An Academics’ Round Table? Voices of Sanity and Dissent

The biggest news story about education in the UK this week concerned a letter from over 100 academics that was published in The Independent newspaper on Wednesday. It was unfortunate that it appeared in print just before the UK was struck by the annual Budget tsunami and a tidal wave of political reporting and comment, but it deserves the widest possible readership.

The academics, all of whom are either professors of education or teach in university education departments, are to be congratulated for coming together as a body of enlightened opinion, in much the same way as the Headteachers’ Round Table was created a short while ago, and for daring to deliver a strong attack on the educational policies of our current government.

“We are writing to warn of the dangers posed by Michael Gove’s new National Curriculum which could severely erode educational standards. The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. 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.

The new curriculum is extremely narrow. The mountains of detail for English, maths and science leave little space for other learning. Speaking and listening, drama and modern media have almost disappeared from English.

This curriculum betrays a serious distrust of teachers, in its amount of detailed instructions, and the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. Whatever the intention, the proposed curriculum for England will result in a “dumbing down” of teaching and learning.

And so say many more of us. It’s a pity such strong, coherent and united opinions haven’t been published before now, but better late than never. The letter goes on to say,

Mr Gove has clearly misunderstood England’s decline in Pisa international tests. Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning.

We urge parents, teachers and other stakeholders to respond to the Government consultation in its few remaining weeks, and demand a fresh start.

The Independent went on to say in a follow-up article:

The academics’ intervention also follows a controversy over changes planned for the history curriculum – where historians and teachers claim the proposals neglect world history in favour of the chronological learning of facts about British history. Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor of history at Cambridge University, said they would restore “rote learning of the patriotic stocking-fillers so beloved of traditionalists”.


The Cambridge Primary Review comments on its website:

Now we have the draft of the entire curriculum, core and non-core, secondary as well as primary. DfE invites us to submit comments by 16 April 2013. We hope readers will suspend their understandable cynicism about curriculum consultations, study the proposals and tell DfE what they think. Saying nothing will be construed as approval.

The consultation form lists the questions the DfE would like us to answer. You may feel that there are other questions to be asked. For example, why no citizenship at Key Stages 1 and 2? Are drama and dance adequately handled? Does that overused phrase ‘breadth and balance’ have any meaning in this case? Have CPR’s criticisms of the previous draft relating to aims, spoken language and a host of other matters – see this page – been addressed? The questions posed by DfE are certainly pertinent, but don’t be restricted by them.

The Cambridge Primary Review offers no other comment at this stage. We shall do so later. For now we believe that it is more important to encourage the entire professional community to get involved. We owe our children nothing less.

On the other hand, if you want to test the DfE proposals against a genuinely visionary and evidence-based approach to educational aims and the primary curriculum, read Children, their World, their Education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review, chapters 12, 13 and 14.

Please read also this excellent letter from Dr Grant Bage to the Secretary of State for Education on the subject of history in the National Curriculum:


It’s time for all teachers, including academics, to unite and lead the debate on the kind of education that our children need and deserve. If we’re honest we have to say it was the lack of any fighting resolve on the part of teachers, school leaders and academics that enabled politicians to gain such power over what’s taught in schools and how it’s taught. A strong and united profession could, and should, have resisted the kind of policies that politicians of all parties have been able to impose over the past 30 years in the UK, especially in England.

It’s time for all of the teaching unions to get together to endorse this very fine letter. It’s time for their members to insist they do so. What’s already happened to our education system – factory schools and all – is unforgiveable, and future generations will surely not stand for more of the same. Parents also need to wake up and understand what’s happening to their children in our schools, and join with teachers in demanding an education that benefits their children in every sense, and doesn’t just focus on narrow attainment targets and “preparation for the world of work”.

Let’s prepare children for living now, and for the rest of their lives, in a very fast changing world.

We should refuse to allow any more dictats that are insults to our intelligences, and start to educate all of the intelligences of all of our children and our young people.


See also:

Outcome of the PSHE Education Review –

The Future of Teaching –

The Future of Teaching: The Future of Schools – Part One –

The Future of Teaching: The Future of Schools – Part Two –

MOOD: Another Great Educational Debate –

National Curriculum Consultation: Part 1 –

National Curriculum Consultation: Part 2 –

National Curriculum Consultation: Part 3 –

Enabling Children to Discover their Element –

And Here’s To You, Mr Robinson! –

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About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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1 Response to An Academics’ Round Table? Voices of Sanity and Dissent

  1. 4c3d says:

    Whilst the educational world is being drawn into the Gove curriculum black hole what else is happening that we should be taking notice of? I ask because I do not believe anyone can be so conceited as our Education Secretary appears to be. Was his aim not to develop a new curriculum but instead to unite those in education and to galvanise them into applying their resources to fashioning a curriculum which the world would envy? Was his aim to make the national Curriculum so unpalatable we would all be signing up to become academies and avoid it? Perhaps we will wake up one day and find out what Mr Gove’s real intent has been all along. Be careful, this has all the hallmarks of a diversionary strategy, well I hope so for if not his own love of history may well come back to bite him as it paints him as the architect of the blackest days in English education.


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