Good and Bad AcademiaPosted: March 22, 2013
On Tuesday 100 professors and lecturers in education wrote to the Independent criticising the new draft National Curriculum. Their comments go the heart of the approach to learning that is now being ruthlessly championed by the government. A couple of quotes illustrate the argument being made in the letter:
“This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.”
“Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.”
It goes on to point out that “high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning”. It could have gone on to point out that the south Asian high achievers like Singapore are going in the same direction.
This debate isn’t of course new. But the reaction from Gove and his sidekicks is becoming ever more shrill. Gove himself dismissed the signatories as “bad academia” as opposed to his friends who make up “good academia”. Wilshaw went even further and “ordered them to get out of their ivory towers”. Not a power anyone knew even this Chief Inspector yet had!
Neither of them actually managed – or even tried – to engage in a serious debate. The nearest they got to an actual argument was to assert that they want kids to learn things and other people don’t. To caricature their opponents and the debate as a whole in this way is frankly just embarrassing. This kind of anti-intellectualism is beginning to be reminiscent of the Tea party’s ability to deny scientific knowledge that the rest of the world can see is obvious.
There’s a particular irony in that one of the signatories (Andrew Pollard) had been singled out by Gove as one of the experts (all professors!) he employed to lead the curriculum review – and then of course dumped when they didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.
Another irony is that the DfE has just issued a paper by Ben Goldacre on how to use evidence to inform policy and practice. In it he talks of experience in medicine and how “inappropriate certainty can be a barrier to progress, especially when there are charismatic people, who claim they know what’s best, even without good evidence”. Sound like anyone we know?
Meanwhile, we’ve seen a few other signs of where things are going.
The long awaited review of PSHE has emerged from the bowels of the department. And it has decided to do … nothing at all. It remains non statutory and there is to be no new guidance. Schools can do it on their own. Maybe that’s better than bad guidance but it’s a clear message that for all the warm words, this is not something anyone is really interested in. The DfE press release makes much of the fact that it is providing some funding for the PSHE Association to support schools – but on the Association’s website it points out that “this funding is significantly reduced”.
Then we have the curious case of Annaliese Briggs, the former Deputy Director of Civitas, the right wing think tank who, at 27, has been appointed head of Pimlico Primary Academy without any teaching experience whatever. By a happy coincidence the sponsor of the academy is the charity set up by Lord Nash, the new Tory education minister and substantial party donor. Ms Briggs has said that she will ignore the National Curriculum and teach lessons “inspired by the tried and tested methods of ED Hirsch Jr”. To be so sure with so little experience is indeed impressive. After all who wouldn’t back her against 100 professors of education. No contest surely?