Systematised Rote Learning and Maoist Centralism

Here’s a story from The Telegraph that’s been on our backburner since last week:

Michael Gove: Scottish schoolchildren risk falling behind English pupils

Michael Gove has delivered a stark warning that Scottish schoolchildren risk falling behind their peers in England in the ‘3Rs’ thanks to the refusal of SNP ministers to reform the education system.

The Education Secretary in England lambasted the failure of Mike Russell, his Scottish equivalent, to implement any meaningful changes to state schools north of the Border, arguing that they are “stuck in a rut”.

Mr Gove, who was raised and schooled in Aberdeen, said the Scottish system is not fit for purpose in the 21st century and schools are drifting away from the required “rigour” in both numeracy and literacy.

In contrast Mr Russell has refused to change Scotland’s homogenous council-run system and the new Curriculum for Excellence focuses more on giving children life skills than academia.

This approach is reflected in the new National 4 qualification, being introduced to replace Standard Grades next year, which has no independently-marked formal exam at all. The Scottish Government also refuses to publish school league tables.

Asked if Scottish schoolchildren will fall behind their English peers in numeracy and literacy, Mr Gove said: “There’s a real risk. There is a danger if we don’t get reform of Scotland’s education system then the future could be more difficult for the next generation.

“My message to Mike Russell would be you don’t need to pay any heed to anything happening south of the Border, you just need to look globally at what other countries are doing and consider why is it that Scotland is increasingly out on a limb?”

He urged Mr Russell to “take the Nationalist blinkers off” because countries across the world, from Singapore to Canada, are introducing greater diversity and stringently marked exams into their education systems to make them fit for the global economic race of the 21st Century.

This is such a staggering mixture of blatant propaganda, wilful ignorance and sheer nonsense it’s been difficult to put together a fit and proper response to it. Thankfully Mr Russell has spared us the task.

Russell says English school system rivals Maoist Chinese

SCOTLAND’S Education Secretary Michael Russell has accused his Westminster counterpart of running a school system in England so centralised that it rivals the control of teachers during the Cultural Revolution in China.

Gove, who was schooled in Scotland, accused the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reforms of lacking rigour and urged Russell to remove the “Nationalist blinkers”, and learn from what he described as an international trend in education towards more testing.

Describing the attack as a “badge of honour”, Russell said criticising the CfE was tantamount to attacking everybody in Scottish education who had been working so hard to deliver it over the past decade.

Michael Russell“His definition of the word ‘rigour’ is essentially systematised rote learning in which you politically decide the content of the curriculum and apply what one might describe as 19th-century teaching methods to it. That is not where we are going in Scotland and it doesn’t work,” he said.

“A lot of his approach is based on a misunderstanding and he doesn’t even know how the Scottish system works. It has changed quite a lot since he was in Aberdeen.”

Russell said the approach to CfE in Scotland was collaborative, which he contrasted with the top-down model in England where there has been continual conflict with teaching unions.

“Conflict doesn’t work and we know that too clearly from looking south of the Border. Two weeks ago my counterpart condemned the English teaching unions as Marxist because they opposed his education reforms, but I fear even the most ideologically driven education system in the world – that is probably in the Cultural Revolution in China – involved less prescription.”

“The Curriculum for Excellence is about freeing up teachers to deliver the best-quality education to help young people succeed in the global workplace and assisting in the development of skills. It is not about burdensome paperwork.”

The only thing we’d add to this is that Scotland, far from being “out on a limb”, has in fact joined the more enlightened countries that have reformed their education systems AWAY from prescribed and centralised curricula and league tables, and towards the introduction of more personalised learning, creativity and PSHE in schools. Singapore’s “Teach Less, Learn More” strategy is certainly a major step away from Mr Gove’s ideals, and Finland long ago abolished all external exams at 16+.

Who can possibly make Mr Gove face facts?

The sooner education in England is guided by a National or Royal College and not by Westminster the better it will be for every single child and teacher.

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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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