The meaning of Gove

In a letter to The Independent and The Daily Telegraph this week, a hundred education academics criticised Michael Gove’s controversial new curriculum proposals as an “endless list of spelling, facts and rules” that will prove “miserable for children". Left Foot Forward has looked at some of the changes to the school curriculum proposed by Michael Gove and the criticism they’ve received.

Michael-Gove-looking-odd

In a letter to The Independent and The Daily Telegraph this week, a hundred education academics criticised Michael Gove’s controversial new curriculum proposals as an “endless list of spelling, facts and rules” that will prove “miserable for children”.

But what was it they were actually criticising?

Left Foot Forward has looked at some of the changes to the school curriculum proposed by Michael Gove and the panning they’ve been subjected to by academics.

MATHS

By the age of seven the education secretary wants pupils to be able interpret simple graphs and know their two, five and ten time’s tables.

At nine students should be able to read years in Roman numerals as well as know their twelve times tables, and by the time pupils leave primary school they should be comfortable with fractions, decimals, multiplication and division.

Criticism

The policy has been criticised for its emphasis on rote learning which, according to leading academics, demands “too much, too soon” of pupils.

ENGLISH

Gove wants more emphasis on spelling, grammar and punctuation which he argues are the “solid foundations” of cognitive skills. From the age of nine he wants children to be able to recite poetry out loud.

Criticism

This “narrow” approach has been attacked by the hundred rebel academics because are worried it will “leave little space for other learning” such as “speaking, listening, drama and modern media”.

SCIENCE

By eleven the curriculum proposes children should fully understand the effects of drugs and gauge the importance of diet and exercise – something at present deemed appropriate only for secondary school pupils.

HISTORY

The teaching of history in the curriculum has been met with almost universal dubiety by academics. Gove wants history to taught as “our islands story” and founded on “how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world”.

Pupils would learn the chronology of British history from the stone age right through to the study of influential enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith and John Locke (but it would exclude thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau) all the way through the two world wars and the modern era ending with Margaret Thatcher’s election victory in 1979.

Criticism

The idea has been slammed by academics as an Anglo-centric “patriotic stocking filler” that will result in “the dumbing down of teaching”.

LANGUAGES

Gove is reintroducing compulsory languages in schools after the Labour government ditched the policy in 2004. From the age of seven children will begin learning a language, selecting either French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Greek or Latin.

Criticism

There is broad consensus on reintroducing the learning of languages at a young age. Stephen Twigg, the Labour shadow education secretary, has recently backed the initiative.

What do you think? Are the academics right, or is Gove?

50 Responses to “The meaning of Gove”

  1. Philip Conway

    Literally making Thatcher’s election the end of history. Wow.

  2. Nikki Jayne

    I agree that there is too much rote learning: learning things without understanding them is a recipe for disaster. I do hope that is not the way he intends language teaching to go.
    Bringing back languages can be nothing but a good thing: I’m all for that (though Latin seems rather pointless).
    The History curriculum sounds… odd. Are there no other cultures and societies included? My favourite lessons were when we were learning about the Egyptians and the Greeks.

  3. Raging Leftie

    Love the photo – looks like a right prick!

  4. Mick

    And whoever said leftist ad-hom attacks were just urban legend?

  5. Mick

    Well for many leftists, it was. You should be grateful.

  6. Mick

    Left wingers have such short memories. Just recently, people in Labour had been hammering on about performance tables or increasing numeracy and literacy standards.

    And teaching more about British history again is always a good thing. Look at all our inventions, discoveries and achievements. We did far better than so many others in the world.

    David Blunkett faced down teacher unions who much preferred strikes and child sex lessons for the under-tens, whilst Tony Blair faced down rebellious backbench Labour nupties over improvements and academies – numpties who represented some of worst performing areas academically, so they had no room to dictate the best ways.

    ‘Bog standard comprehensives’, remember? Gove wants kids to actually learn stuff again. after years of Labour failure of practicing what was preached.

  7. Mick

    “In a letter to The Independent and The Daily Telegraph this week, a hundred education academics criticised Michael Gove’s controversial new curriculum proposals as an “endless list of spelling, facts and rules” that will prove “miserable for children.”

    I also remember the story of the infamous 64 economists, bellyaching about Geoffrey Howe to the Times. Turned out they jumped the gun a bit and the new economy took root and flourished into today’s model. Consensus can look a very impressive thing but even the boffins can get it wrong at times. Gove’s plans will work long-term too, as more traditional teaching methods worked in the past.

    The real time to watch out is if he lets sadistic teachers thrash kids with sticks again, though in the case of some of the little buggers today, you could welcome even that!

  8. Ermie

    Well, certain responses on this page would certainly have benefitted from more empahasis on grammar teaching… no names mentioned….

  9. Ed

    You mean 364 economists… it’s somewhat ironic that you’ve got the figure wrong. (Maybe that’s inflation for you?) And it’s not clear that Howe was entirely right either: is it entirely good that we now have no manufacturing? Weren’t the unemployed deserving of more help to re-skill than Thatcher gave them? One hardly has to be a mad lefty to say that – only to go as far gauche as Michael Heseltine… Later in the 1980s the twin goals of increasing property ownership and reducing inflation came into conflict, but that (I guess you might say) was a Lawson story…

  10. Ermie

    “Turned out they jumped the gun a bit and the new economy took root and flourished into today’s model.” Well that worked out well for the world, didn’t it….?

  11. Ermie

    so no political agenda there then…. 😉

  12. OldWycombensian

    History section is ludicrous. I intentionally left the UK to do my Bachelors at a university which is focusing on the Pacific Basin relations precisely because it an increasingly important region of the world — politically and economically. Gove has his head lodged in a narrow gap of British history which extolls empire and Queen Victoria. I can bet my bottom dollar too, that his curriculum deals little with the damaging and brutal acts of colonialism.

    Science section, kinda pointless. I think most kids are well aware about drugs a lot earlier than high school anyway — don’t see what the fuss is about.

    English, my preference is to learn through literature. Grammar and punctuation are important, I can’t deny that; and rote memorization has positive as well as negative effects. Simply put though, we need to foster in our young an engaged and critical mind that can actively meet and engage with an ever-faster changing world.

    Maths, I kind of agree. Our maths standard in the UK is on average pretty low compared to the other leading economies of the EU and the rest of the world.

    Languages, I definitely agree – brilliant! Latin and Greek are kind of pretentious though. I’m not sure they’re worth the effort it takes to learn them.

  13. Alexander Johnson

    I don’t want to live in this country anymore.
    🙁

  14. Ed

    Serious non-aggressive question: if you want to do history because it’s ‘relevant’, then why not study politics? Why are you studying history in the first place?

  15. Mick

    364 economists who weren’t exactly right? They would have taken such a battering under Labour that they’d probably have just wanted to play it safe. Which would have been understandable.

    Google TELEGRAPH HOW 364 ECONOMISTS GOT IT TOTALLY WRONG.

    Margaret Thatcher saw the dead wood as a taxpayer-draining, over-unionised collection of nationalised industries, which took more than they gave and were being eclipsed by overseas producers anyway.

    Labour now like to speak of globalised economies and the free market but they opposed tooth and nail the reforms which restored us as a central financial ‘power’. New industry was supposed to make a comeback up North all the same but market forces proved otherwise, alas.

  16. Mick

    364 economists who weren’t exactly right? They would have taken such a battering under Labour that they’d probably have just wanted to play it safe. Which would have been understandable.

    Google TELEGRAPH HOW 364 ECONOMISTS GOT IT TOTALLY WRONG.

    Margaret Thatcher saw the dead wood as a taxpayer-draining, over-unionised collection of nationalised industries, which took more than they gave and were being eclipsed by overseas producers anyway.

    Labour now like to speak of globalised economies and the free market but they opposed tooth and nail the reforms which restored us as a central financial ‘power’. New industry was supposed to make a comeback up North all the same but market forces proved otherwise, alas.

  17. Mick

    364 economists who weren’t exactly right? They would have taken such a battering under Labour that they’d probably have just wanted to play it safe. Which would have been understandable.

    Google TELEGRAPH HOW 364 ECONOMISTS GOT IT TOTALLY WRONG.

    Margaret Thatcher saw the dead wood as a taxpayer-draining, over-unionised collection of nationalised industries, which took more than they gave and were being eclipsed by overseas producers anyway.

    Labour now like to speak of globalised economies and the free market but they opposed tooth and nail the reforms which restored us as a central financial ‘power’. New industry was supposed to make a comeback up North all the same but market forces proved otherwise, alas.

  18. Mick

    Maybe you should. Let us all learn.

  19. moonlit

    I completely agree with the critics. Coming from a different country where history is the least liked subject- and quite rightly so because of the way it is taught-, I have, in a way envied, my children who have come to love history as a subject in this country. I always admired the importance given to other influences and the analytical approach to understanding historical sources. Isn’t it this analytical thinking embedded in history education which gives history students a head start? It would be a shame to lose this by adopting a more Anglo-centric approach which would definitely have a negative impact on the number of history lovers and analytical thinkers. If not careful, it looks like it has the potential to be a step towards creating an official history which would be a shame…

  20. OldWycombensian

    I’m actually studying liberal arts with a major in comparative politics and a minor in Spanish. The nature of the liberal arts degree, though, has allowed me to study history too, though always through a multidisciplinary and integrative lens. The university has a general focus on pacific basin states, emphasizing a holistic study of the region, politics, history, economics, culture, language, etc, whereas most UK unis reproduce the traditional Eurocentric frame for academic inquiry — unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly less important. Not unimportant, just relatively less so.

  21. John Froud

    It’s misleading to say that “traditional methods worked in the past” … there has always been a substantial section of the population who are barely functional in numeracy and literacy – and a temptation to think that because you could, so could everyone else

  22. Ash

    I need to clear some of this up, as you’re making the *existing* primary school curriculum sound considerably more ‘dumbed down’ than it actually is. My wife is a primary school teacher (and Key Stage leader) and tells me:

    “MATHS

    By the age of seven the education secretary wants pupils to be able interpret simple graphs and know their two, five and ten time’s tables.”

    This is already the case. Data handling (graphs, sets etc.) is a big part of the curriculum from age 5.

    “At nine students should be able to read years in Roman numerals as well as know their twelve times tables”

    Yes, this is new.

    “by the time pupils leave primary school they should be comfortable with fractions, decimals, multiplication and division.”

    This is already the case. Multiplication, division, simple fractions – year 2 (age 6/7) onwards. Decimals – Year 4 (8/9) onwards. Look at a year 6 (10/11) SATs paper – it’s surprisingly advanced.

    “The policy has been criticised for its emphasis on rote learning which, according to leading academics, demands “too much, too soon” of pupils.”

    Yes, it’s the *way* these things are supposed to be taught that’s the real, new issue. Though there are already concerns about the “too much, too soon” issue – whether children are able to consolidate their learning of the building blocks before racing on to the next thing.

    “ENGLISH

    Gove wants more emphasis on spelling, grammar and punctuation”

    True.

    “From the age of nine he wants children to be able to recite poetry out loud.”

    This isn’t new in itself. It all comes into speaking and listening.

    “SCIENCE

    By eleven the curriculum proposes children should… gauge the importance of diet and exercise – something at present deemed appropriate only for secondary school pupils.”

    Rubbish. There’s already a big emphasis on diet and exercise (in science, PE and PSHCE) right from the start of school.

    “HISTORY

    The teaching of history in the curriculum has been met with almost universal dubiety by academics. Gove wants history to be taught as “our islands story” and founded on “how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world”.”

    Yes, this is a significant change.

    “LANGUAGES

    Gove is reintroducing compulsory languages in schools after the Labour government ditched the policy in 2004. From the age of seven children will begin learning a language, selecting either French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Greek or Latin.”

    There was a big emphasis on teaching languages in primary schools from around 2007, and this was due to become compulsory from 2010. Gove pulled the plug and later claimed the credit for reintroducing this Labour policy.

    On all this, the devil is in the detail. There are already high expectations of primary school pupils and I encourage anyone who doubts that to spend fifteen minutes looking at some recent SATs papers online. What’s happening is a shift from treating children as active, engaged learners with an ability to solve problems by applying their skills, to treating them as passive absorbers of facts.

  23. Alex Higgins

    A big point is being missed here in this discussion (apart from the History section where Gove is being clearly ridiculous and partisan). There is a reason why creating the top-down imposed re-organisation that Tories sometimes pretend they are against when in opposition is always fraught with argument. The number of genuinely useful skills and the list of knowledge that we consider important is very, very large. The amount of time pupils spend in school – which is a lot – is nonetheless pretty limited.

    That means that decisions about what should and what shouldn’t be taught have to made somewhere. Which then brings us to whether Michael Gove and his friends, or any bunch of people working at the Department of Education, can really make those choices on behalf of millions of children. The only way to resolve endless change to the cirriculum is to hand decision-making power to teachers, parents and (oh, let’s go *crazy* here) children, what with them being the ones it is being done to.

  24. Alex Higgins

    Yep, and thanks for pointing all this out. The article above does not seem to understand what currently happens in primary schools. I’m a primary teacher and Ash is spot on.

  25. Mr Reasonable

    Which “left-wingers” are you referring to? Surely not New Labour?
    Were the British so much better at inventing things than everybody else? I suppose Gove’s intention is to convince us that we were.
    I simply do not remember going on strike at all when Blunkett was at education and I’m not sure that I know (or wish to know) what a “child sex lesson” is. ‘Sex education’ I have heard of.
    I have taught in ‘bog standard comprehensives and found the staff far more committed to excellent teaching than the embittered gentlemen who liked wielding the cane at the grammar school I had the misfortune to attend. Trying to replicate that kind of mediocrity of experience for children through a return to so-called ‘traditional’ values is not only misguided, but cruel. Anyway, schools are not the hotbeds of radical Trotskyist activity that Gove and probably you believe them to be. Teachers rarely talk about politics and do their best to promote the kind of values in children that no-one would find controversial. Staffroom chat is mainly about food, football and house prices.
    As for all that kids actually ‘learning stuff again’; Labour’s ‘failure’ (and I speak as no fan of that Labour party) sent more children to university, from a wider variety of backgrounds, than did the previous two Conservative administrations. (Of course, it still remains a moot point whether university is always the right place to send our children.)

  26. scousefrog

    I would agree with Gove on some of the basics, but frankly there is nothing very new there. I agree very much with learning some poetry by heart as it can provide a child with pleasure and sometimes solace for life. The problem is not what basics you would aim for a child to acquire, but how you get there is it by rote learning or by understanding how you get there. It is also what else is a child expose to and learns to appreciate and criticise (music, art, sports, understanding of the environment, geography etc.)
    As for languages: big yes to languages at 7. But HOW is the key. it must be fun, and it must be taught by people who know the language and the culture. (please no more “French days” with berets, stripy jumpers and onions!”) The language choice surely must include Arabic. Are Greek and Latin a joke? Great as an option for linguists or historians in secondary schools. As a primary school introduction to languages ? LOL!

    But of course the most contentious is history. Yes to compulsory history until 16 and yes to a linear approach at some stage (earlier rather than later(?) which allows the learner to “peg” their knowledge somewhere on a time line and make relevant comparaisons but history is about far more than the British Isles and our “influence” on the world. Children need to know about great civilisations past and present and what they gave the world.

  27. scousefrog

    LOL!

  28. OurSeaBea

    The history section is ridiculous, partly because the chronology of the stone age is something that is constantly changing – the earliest human activity in Britain just keeps getting earlier, and the chronology of ‘periods’ isn’t really fixed, partly because learning a chronology does absolutely nothing to help somebody understand, and mainly because it just looks biased – where are the Tolpuddle Martyrs, for example?

  29. OurSeaBee

    That’s not actually an ad hominem attack because it doesn’t attempt to draw a logical conclusion from the point made about the person. It’s just an attack on the person. If he’d said “Gove looks like a right prick, so his ideas must be wrong,” it would have been an ad hominem attack.

  30. Anthony Masters

    I will focus on the Mathematics section. As Ash has pointed out below, Gove’s proposals are broadly what happens currently. Knowledge in mathematics is built as an inverted pyramid, so firm foundations are required for pupils before they progress to the new level. Concerns over the method of teaching has loud echoes of the ‘Math Wars’ in the United States, particularly with the denigration of rote learning. As an example, a lack of confidence with arithmetic will seriously harm a pupil’s ability to perform algebraic manipulations.
    I remember that an algebraic theorist lecturer of mine pointed out that certain sections of advanced mathematics, such as Group Theory, could easily be taught to pupils of the age of 7, as it resembles a foreign language far more than arithmetic.

  31. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  32. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  33. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  34. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  35. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  36. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  37. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  38. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  39. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  40. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  41. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  42. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  43. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  44. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  45. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  46. Robert Jones

    It is even worse than that. It is a petty insult. The Left seems full of this type of debate.

  47. Robert Jones

    Arabic? What use is that? Chinese or German would be far better choices.

  48. Selohesra

    No I think the left wingers were those unreconstructed marxists sitting in their academic ivory towers trying to destroy the education system from the inside

  49. Mick

    “I have taught in ‘bog standard comprehensives and found the staff far more committed to excellent teaching than the embittered gentlemen who liked wielding the cane at the grammar school I had the misfortune to attend.”

    New Labour made them bog standard, with crashing failure and militant left wingers more interested in politics than neutral teaching.

    As can be found if you Google NEW LABOUR EQUALS TREACHERY: EDUCATION. And LEARN.

  50. Mr Reasonable

    I have never met any militant left-wingers in any school in which I have taught! Lots of footie fans, cake bakers and Ikea fanatics, though! You may be referring to the late 60s or the 70s, but not, in my experience, the 90s/00s. Conversations about politics would be met with rolling eyes and a tendency to shuffle away from the speaker.

    And there is no such thing as ‘neutral teaching’. It’s all subjective. Teachers personalise the lessons they teach; not dogmatically, but through their enthusiasm and their personal characteristics. (Or not!)
    A ‘neutral’ lesson would imply a lack of commitment or even involvement on the part of the teacher, which is always a bad thing thing. Which is also to say that sometimes lessons fail and teachers make mistakes – we are not ‘neutral’ robots! If you don’t care about the lesson, how too can the children you are meant to be teaching?

    ‘Crashing failure’? Evidence, please!

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