Education and the Real Enemies of Promise

Recently we commented on an important letter signed by over 100 academics which was published in The Independent newspaper. Amongst other things the letter said,

“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.”

Our comments on this letter included these paragraphs:

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”.

Today we came across this tweet from Melissa Benn:

Melissa Benn ‏@Melissa_Benn

Calling all teachers. Please read and re-tweet this.

We strongly urge all 3D Eye readers to follow this link and read this excellent blog post written by Debra Kidd:

After reading Debra’s letter, please add your name and indicate your support, especially if you’re currently a teacher or headteacher. Extracts:

Dear All,

Please find below a letter which we hope to distribute later this week and to take to a meeting at the House of Commons on Monday. We are hoping that 1000 teachers and educational professionals will add their support.


Before the Easter break, almost 100 academics drawn from the spectrum of educational research and practice, published a letter in The Independent querying the wisdom of Michael Gove’s changes to the curriculum. The response from the Secretary of State for education was astonishing to say the least. He claimed that the academics belonged to a sinister ‘blob’ dedicated to ruining the lives of children. He claimed that they were Marxist. He called them, and anyone who might associate with them, ‘enemies of promise’. On Question Time, he glibly noted that he could find 100 ‘good’ academics who would agree with him. To date, he has not. The 100 academics, on the other hand, have found support in the teaching profession and beyond. Around 1000 of them have attached their names to this rebuttal. They are people working in and with education on a daily basis. Many of them are also parents. They are drawn from primary, secondary, FE and HE sectors; from state schools, private schools, grammar schools, international schools and academies. They are tired of the way that educational research is being misappropriated by the current secretary of state. They are tired of a ‘yadda yadda’ approach to this crucial job – if I hear something I disagree with, I’ll just shout over it. They are astonished that a man appointed to serve the education system behaves like a child who has not yet learned to listen and to respect boundaries.

Michael Gove has used, frequently, the words of cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham to support his notions that the curriculum should be based on the acquisition of facts. Gove’s interpretation of this idea is that the curriculum should consist of nothing but facts, but Willingham argues in much of his work, that critical thinking is essential in learning and that all knowledge learned should be supported by thinking. Futhermore, he warns that in the United States, a similar programme led to teachers ‘giving children lots and lots of facts at the expense of critical thinking.’ Far from attacking thinking skills, as Gove suggests, Willingham values them, when taught within context and points out that ‘we’d love to test critical thinking if we knew how to test critical thinking. But we really don’t. So what we tend to do is test factual knowledge.’ While it is clear that Willingham supports a focus on knowledge, he voices concerns about high stake testing and the isolation of the teaching of knowledge into rote facts.  Indeed, all of the academics and teachers listed at the end of this article would fully support an education system in which children acquire knowledge, but it is how this knowledge is acquired and tested which forms the bone of contention. The education of our young is too important to leave to opinion and ideology. It requires evidence and thought.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mr. Gove’s oratory skills and his ability to tap into the deepest fears of parents mean that his policies often find support in voters whose access to information is viewed through the lens of a privately educated media. These fears are seated in a belief that standards are falling and that Britain is failing to compete internationally with other systems. But if one explores the data from the OECD – the organization who administers the international PISA tests, we find some interesting ideas which do not at all sit in accordance with Michael Gove’s policies. Firstly, the tests are not based on knowledge, but the application of knowledge in ‘novel situations’. The highest performing countries have students who are able to think critically and innovatively to apply the knowledge they have. The OECD data throws up some other interesting facts. For example when the factor of class is removed, British state schools outperform private schools. In the highest performing countries, teachers are more highly valued than any other profession – in Finland for example, rather than being viewed as ‘enemies of promise’, they set and mark their own tests, are all educated to Masters level and enroll on university courses which are more competitive than Medicine or Law. In fact, the key unifying characteristics of those successful countries is the autonomy of the teaching profession and the regard in which it is held. It is difficult to see how Michael Gove’s attacks on the profession, or his changes to the curriculum help us to compete on an international stage.

Let us repeat that we do not oppose the acquisition of knowledge. Nor do we oppose the idea that all children should succeed. We instead question the removal of skills from that process. We question the wisdom of the decontextualized testing of knowledge and the notion that there should be high stakes testing in which children’s futures become fixed once and for all. Michael Gove’s proposals for examination changes are akin to altering the driving test to the theory only examination and removing the option to retake the test. Despite the fact that it took six attempts for him to pass his own driving test, in schools Gove proposes the removal of second chances and mistakes. It amounts to the removal of hope and that is the real enemy of promise in this debate.

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 Education and the Real Enemies of Promise

  1. Pingback: LEARNING : Gove knows not what he does | LEARN FROM NATURE

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