Michael Gove is right about almost everything, but like most know-it-alls, he has a habit of putting people’s backs up when telling them he’s right. That’s the theme of a piece I’ve written for the Telegraph today about the Education Secretary’s desire to meddle not just with what goes on in the classroom but also in what children get up to when they’re at home. You can read his full speech on this which is, as always, very interesting and lively, at the bottom of this post. The opening section, in which he asked parents whether they’d rather see their children reading Twilight or Middlemarch, playing Angry Birds, or coding when they’re at home, displays his know-it-all tendency. But the problem with a know-it-all is that at the bottom of all the bluster, they’re generally right.
The rest of Gove’s speech focused on low expectations of children embedded not just in the current national curriculum, but also in the way teachers choose to bring that curriculum to life in schools. He found schemes of work that included fashion shows from the Middle Ages, and the rise of Hitler as a Mr Men story.
The minister is, of course, completely right about low expectations. It is appalling to write children off as unable to understand other eras and cultures. It’s not impossible for the same children who read vampire romances to also enjoy The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And the ‘we can’t expect that from our pupils’ argument which so infuriates Gove assumes that a boy born on a council estate in Warrington is somehow intrinsically less able to take on something outside his current sphere of interest. It limits social mobility by assuming the die was cast long before that pupil even arrived in the classroom, and lets teachers off the hook.
The desire for relevance is misguided: childhood is all about discovering how strange and bizarre the world is, and schooling is just another part of that process of stretching children. That means teaching them strange texts and pushing them outside their comfort zone. Some subject teachers are well aware of that: you can’t make a quadratic equation ‘relevant’, no matter how hard you try.
If children are picking up Twilight at home, then all to the good: at least they are starting to learn the pleasure of reading. But where teachers have a role is in moving them on to something more challenging, rather than assuming that vampire romances must remain their sole focus evermore.
But perhaps Gove’s examples were also unhelpful. The Nazi Germany lesson with Mr Fussy was striking, but it probably didn’t tally with the far more dispiriting and common drip-drip of low expectations, where children who might struggle to make the magic C boundary at GCSE are shunted onto lesser qualifications such as BTecs, and where teachers set material because it is relevant, not challenging.
As Fraser has written before, Gove’s enthusiasm for reform sometimes leads him to tighten his grip on areas of education policy while trumpeting the liberation of others. He also loves a good scrap – this speech devotes an impressive portion to attacking Michael Rosen – and perhaps his pugnacity leads him down some blind alleys.
Michael Gove’s speech to Brighton College – full text
TRUTH IS BEAUTY AND BEAUTY IS TRUTH
Parents, it is sometimes alleged, don’t want choice in education. Well, many of us here are parents – so let me pose some choices.
You come home to find your 17-year-old daughter engrossed in a book. Which would delight you more – if it were Twilight or Middlemarch?
You see your son is totally absorbed, hunched over the family laptop. You steal a look over his shoulder – and what would please you more – to see him playing Angry Birds, or coding?
Your son says he wants to spend more time with one particular group of friends. Which would be more inspiring – because he wants to improve his pool or because they’re in the cadets and he wants to join?
Your daughter says she wants to compete with the very best, but which is more wonderful – on Big Brother or at the Rio Olympics?
False choices? I suspect those of us who are parents would recognise that there are all too many children and young people only too happy to lose themselves in Stephanie Meyer, while away hours flinging electronic fowl at virtual pigs, hang out rather than shape up and dream of fame finding them rather than them pursuing glory.
And I also suspect that all of us who are parents would be delighted if our children were learning to love George Eliot, write their own computer programmes, daring to take themselves out of their comfort zone and aspiring to be faster, higher or stronger.
Unless, of course, we write for Guardian Education.
Because it is natural for parents to want their children to be happy, fulfilled and successful. Not in a narrow material sense. But through the development of their natural curiosity, talents and potential.
It is natural for any of us to feel a sense of pride at our child’s graduation, passing out parade or personal best.
We all harbour high hopes for our own children – and we know they are happiest when they succeed in any endeavour beyond their own expectations.
R.H. Tawney, the great progressive thinker, argued that, “what a wise parent would wish for their children, so the State must wish for all its children.”
TO STRIVE, TO SEEK, TO FIND AND NOT TO YIELD
And that is why – under this Government – the Department for Education is setting higher expectations for every child. Because that is what parents want. It is what makes children happier by introducing them to levels of accomplishment they may never have envisaged. And it is what the overwhelming majority of teachers – who believe in the nobility of their vocation – are doing every day.
But what makes the setting of higher expectations more difficult is the culture of excuses and low aspirations which some in the education establishment still defend.
Most recently we had 100 academics from university departments of education writing to a newspaper objecting to the new draft national curriculum. Their concerns? The curriculum expected too much of young people, too young and by seeking to get children to know more, they would enjoy themselves less.
The assumption lying behind the letter was that the level of aspiration embodied in the current curriculum, its associated teaching methods and our national examinations was already high enough.
Well, that is not an assumption I share.
As Dr Johnson once observed of two women arguing from the windows of houses on opposing sides of a street – “they will never agree, Boswell, because they are arguing from different premises”.
And I have a different starting premise from those 100 academics who are so heavily invested in the regime of low expectations and narrow horizons which they have created.
I believe we need to ask more – much more – of our education system.
EARTH HATH NOT ANYTHING TO SHOW MORE FAIR
Let’s begin with English.
Earlier this week one of our best-loved writers – certainly in the eyes of my daughter – regretfully acknowledged a terrible truth about English students.
Jacqueline Wilson revealed that the fan letters she received from English boys and girls were invariably worse-written than letters from foreign students. Fans from abroad, she said, would apologise for their poor English. But their English was better than the English of the English.
Jacqueline Wilson is not – by any measure – a reactionary nostalgist in the republic of letters. Her work deals – unsparingly and in detail – with divorce, mental illness, life in the care system and growing up poor. We’re not talking pixies dancing under the Faraway Tree here.
But despite – indeed perhaps because of – her interest in the real lives of today’s children, rather than the imagined existences adults conjure for them, she chose to speak out about one of the scandals of our times.
As have other children’s writers – such as Susan Hill – who are also eloquent in their concern about the failure of so many young people to use the English language with confidence.
Why is it that after seven years of compulsory schooling, one in seven children still can’t read and write properly?
Why are there around 500 primary schools where more than a third of children can’t read and write properly?
It is not as though the level of literacy we expect at age eleven is impossibly demanding.
Under the system – as currently constituted – you’re assessed to be scoring well if you get what’s called a level 4 in English at the end of primary school.
But even this – supposedly secure – foundation isn’t anywhere near good enough. Nearly a third of children who get at least a good level 4 in English and maths fail to go on to secure five A*- C passes including GCSE English and maths – the minimum level of literacy and numeracy required for future employability.
We’ve taken action to deal with this scandal.
We’ve introduced a screening check at the age of 6 to make sure children are recognising and blending letter sounds to read words fluently. It’s designed to help identify those who may have reading difficulties and ensure they are supported in their reading.
In the trial we ran more than a third of teachers said it had helped them identify issues they would not otherwise have spotted.
But the usual suspects in the unions objected to this means of raising expectations at the start of primary school. Just as they have objected to our desire to ensure that children are properly literate at the end of primary school.
We are introducing a basic test of competence in spelling, punctuation and grammar at the end of primary school.
But again the unions – and their allies – have objected to the suggestion that eleven year-olds should be able to spell words in Standard English, use full stops and commas with confidence or deploy adverbs appropriately.
One of the critics – Michael Rosen – attacked the proposed assessment in his column, “Letter from a Curious Parent”, in the Guardian.
Mr Rosen criticised the test on the basis that there was no such thing as correct grammar, but if you were perverse enough to want to ensure children knew how to use Standard English you could of course devise some form of assessment. However, such a test was only ever accessible to a minority because when a comparable test of grammatical knowledge existed in the past, only a minority of students passed that. So this new test was clearly a fiendish exercise to brand hundreds of thousands of children as failures so that they were reconciled to a future of supine wage slavery.
I could argue that nothing is more likely to condemn any young person to limited employment opportunities – or indeed joblessness – than illiteracy. I could point out that the newspaper Mr Rosen writes for has a style guide, a team of trained sub-editors and a revise sub-editor as well as a night editor and a backbench of assistant night editors to ensure that what appears under his – and everyone else’s – byline is correct English. I could observe that it was a funny form of progressive thinking that held that the knowledge which elites have used to communicate with confidence and authority over the years – and which they pay to ensure their children can master – should be denied to the majority of children.
But I will abjure such Ciceronian rhetorical tricks.
And quote instead from John Blake of Labour Teachers. He said Michael Rosen’s column should be renamed “Letter from a Conspiracy Theorist” and was “basically an argument that poor kids can’t possibly learn to write properly”.
Which strikes me as a fair summary. And a revealing insight into the depth of the low expectations on one side of the education debate.
But what is equally revealing – and much more optimistic – is that the person calling out Michael Rosen is not a Tory MP or a conservative commentator but a teacher – a Labour teacher.
And the reason why I am confident that we can set higher expectations for our children is because there is a culture of higher and higher expectations now being driven in more and more classrooms by the best young generation of teachers ever.
Teachers like those working in the London Academy of Excellence – established by Brighton College and its partners to ensure more disadvantaged children from the poorest parts of London made it to elite universities.
Or those at Ark’s King Solomon Academy, also in one of the poorest parts of London, where all children – all children – are expected to read the Bible, Jane Austen, Shakespearean pastoral comedy such as As You Like It, a Shakespearean tragedy and Primo Levi alongside George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, William Golding, Erich Maria Remarque and Malcolm Gladwell.
And if you think that reading list is at the upper end of expectations then consider what they teach at Barnes Primary School and Thomas Jones Primary – with one of the most disadvantaged intakes in London.
At Barnes students in year 5 – aged 9 or 10 – study Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and read works by Beverley Naidoo, Leon Garfield, Neil Gaiman and Ian Seraillier, Elizabeth Laird and Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
In Year 6 – aged 10 or 11 – they study the Edwardian ballad The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, Street Child by Berlie Doherty, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Macbeth, Ted Hughes, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s translation of Beowulf.
At Thomas Jones – where a majority of students come from homes where English is not spoken as the first language – they set an even more ambitious range of texts to study in Year 6 – including not just Pullman, Golding, Oscar Wilde, Kenneth Grahame and both A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist but also Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and The Tempest as well as poems by William Blake, Rupert Brooke, Philip Larkin, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Tennyson and a Shakespeare sonnet.
This level of ambition – set and achieved by teachers without any direction by Government or its agencies – is all the more impressive when you consider how relatively low expectations have been set in our existing national examinations.
In the most recent year for which we have figures almost 280,000 candidates studied a novel – one novel – for the AQA GCSE. The overwhelming majority – more than 190,000 – studied Of Mice and Men. The overwhelming majority of the rest studied other 20th century texts including works such as the Lord of the Flies which – we should note – are considered appropriate for primary children in the best schools. The numbers studying novels written before 1900 are tiny in comparison – 1,236 studied Pride and Prejudice, 285 Far From The Madding Crowd and 187 Wuthering Heights. Added together that is fewer than 2,000 candidates – less than 1 per cent of the total.
The situation is even worse in drama. 16,929 candidates chose An Inspector Calls, 991 Pygmalion and 563 Hobson’s Choice. All great plays – but all written in the 20th century – indeed in the case of Priestley’s classic first performed after the end of the Second World War. Just one candidate out of more than 18,000 chose to study a pre-twentieth century play – She Stoops to Conquer.
Of course AQA are not the only board offering an English Literature GCSE.
Edexcel also offer English Literature GCSE. And they have a different record from AQA. Not a single one of their candidates studied a pre-20th century novel or play.
When our exams are still pitching expectations so low it is no surprise that reform-minded teachers want change.
I was delighted to read one English teacher in the TES recently – Amy Winston – welcome the more stretching content in the new national curriculum for English. She particularly approved of the expectation that all students should study Romantic Poetry. And I am delighted by the prospect of more students enjoying the opportunity to get to know Keats, Byron, Shelley and above all Wordsworth.
But I acknowledge not every teacher is as sanguine as Amy Winston. Another influential English Teacher, Joe Kirby, has taken me to task in his well-read blog “Pragmatic Education”
He argues “the secondary curriculum in English schools is not strong enough to raise the bar and close the gap in GCSE attainment. Its lack of substance and specificity since 2007 has played a part in the neglect of rigour: neither the 2007 nor the proposed 2014 English curriculum specifies a single literary text.”
I have to weigh carefully the concern from a gifted and idealistic young teacher that we are not being rigorous enough and we should consider specifying more content. We are currently reflecting on all the arguments made in our consultation on the new curriculum. But I take particularly seriously the concerns idealistic and ambitious teachers such as Joe Kirby have about the teaching practices which our current examination system encourages.
He, and many others, are deeply worried about what he calls, “the enacted school curriculum: what actually gets taught in classrooms.”
“Schemes of work in schools,” he explains, “are admired based on how relevant and engaging they are as opposed to how rigorous and challenging they are. In principle, there is no trade-off between relevance and rigour; in practice, there is all the difference in the world: the difference between teaching transient vampire books or transcendent Victorian novels.”
Kirby is right – Stephenie Meyer cannot hold a flaming pitch torch to George Eliot. There is a Great Tradition of English Literature – a Canon of transcendent works – and Breaking Dawn is not part of it.
Kirby’s challenge to us in Government is clear. And it is reinforced by the arguments of other influential teacher-bloggers like Andrew Old and Matthew Hunter. Our new draft curriculum, criticised by the unions and their allies for being too specific and too content heavy may actually – in some areas – not be specific and content-rich enough.
HISTORY IS NOW – AND ENGLAND
The one area of the national curriculum which has come under heaviest criticism from the unions and their allies for packing in too much content has – of course – been the history curriculum.
I’m not surprised by the intensity of the criticism. As my old friend Kenneth Baker also found out, there is no part of the national curriculum so likely to prove an ideological battleground for contending armies as history.
There may, for all I know, be rival Whig and Marxist schools fighting a war of interpretation in chemistry or food technology but their partisans don’t tend to command much column space in the broadsheets or get onto Start The Week.
Whereas historians – and indeed commentators and politicians and ideological pressure groups – all find it easy to get a platform if they can contribute to the debate about what our schools should teach about who we are as a nation.
I have enjoyed reading – and hearing from – the different partisans. Those distinguished voices like Richard J Evans, David Priestland and David Cannadine who have, to various degrees, been critical. As well as those equally distinguished voices such as JCD Clark, Jeremy Black, Anthony Beevor, David Abulafia, Niall Ferguson, Simon Jenkins, Andrew Roberts, Amanda Foreman, Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Chris Skidmore, David Starkey and Robert Tombs who have been, to various degrees, supportive. And I have particularly enjoyed listening to my friend and colleague Tristram Hunt who has, in various degrees, at various times, been both supportive and critical.
But what has – to an extent – been missing from this debate is an appreciation of how history is being taught in many of our schools now. In particular, the teaching practice which constitutes what Joe Kirby calls “the enacted school curriculum – what actually gets taught in classrooms.”
And here the reality is – if anything – even more concerning that what the exam system has done to English.
Take the lesson plans outlined in Primary History – the journal of the Historical Association. These are not marginal influences on classroom practice. These are the resources produced by the most influential subject association which speaks for history teachers.
In their Autumn 2012 issue of Primary History, the Historical Association suggest students learn about the early Middle Ages by studying the depiction of King John as a cowardly lion in Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’. If that proves too taxing then they are asked to organise a fashion parade or make plasticine models.
Alternatively, students can help create “an interactive powerpoint based on well known animated aquatic characters: for example, Nemo”. Or if Disney’s clown fish is an inappropriate subject for reflection, then teachers can turn to guidance on ‘Primary pedagogy and interactive power point’ where it is suggested that a project about rail travel, should focus on the – no doubt – highly influential historical character of George Stephenson’s friend, Eddy the Teddy.
If finding out about Nemo and investigating Eddy prove too much then there are other approaches which are encouraged.
Students are invited to become “history detectives”. Which sounds potentially promising. But the lesson plan outlined doesn’t actually involve any real history, just pretend detective work. Students are asked to investigate the death of a fictional “John Green” by drawing up a “cunning plan” which involves asking to study up to three clues. I couldn’t help thinking as I read the lesson plan that I’d seen this exercise played out in front of my eyes before. Maybe Mr Green was killed in the library with a candlestick by Professor Plum. Or maybe proper history teaching is being crushed under the weight of play-based pedagogy which infantilises children, teachers and our culture.
It would be bad enough if this approach were restricted to primary schools. But even at GCSE level this infantilisation continues. One set of history teaching resources targeted at year 11s – 15 and 16 year olds – suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a ‘Mr Men’ story.
If I may quote – “The following steps are a useful framework: Brainstorm the key people involved (Hitler, Hindenburg, Goering, Van der Lubbe, Rohm…). Discuss their personalities / actions in relation to the topic. Bring up a picture of the Mr Men characters on the board. Discuss which characters are the best match.”
I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves’ work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.
But I am familiar with the superb historical account Richard J Evans gives of the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich and I cannot believe he could possibly be happy with reducing the history of Germany’s darkest years to a falling out between Mr Tickle and Mr Topsy-Turvy.
There’s been passionate – and welcome – debate about what should be in – or out – of the national curriculum. There are criticisms flying about the absence of Voltaire or a failure to give due prominence to the Manchu acquisition of the Mandate of Heaven. These complaints sit alongside, or come from the same quarters, as criticisms about the inclusion of the Anglo-Saxons or Oliver Cromwell. But in this debate there is precious little attention given to what has actually gone wrong in too many of our classrooms.
The draft history curriculum is a direct attempt to address the failure – over generations – to ensure children grow up knowing the story of our islands. It is inspired by existing good practice in the best schools – state and independent. Whether it’s the curriculum developed here in Brighton College to give students an holistic understanding of our history, geography and culture or the content-rich core knowledge history curriculum of Pimlico Academy, there is ample evidence, generated by great teachers, that facts, stories, chronology, a connected narrative and a focus on great men and women can inspire and engage students of all backgrounds.
And while some good individual points have been made by constructive critics of our draft, I have to record that, amidst all the debate which the draft history curriculum has stimulated, no coherent single alternative model has emerged as a superior rival.
I will, of course, weigh carefully all the submissions we’ve received about how the curriculum might be improved. But it won’t be improved by taking out Clive of India and Wolfe of Quebec and replacing them with Eddy the Teddy and Finding Nemo.
IF YOU CAN FILL THE UNFORGIVING MINUTE
And, of course, whatever changes we make to the set of documents we call the national curriculum to generate higher expectations, we must also ensure we align all the influences on what is actually taught – the enacted curriculum – to reinforce this culture of greater ambition. That means ensuring Ofsted inspections and GCSE examinations reinforce a drive for higher standards.
Sir Michael Wilshaw has already taken a series of important steps to entrench higher expectations – with his new inspection framework placing much more emphasis on high quality teaching. He has also made luminously clear that the explicitly didactic and determinedly academic teaching methods which – shamefully – were considered poor teaching practice by Ofsted in the past are now welcome back. The only criterion that counts is pupils making progress.
I have myself seen far too many lessons where teachers have felt they need to conform to an outdated model of how children learn. Teachers have felt they need to organise group work in which students talk to each other rather than learn from their teacher or texts. Worksheets, extracts and mind maps replace whole books, proper sources and compelling conversation. Young people on the verge of university study are treated as though they have the attention spans of infants.
This approach is not just constricting the initiative and talent of great teachers by diminishing the power of teaching, it also runs counter to the very best recent research on how children learn. The work of the best cognitive scientists, such as Daniel T. Willingham, emphasise the importance of teachers using gripping narratives to hold attention, underline the power of memorisation as a precondition of understanding, and stress that it is through the accumulation of factual knowledge that the conditions are created for creative and critical thinking.
So if your school, or you as a teacher, are told that your lesson must conform to a particular pattern to pass muster with the inspectors, just say “no”. Because Sir Michael could not be clearer – you are free to teach as you wish – the only thing that matters is that students learn.
TIS NOT TOO LATE TO SEEK A NEWER WORLD
And we have taken every step we can so far to free teachers from the constraints of outdated curricula and old-fashioned teaching methods. That is why we have disapplied – in other words, abolished – the national Curriculum programme of study in ICT.
It was a boring set of documents that encouraged boring teaching of boring tasks in a field which should be one of the most exciting in education. The ICT curriculum we inherited was a tedious run-through the use of applications which were becoming obsolete even as the curriculum was being written. For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate.
So we have ditched it. And in its place we have asked teachers, tech experts and tech companies to draw up an alternative computer science curriculum which teaches children how to code – so they can design new applications instead of simply being asked to use tired old software.
Thanks to the work of Ian Livingstone, the British Computer Society and gifted teachers across the country excitement – and innovation – are returning to one of the most important – and testing – intellectual disciplines in modern education.
Technology will change our lives in ways we cannot anticipate in the years to come – and it will certainly transform teaching as the revolution in higher education is proving.
But one thing we can be certain of is that the acquisition of coding skills, the ability to think computationally, and the creativity inherent in designing new programmes will help prepare all our young people better for the future. It will be impossible to call yourself educated in years to come unless you understand, and can influence, the changes technology brings.
THE GLORY OF THE GARDEN IT ABIDETH NOT IN WORDS
And I also think it will be impossible to consider any education system – or school – fit for the modern world if it does not provide a clear pathway to high quality technical and vocational study.
And high quality is the crucial qualifier.
Because our biggest problem in vocational and technical education has not been lack of money, an absence of political attention, or a shortage of pious appeals to establish parity of esteem.
Look at how well equipped many of our further education colleges are. Consider how much ministerial and administrative energy has been devoted to making and remaking agencies to supervise vocational education – from the MSC through to TECs and then the LSC followed by the YPLA and SFA and now the call to give LEPs a bigger role. And read back through the many, all too many, ministerial speeches when politicians talk about the importance of vocational education and promise to make people respect it more.
But the central problem with vocational education was never addressed.
Many vocational qualifications were not respected because they were not as rigorous as academic qualifications. Genuinely high quality technical and vocational courses – such as the apprenticeships offered by organisations such as BAE or Rolls-Royce – have always been over-subscribed. Colleges which offer genuinely demanding courses in areas which the economy needs such as cooking or construction enjoy no shortage of applications.
Sadly, however, there have been far too many qualifications which were badged as vocational which were of marginal value to the students who acquired them. As Alison Wolf pointed out in her ground-breaking report on vocational education – far and away the best thing ever written on the subject – under the last Government hundreds of thousands of students received little or no benefit from vocational qualifications which had little or no labour market value.
The last Government lied to students. It told them the courses they were studying would prepare them for the world of work. It congratulated itself on the number securing passes. But the truth, as Professor Wolf pointed out, was that. “Many of England’s 14-19 year olds” did not “progress successfully into secure employment or higher level education” because they had been denied “the skills that will enable them to progress”.
Many of these qualifications were judged as “worth” two or more GCSEs but they had no proper, rigorous, external assessment and required no demonstration of mastery of any skill directly applicable to the workplace.
The only way to rescue vocational education from its devaluation has been to make vocational qualifications more rigorous. That is what we have done – following Professor Wolf’s lead by counting only rigorous vocational qualifications in school performance tables, making apprenticeships more demanding and introducing a new – explicitly aspirational – measure of vocational accomplishment: the technical baccalaureate.
I apply to vocational education the same principles I apply to academic education – we should be setting expectations higher, demanding greater rigour, applauding genuine effort.
And I also apply those principles to the other element I count as essential in a rounded education – the development of character.
I don’t believe any person is truly educated unless they have learnt self-discipline, self-control, self-reliance, respect for others, how to work in a team, how to defer gratification, how to cope with reverses and the importance of service to others.
I don’t believe you can create a national curriculum programme of study in building character. Nor should we attempt to test, measure, or direct how character is developed. Indeed if the state were to prescribe how individuals were to become self-reliant and self-disciplined then we would be disappearing up our own oxymoron.
But just because the state should not dictate that does not mean we should be silent. We need to support schools in the many different ways they choose – every day – to develop and build the character of their pupils.
That can sometimes mean getting the state out of the way.
- Removing the absurd health and safety rules which prevent students going on expeditions or enjoying work experience.
- Overhauling the CRB regime which makes enlisting volunteers to help with competitive sports more difficult.
- Getting rid of the rules which limit the length of the school day and term and so make it more difficult to provide drama, musical performance, debating, chess, dance and sport alongside the core academic curriculum.
It can also mean knocking heads together.
- Working with the MoD and independent schools to get more cadet forces in state schools.
- Providing funding for charities like Debatemate which can then work with philanthropic sponsors to get debating going in state schools.
- Or getting county sports partnerships and sport governing bodies to see the potential to foster more competitive sport in the additional PE funding we’re providing to primary schools.
But above all it means recognising that character is learnt from observing, and emulating, admirable adult role models. That is why we are giving more power to heads to demonstrate leadership in their own schools.
It’s also why we’ve strengthened the hand of heads and teachers when it comes to enforcing discipline and attendance. And it’s why I want to ensure we attract even more talented and idealistic people into teaching
WESTWARD LOOK, THE LAND IS BRIGHT
I have a clear view of what an educated person should be – literate, numerate, historically aware, culturally curious, engaged by science and technology, aware of the demands of the workplace, ready to take their place as an active citizen in an open democracy.
I will – as long as I am in this office – argue that our expectations in each of these areas should be higher – for all our children. But in my ideal education system the requirement for me – or any politician – to enter this debate should recede over time.
Because I want the loudest – and clearest – voices demanding higher educational standards to come – increasingly – from teachers.
And – increasingly – they are.
I am delighted that there are so many examples of teachers leaving politicians behind in the race for higher standards.
I admire what Richard has done here – by setting higher expectations in the study of our past and culture than any politician has. I am in awe of the achievements of schools such as Thomas Jones and Barnes Primary. I applaud the challenge a former Brighton College head – Anthony Seldon – has laid down to expect more from schools than just academic excellence.
And I celebrate the growing attention given to advocates for excellence like John Blake, Andrew Old, John Kirby and Matthew Hunter who speak for the emerging majority of aspirational and idealistic teachers dedicated to higher standards. They have much more to contribute to our children’s future – in every way – than the tired union agitators whose melancholy long withdrawing roar we still hear – amplified by the media – every Easter.
And thanks to the changes another great teacher – Charlie Taylor – is making to teacher training and the hopeful signs which suggest a new Royal College of Teaching would rigorously police standards, there are many reasons for optimism.
There is still some way to go, of course.
As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mister Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined.
But the people who will win it are teachers – and that is why it is so encouraging that so many – including all of you here – are fighting for our children’s future with such passion.
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