their own learning, doing more at home, involving parents and helping each other. Whilst their are effective technology tools to help with this, at its heart is teacher innovation. An over prescriptive curriculum, and an over emphasis on high stakes testing, stifles that innovation.

I think children should know their times tables. They should be learning other languages as early as is practical. They should learn to love literature, for life. Ministers deciding when they should do this won’t change anything, but will prevent those in classrooms that are quietly improving things for children getting on with the job they know best.

25 comments for “Gove’s new primary curriculum will hurt but it won’t work

  1. maude elwes
    11/06/2012 at 12:01 pm

    This is the only man in this government who appears to have a principled vision. And the only man with a smidgeon of courage to stand up and voice loudly to those who have for years been ruining the chances of the poorer, bright children who can work their way up, via their intelligence, out of the poverty they were born into. He, Gove, should get his finger out.

    At last we have a man who sees the light and is not afraid of it, but, he is not going far enough. And yes, indeed we do learn from the past, which is why history was once taught in schools and barely is nowadays. Those politically correct goons fear if light is shone on the farce of the social injustice we have suffered relentlessly since the 1950’s and find now, in 2012, how young people are leaving years of so called education completely illiterate, but still having the notion they should be cherished by Oxford as students of academia. When they can barely speak English with anything like a comprehensive vocabulary. And I am not referring to immigrants but natives of this island.

    If you take that a step further you will remember, via history, that slaves were kept illiterate. It was an offense to educate your slaves, as they may get ideas above their station if you do. And that can cause a lot of political discontent. So the politically correct thrive on an illiterate public. It’s not in their interests to stamp it out as that can mean individuals may be able to comprehend what they read and educate themselves properly which reduces the effect of political indoctrination, which we see throughout our schools as commonplace today.

    What is at the back of this politically correct lunacy is, to reduce the university to the levels of the comprehensives bog class. Those places that have little success taking young people from illiteracy they have endured from primary school to discharge at sixteen.

    What we need is a grammar school on every corner, like we have pubs. Grammar schools that teach every subject taught at Eton and more. And every tutor in there should be the equal of a top public school master or mistress. As presently it is only those with an excess of £30,000 a year that can afford it for their child. Imagine how that would take the weight off The Oratory type schools this country has not yet been able to muffle.

    Again, I repeat, Gove hasn’t gone far enough. He should close those pits we have created and sack the lot of them who run it. And do it now. How the parents of this country would rejoice if he did.

  2. Gareth Howell
    11/06/2012 at 1:56 pm

    A lady convenor of ALT and I put our heads together and we probably decided that all policies of government for schools have been bad and getting worse over the last 25 years or so.

    My analysis is that of Ivan Illich (d 2002)
    Hers is the same, but common sense.

    The recent extended vacation is certainly on way of de-schooling society.

    I don’t know why, but I have been plagued by the former pupils of my late father’s secondary school in the 1950s-60s in Surrey, 130 miles away, arriving at my door. I did not know that the sins (and virtues) of the fathers are visited on their children in such humble occupations as schoolmastering,but actually the sadness of pigeonholing every slam bang dang pupil in every class in the school, does no favours to anybody.

    It is rather like the criminalogical theory that “crime” is a genetic trait, which passes on from one generation to the next, through the genes.. no less. It is the very wrong urge to compare everybody competitively with everybody else. Why not just work together and enjoy????! It does the balance of mind of the teacher absolutely no good either.

    Theories of intelligence, of criminality, are so much balderdash. Jenny Lee proved that with the Open university. How many graduates
    now?! At least those classed as school failures now get more opportunity in later life. Rant over.

  3. Twm O'r Nant
    11/06/2012 at 4:09 pm

    What we need is a grammar school on every corner, like we have pubs.

    And like the early days of the school I attended, beer served to everybody for lunch,
    fermented and purified (the agent alcohol) in a way that water never was.

  4. Dave H
    11/06/2012 at 6:38 pm

    Gove is someone who talks a good talk, but when it comes to the walk part, his shoelaces are tied together. When he’s got that problem sorted then he’ll go far.

    He’s swimming against the tide though – when he announced the EBacc, concentrating on a few core skills, there was a clamour from groups whose subjects were left out, so I would guess that he’s not always the one tying the shoelaces.

    I disagree with blanket targets such as memorising times tables by age nine though. Some children will have it mastered at six or seven, others will struggle into their teens. What is more important is to make sure that by age nine, children appreciate why it’s useful to know the tables, and are given opportunity to practice them. My son still doesn’t have them all off the top of his head, but he’ll get the right answer if given a few seconds longer because he works from the ones he does remember. I fully expect him to collect the full set in time, not least because I make him work out stuff the hard way with no calculator in sight.

    Many teachers are doing the best they can, despite being weighed down with paperwork and tied up in red tape. Despite your partisanship, a lot of this came from the previous government who wanted to monitor and measure and control, it’s just that we’re getting more of the same rather than improving things.

    (Note that I admit to being biased against DCSF, the department that put schools between children and families.)

  5. MilesJSD
    11/06/2012 at 8:21 pm

    High time now to distinguish clearly between on the one hand what job-skills are the necessary ‘property’ of the 25%-timeframed Workplace,
    i.e. Skills acquired almost exclusively by directive and pedagogic Training and Drilling;

    and on the other hand what lifestyle-enablements and ‘lifeskills’ are the necessary ‘property’ of the 75%-timeframed Lifeplace,
    acquired more by right-timed ‘extra-mural’ participative and androgogic education than by ‘mandatory workplace-preparatory rote & schooling’;
    and made lifespan-available according to the the conjunction between the subject’s readiness to be educated and the educator’s ability to ‘rapport’ with that prospective, to inspire learning-attitude & personal-energies-budgeting, and to teach necessary knowledge and know-how.
    In short we need, for all ages throughout the lifespan ‘cradle-to-grave’,

    firstly a specificly Individual Human Development Curriculum for the Lifeplace, operative as Self-&-Lifeplace-Education including with prospective parents ante-natally as well as post-natally;

    secondly one or more specificly Collective Human Development Curriculums (sic) for the Workplace, operative as Team-Jobskilling-&-Workplace-Training during normal school hours.
    The physiological, emotional, mind-functional, environmental, spiritual, instant-sanctuary, and jobskills knowledge, know-how and theory-writing
    for such a more affordably-sustainable and morally-sustainworthy Civilisational-Strategy, Constitution, and Education/Training curriculums
    has long been published and available to be followed;
    and is annually being added to;

    but all of it is being either shunned or procrusteanly-mutilated beyond recognition, simply to fit bits of it into the prevailing one-eyed political and teaching traditions.

    Until such modern Individual Education is available to me and to all others including in Schools
    I for one must be dissident towards all other curriculums.

    • MilesJSD
      12/06/2012 at 7:37 pm

      Specific advances for inclusion in the above (new) Holistic Individual Human Development curriculum must (from my dissident standpoint) include:

      Awareness Through Movement (Feldenkrais);
      The Centering Book (Guy Hendricks)
      Guided Mindfulness Meditations CDs (Jon Kabat Zinn)
      The New Rules of Posture (Mary Bond)
      How To Win Every Argument (Madsen Pirie)
      Six Thinking Hats (Edward de Bono)
      Mindset (Caroline Dweck)
      Leader/Teacher/Parent/People Effectiveness Training (Dr Thomas Gordon)
      Wisdom of the Body Moving (Linda Hartley)
      The Thinking Body (Mabel Todd)
      Inner Focus Outer Strength (Eric Franklin);

      and the Perceptual Self-Control work done by WT Powers et al. which, in conjunction with Dweck’s Self and Others Theorisation Theory and Mindset, and with other advances such as twelve or so instantiated above, will quickly show the insidiously-concealed destructivity resulting from the all too prevailing traditional “Positive & Negative Reinforcement Theory”.
      Which I submit equally to Lord Knight’s “Curriculum” blog;

      and to my MP (Alison Seabeck, Labour) for inclusion ‘on the Table’ and for the forthcoming Commons debate upon “Mental Health” Thursday 14 June 2012.

  6. Gareth Howell
    12/06/2012 at 7:02 am

    It may always be best to compare the best with the worst, although not exactly the subject matter here.

    Dave H thinks of times tables for his child but some of the sons of clergy when I was a child also had a fair knowledge of Latin and Greek by that age as well. They were the brilliant ones and still are, although occupations are more divers these days.

    It is not as though Classical Greek was used for daily conversation but a complete understanding of the language we use in everyday life is advantageous.

    What is more learning the Greek alphabet by rote with the sound as well, is priceless for
    the sciences as soon as they are introduced in school.

    There is a very useful mnemonic for all the consonants,of classical or demotic Greek, and the vowels come easily after that. Writing them down ie the shape of the alphabeta script also has to be learned,if you recall!?

    The joy of modern Greek is that it is far closer to classical Greek than English for example is to Anglo-Saxon!

  7. Lord Blagger
    12/06/2012 at 2:24 pm

    What is more learning the Greek alphabet by rote


    The old alpha beta gamma one, or the new one that starts I.O.U. ?

  8. David Harris
    12/06/2012 at 10:57 pm

    Lord Knight is most certainly right. The current government are stifling the good practise that exists in schools today. Teachers work harder and are accountable moreso now than previous generations. The children in school now receive a wonderful educational experience which is diverse and rich in content.
    The main issue is constant government interference and threat of OFSTED.
    The only point I wish to make is that yes – closing the gap between educational difference is important but no matter how much money you throw at that idea, there will always be those that can and those that can’t. Every generation is the same.

  9. lordknight
    13/06/2012 at 10:46 am

    I was delighted to see the one of the experts appointed by Michael Gove to advise him on the curriculum has come out against the new primary curriculum

  10. maude elwes
    13/06/2012 at 3:26 pm

    Now we see the idiocy in this education situation from the top. What are they fighting to save, their reputation or the horror the majority of kids face in the school system we have.

    We read, hear and understand fully when our politicians tell us, through the propaganda machine of media or press that:

    A) Universities must stop taking Public School students across the board as they are privilegled and so the entrance expectations must be lowered to enable the less fortunate to compete.

    Now if the state school education was so wonderful, why would this be necessary?

    B) David Cameron and his friends are privately educated and therefore they have a leg up because their social background created an avenue for them to excel. Whilst those underprivileged who go to comprehensive state schools cannot perform as well because of their environment.

    As this is obvious to everyone in the country who have children needing an education, why do you insist on hearding children of all abilities in one pen? Non one benefits as those who are very bright cannot succeed when pushed into a one size fits all hat. It is far too tight to wear and stultifies those with potental.

    The less academic also cannot function as the emphasis is placed on the lowest common denominator and as they are the boys/girls in the middle, they miss out both ends.

    The left overs are then given more attention they say but because their needs are more suited toward alternative methods to teach, they too are left standing with big eyes and fearful faces. They start wanting to do well and achieve, but in an alternative environment, yet are held back as the facilities are not there and the system cannot be seen to be set up for the benefit of those who find learning more difficult. Hence, no one is serviced.

    Then the idiot teaches, of which there are many, who have a vocabulary akin to the relegated division which means they deprive their pupils of the fundamental knowledge of the English language. And as you people know so well this is a profound disadvantage from any point of view. It is ususally handed out via baby talk, common with so many of the severely under achieving. Great example.

    The pupils then become impossible to handle as the levels of discipline is ludicrous and boredom has set in. These classes are usually taken by women who use nursery talk, no matter what the form age, and couldn’t make a dog sit, let alone a modern child exposed to today’s world of defiance.

    On top of this nonsense, they plug pornographic sexual information at such an early age the trauma causes sleepless nights or nightmares. They being thrust into the adult expectations on them they try to flee from at home, where they often have been inundated with this tripe from birth.

    You cannot teach kids to read from a tin of words which so many schools still try on. You cannot teach children to excel when they are plunged into an environment of mediocrity. And that is what the state offers children today, mediocrity.

    And if ths is not so, why do so many of you in the Parliament building continue to send your kids to private schools, once you see they have no comprehension of what they are supposedly getting from a state education.

    To pretend otherwise is deceitful. And it doesn’t matter how much private tutoring you pay for at home to hide the fact that this isn’t working for you, you can’t keep it from yourself when little Lord Font comes home speaking in a peculair accent and adds like, innit and ya know what I mean four times in one sentence. To pretend otherwise is grossly unprincipled.

    An example of the British school system is expressed by this student. And this is a person who tells us he went to university in the UK.

    And another from the opposite sex who tells us she doesn’t blame the school’s adcademic record, yet she is barely able to explain the situation she wants us to know about.

    And what they are teaching in UK schools for biology and anatomy these days.

    And the terrible outcome of this invasion of the innocent.

    • Lord Blagger
      13/06/2012 at 10:02 pm

      The teachers will discover the consequences of their teaching.

      1. The size government debt means they won’t get their pensions.

      2. Their inability to understand mathematics means that MPs can’t add up and produce a proper set of accounts showing the debt.

      3. Their losses, a legacy of the dumbing down.

  11. 15/06/2012 at 7:39 pm

    The role of assessment in instruction must not be overlooked. The primary aim of assessment is to foster worthwhile learning for all students (Porter, 1995) by guiding classroom instruction. Assessments that provide detailed information about students’ academic progress, including what they know, what they can do, how they learn, and where they are having problems, can ensure that children’s instructional needs are met. McCollum et al., (1999) recommend the use of performance assessments and informal assessment tools (such as rubrics , checklists, and anecdotal records ) to guide instruction and better inform teaching. Such assessments provide information about the way children think, what they understand, and the strategies they use in their learning (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Many educators feel that performance-based assessments best reflect new educational standards and methods of instruction (Porter, 1995) and are promising for ensuring equity with assessment . To be truly effective, alternative, performance-based assessments should be continuous throughout the school year. Student assessments must be ongoing and feed into daily decisions that teachers make regarding appropriate instruction and student assistance (American Federation of Teachers, 1997).

  12. MilesJSD
    16/06/2012 at 8:14 am

    Lord Knight should retract and reword his central one-liner
    “Sadly we do not build the future by looking to the past”

    The fact is, we can not build the future without first assimilating all the good done in our past;
    nor without assembling, alongside our Planning Tables, all those mistaken, wasteful, bad, and outrightly-evil records of our Human Civilisation which, face it, is now perhaps more than ever before corrupted and environmentally-over-destructive.
    The Human Civilisation Future depends upon three Longest-Term Factoramas:
    1. The ability of Earth’s lifesupports to support the hugely increasing human-populations all around this (as yet utterly) Lone Living Planet;
    2. The ability of Earth’s technology-supports to sustain both human-civilisations’ and current human Space Explorations and intended ultimate future Space-Emigration(s);
    3. The ability of human civilisations to, not just ‘sustainably’ but ‘sustainworthily’,
    learn how to conserve and regulate both Workplace-skilling advances, and Lifeplace eco-economical human lifestyles.

    • lordknight
      16/06/2012 at 2:35 pm

      Sorry no retraction – context is everything. We learn from history (if we did that we wouldn’t be trying to cut our way out of recession) but we should not think what worked for children growing up in the 1950s works for children of a different century

      • Lord Blagger
        16/06/2012 at 2:39 pm

        The problem is that you don’t even have a clue as to history because you’re in denial.

        If we look at your track record, you’ve spent billions. Are people employed as a result? No. Unemployment is up. Debt is up. How are you going to pay your share of the mess you’ve left? 230,000 per taxpayer, plus interest.

        Or is the plan not paying out on the debts? Defaulting like Greece. ie. If its not on the books, we don’t have to pay it approach to the financial mess.

      • Lord Blagger
        16/06/2012 at 3:37 pm

        Such twaddle.

        We have a 150 bn a year stimulus program at the moment and its not working.

        We have you proposing spending even more, by borrowing at 4%, and getting growth of 0.5%. If you think that’s good, I’ll give you the same deal on your pension. You borrow lots of money at 4%, and I’ll give you a 1% return.

        Meanwhile your legacy is 230,000 pounds of debt per taxpayer. Median wage is 26,000 a year. How is that ever going to be paid?

        Learn from history by admitting your mistakes. You’ve run up a bill that can’t be paid, so you’ve lead the country up the Greek creek, without the proverbial paddle.

      • maude elwes
        17/06/2012 at 5:06 am

        Historical reference cannot force those who don’t want to learn from it to do so.

        And what we have presently are people who refuse to learn from history. and the reason for that, is, they are doing nicely out of the mess we are in.

        We are under the thumb of those who do not want stability and regulation and all the history in the universe will not move them from power unless those who are able to do so, do it.

        And your notion that what we lived with in an earlier century can’t be used now, is utter nonsense. Humanity hasn’t changed us into ninja turtles. These kids are longing for a sense of order and discipline and for the adults around them to show they care enough to bother.

        If you don’t feel this is correct, why is that? And what is your plan then? more of the same? Let us hear what you see as the future for our children? And will you be willing to follow that up with a referendum on your policy? if not, why not?

    • Lord Blagger
      16/06/2012 at 2:37 pm

      You’re still not say how much money is one life support and who you are going to get to pay for your ‘life support’.

      Is it 20K a year, or 2,700 a day (cost of a lord)?

  13. Gareth Howell
    16/06/2012 at 8:20 am

    The European Bacc is very popular with one Dorset comprehensive.

    The opportunities of doing things in the French or the German way are marvellous these days compared with 30 years ago, at sixth form and university level.

    Sussex University blazed the trail with degrees in Mathematics and so on, actually in French/German/Spanish, and the obligation to teach Maths in that country in the subject during training.

    The Bournemouth language scgools/colleges do this with “higher” ie adult education.

    Coming to England for a month in the summer JUST to learn English is totally boring, but to attend for the purpose of widening knowledge of the sciences using English as the language medium for learning is a different matter entirely.

    In that example Bournemouth language colleges are blazing the trail.

    There is a Brighton comprehensive that has expanded its name to “International” for the same purpose.

    In 1964, you were not allowed to take more than £50+£150 out of the country, even to study a foreign language.

    • maude elwes
      18/06/2012 at 1:25 pm

      And let us hope, Lord Knight, has the wisdom to listen to this radio programme called, BBC 4 Anaysis.

      Then let him come back here and tell us he feels we should continue along the lines we have been adopting for the last fifty or more years. As, according to him, we do not learn from history. We can see very clearly he certainly doesn’t.

      These politicians are like fish, it doesn’t matter how many times they bang there faces into the bowl glass, the go back to it again and again, even when they must be punch drunk from it.

      There has to be a better way to find suitable men and women as politicians and MP’s who listen to what is going on and has a grasp on life as it really is, rather than the lunacy these spout as reality.

      • Lord Blagger
        18/06/2012 at 3:37 pm

        They suffer from Group think and an inability to think for themselves.

        That’s why they are whipped.

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