Primary school children studying subordinate clauses and foreign languages? What an outlandish but suddenly very real idea. Michael Gove announced earlier this week a curriculum reshuffle to restore rigour and aptitude to primary education. But why is liberalising Gove instigating a top-down approach, prescribing what teachers teach?
It’s not the first time that Gove’s policies have become contradictory. Earlier this year, Tristram Hunt MP wrote a magazine article about the Tory divide over forcing secondary schools to teach British history while also increasing their freedom.
The Times’ Alice Thompson (£) provides an answer for these dilemmas in her column this week. She wrote:
‘Some schools have given up any aspiration to academic scholarship. They don’t think most pupils are up to it — Byron, Keats, Dickens, grammar … it’s all gobbledegook to children now. And in any case, they will have calculators, computers, Google and spellcheck to help them on their way through secondary school’
These curriculum proposals could easily be tarred with the ‘elitism’ brush because falling standards mean that the status quo cannot continue. Thomson quoted Britain’s OECD maths ranking, which has dropped from 8th to 28th since 2000. The CBI stated in a recent survey that 42 per cent of businesses have to hold remedial classes for school leavers. The Mail also reports that some teachers are being sent back to school because they lack the ability to teach the new curriculum.
It is felt, then, that the only way to solve this is to have control over the core parts of the curriculum, laying the timeless foundations for a solid and more varied education, while also making schools freer to improve standards in other areas. The often-quoted Labour education minister Ellen Wilkinson once said the ‘Minister knows nowt about curriculum’. She’s right, but in this case, what else can a minister to do?
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