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Primary Education News
News Michael Gove's education policy is the real enemy of promise | Suzanne Moore
The education secretary's marvellously paranoid outburst about teachers smacks of desperation
I know my limits: I hate driving and don't have a car. I therefore recognise that it's not that unfair that no one asks me to write reams about motoring or review a Maserati. When it comes to education, why don't people recognise their limits? Those who have never been near a state school write ideological tracts about their failings. By "people", I mean most of the media who are privately educated and privately educate their own children. There should be full disclosure of this every time someone writes about the tragedy of someone not getting into Oxbridge because they have been discriminated against. Or how all working-class children only do maths when dealing crack on estates they drive past.
Reading Michael Gove's latest marvellously paranoid outburst about the Enemies of Promise (Cyril Connolly's phrase), I think of the teachers I have met over the last 23 years of dealing with state education. Some of them have been good, some inexperienced, depressed, and some just such admirable people who are there holding schools and children together year in year out. These are solid people who you would want on your side in a crisis. Why Gove, who had early childhood experience of attending a state school, would demoralise them so is baffling – but what do I know? I left school at 16 and my poor kids are sacrificial lambs in the state school experiment.
I do know this. Don't believe what you read in the papers. I read a lot of regurgitated misinformation by people who don't bother to check facts. The latest row over rote-learning for instance is a Conservative fabrication. Alphabets, times tables, languages, the periodic table are taught by rote, of course. Teachers just don't all prioritise memorisation over understanding.
Doubtless smaller classes and greater resources (ie private schools) are better at this, though I see their alumni are not immune to myth-making. Or ideological class war. This urban myth of children not being taught their times tables reminds me of the attack on the "loony left" in the 1980s who, it was said, banned "baa baa black sheep" (racist) and "manhole covers" (sexist). All this was shown to be pure fabrication. Yes – totally made up.
The new jobs, which will be in fields like biotechnology, will need a mixture of good science teaching and critical thinking – knowing what Churchill stood for will be only part of that. Of course, there are problems with state schools, but the idea that there is only one way to teach and learn shows absolute inexperience. When I taught in an art school (not fine art but graphic, product and industrial design – teaching the people who will cross over to work with scientists and engineers to shape our future), many students were dyslexic. They were also clever and creative and would have immense problems now jumping through Gove's hoops.
But Tories are now desperate. Remember when Thatcher described the miners as the enemy within? I had that badge, now I want one saying Enemy of Promise please.
Endless comparisons with the high achievement of Finland are irrelevant. So is a core curriculum that does not bother with coding or creativity. But then who needs to know any maths when you go to the supermarket and the self-service till (the shoplifters' friend) is there anyway?
I think the only time I've used what I was taught by rote is when playing poker or in pub quizzes. But for god's sake don't tell children that. They might enjoy it.