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Primary Education News
News Teachers sign petition against Gove's curriculum plans
Plans for the national curriculum will only be damaging if we allow them to be, argues Debra Kidd
I've just added the 1000th name to a rebuttal of the claim that 100 academics, who questioned Michael Gove's proposals for education before Easter, were enemies of promise and Marxists.
The academics were drawn from a spectrum of educational research and practice and when they published a letter in The Independent querying the wisdom of Gove's changes to the curriculum he said they belonged to a "blob" which was dedicated to ruining the lives of children.
Well, the blob just got really big. So big, it should be on Dr Who. Perhaps it deserves closer inspection. No doubt the enemies of the enemies of promise will pour over the list and condemn some of the contributors. "Look at that; retired, a trainee, foreign, NUTters," they will cry. Think again; this list is extraordinary. Parents, grandmas, school governors, more academics, creative practitioners, consultants, advisers and ex-inspectors came out and took their places alongside teachers. And those teachers, well they came from everywhere from nurseries to church schools to PRUs; there is even one from a free school. Even teachers who should be sitting in the garden enjoying their retirement came out to say no. If that's not solidarity, I don't know what is. The names are still coming in, who knows how many will end up on there. We will be taking all those names to a meeting at the House of Commons on Monday, but will it make a difference?
Well, if I'm honest, probably not. Is Michael Gove likely to listen and change his plans? I don't in all honesty think he will. But it does not matter. Don't get me wrong, I, and others, will continue to shout and provoke and ask questions. And teachers are beginning to self organise, networking on Twitter and in other places. They are writing their own policy, the Primary Charter for example, or the Heads' Round Table principles of curriculum reform. They are not talking about how to overthrow a government or to ruin the lives of children. They are giving up their evenings and weekends and holidays to talk about learning. And they are learning something important; that it's not what you teach that matters, it's how you teach it.
Are the plans for the national curriculum potentially damaging to children? Well, yes, if we allow them to be. If we sit them in rows, feed them facts and then test them, we are part of the problem, not the solution. If you are a teacher and you are faced with the prospect of teaching something you don't like, you need to do three things. One: make it likable. Two: make it memorable. Three: make it matter.
Let me give you an example. Imagine (it's not hard) that tomorrow, Michael Gove declares that all primary children will learn Latin. Do you:
A) Leave the country?
B) Sit them in rows and drill them with Latin grammar and hope the Ofsted inspector thinks you're outstanding?
C) Get everyone in role as Celtic villagers forced to communicate with an invading Roman army?
If we cannot avoid, we evade. We adapt. Recently, I was lucky enough to work at the site of a concentration/transit camp, Terezin in the Czech Republic. I met Pavel Stransky, a 90 year-old survivor of the Holocaust. At Auschwitz, he was put in charge of children heading for the gas chambers. "What did you do?" he was asked. "I made them happy. I taught them about all the beauty that existed in the world. I played with them. I could not alter the fact that they were going to die, but I could change the life they had."
Pavel Stransky looked at the children in front of him and he did what any good teacher would do. He gave them what they needed.
I am not suggesting any connection with Michael Gove's education policy and the extermination of six million people. That would be outrageous. I am saying that sometimes, in teaching, we find ourselves asked to prepare children for things that we don't think are in their best interests. Tests with nonsense in them. Tests which are divorced from meaning. Of course, we cannot avoid some tests and to not prepare them would be negligent and not what they need.
But we can look at how we prepare them. We can let them believe that it is not the test, but the learning which is important. We can make it likable, make it memorable, make it matter. We can give them what they need.