As promised, here are some bullet points from the Secretary of State for Education’s Q & A session at Wellington College. There was a brief two-way discussion between Michael Gove and Sir Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College.
(NB: This post is longer to fully reflect the debate that took place.)
- He’s confident that he’s “travelling in the right direction” regarding education policies that he’s enforced.
[3Di: He’s immovable – travelling in the “right” direction is more than a Freudian slip!]
- “The surest guide to success is stickability. This principle underlies what I have thought of education” – [This was in response to Seldon’s question about character building and resilience.]
[3Di: The problem with his theory is that many young people are turned away from learning due to boredom. Many of our young people have the “stickability” to sit for hours playing computer games. We need to ensure our lessons are as inspiring and exciting for them. The current offering from Gove’s National Curriculum just isn’t doing this. One could say that if a young person copes with the monotony of some lessons then they are indeed developing “stickability”.]
- Music and the Arts are vital and anyone who knows him would think it inconceivable that he would damage these subjects…… BUT…… he had to prioritise. His enthusiasm for these areas “wasn’t communicated well”.
[3Di: It wasn’t communicated well because policy and lack of funding reduced the value of these subjects. It never was and never should be an either/or. Music and art encourages language skills not detracts from it. It takes an educationalist, not a journalist, to fully appreciate that.]
- There’s a “long tail of underachievement” concentrated amongst the poorest. The pitch of expectation still not high enough.
[3Di: Another dig at teachers – “I love them” he said, and yet……]
- “There was a suggestion that I had banned books – breaking into classes and grabbing copies of Steinbeck. I was trying to say children should read more widely.”
[3Di: That may well be the case but the stringency of the curriculum and the time available means that people have to make choices. The criteria for KS4 excludes 20th century “foreign” texts as mandatory. Hence, they were dropped by the examination boards: a classic example of saying one thing but legislating against it.]
- “There’s still lots to do. There are far too many children leaving primary school incapable of following the secondary school curriculum.”
[3Di: Refer to previous points. If this isn’t a criticism of primary teaching then we don’t know what is. What he really means is that there are some children who don’t achieve a Level 4 but a large proportion of these children do reach a Level 3A or 3B. The reason that some children find it hard to follow the secondary school curriculum is more to do with levels of interest than levels of ability.]
- He said that he had changed the league tables to reflect progress rather than raw attainment – “No system is perfect”.
[3Di: on one level, we applaud this change. However, it detracts from the real issue about league tables themselves. If you are only measuring one aspect of “schooling”, even if it is improved to reflect progress rather than attainment, then you are distorting the purpose of education. Furthermore, from personal experience we know that some schools deliberately underestimate on baseline assessment and indeed KS1 results to improve their value added scores. You introduce a system – people play to it.]
- “When we are thinking of technical education, all children need a basic academic.”
[3Di: Of course they do, but what thought has gone into “technical education”? As Kenneth Baker said, there is no thought on technical education – or there hasn’t been until the establishment of UTCs. We have an academic bias system that has forgotten the hands, the vocational. Baker also said that the Tomlinson Report was the best piece of educational visioning that happened under New Labour because it offered equity to vocational subjects. Gove, and indeed the Labour Party, seem to want to bury this important report.]
- [In response to Debra Kidd’s question about autonomy – where she said that on one hand he says schools should be autonomous but on the other, accountability measures restricted the said freedom.] – “Sir Michael Wilshaw doesn’t want to see a particular style of teaching. This is my approach too.”
[3Di: Gove just doesn’t get it. He should have listened to SMWs views on pedagogy in the morning. Nothing could have been clearer. Sir Michael certainly implied that he advocated a particular style of teaching…. And teachers! There will never be the freedom to teach in the way many teachers want to teach until there’s a balance of summative and formative assessment, until Ofsted truly accept that the three-part lesson model in its current structured form is not the only way to teach. As ever, Mr Gove is misguided in thinking that changing accountability measures is dumbing down. It’s not, and people like Debra Kidd can prove that, if he would only take the time to listen.]
- He said he wanted not just greater autonomy but more evidence of different approaches to pedagogy bringing “results”. “Quality of rigorous research is needed.”
[3Di: Again, to some extents he is right. On one level we do need more research to demonstrate how a different approach to learning brings “results”. On another level, the evidence is out there. Look at schools such as Wroxham Primary in Potters Bar. Their results are exceptional. They’ve created learning using a completely different approach. There are other pieces of research too. The only problem is that they are largely ignored by policy makers. So yes, we can provide evidence but who is going to take notice?]
- [In response to a question about class size and preparation time – more of which is afforded to teachers in the private sector, according to the person who asked the question] – He said it wasn’t really about class sizes, and the government had given more time for preparation. The success of a school was more to do with “speed of feedback given to children, management, collaboration, great leadership at every level and high expectations.”
[3Di: Yes, Mr Gove, it’s as simple as that. Nothing then, to do with class size at all. So the ability to mark and give speedy feedback isn’t hampered by having 30 rather than 15 in a class?]
- “Every school should study Shakespeare”
[3Di: We wouldn’t necessarily argue with that, except that it should be up to the school to decide. Also, Shakespeare wrote more plays than “Twelfth Night”, “Macbeth”, “Hamlet”, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” etc. Staple Shakespeare has been “staple” for longer than “Of Mice and Men”. Diversity is the key! It also has to be noted that this is a personal judgement. We might like schools to study Lau Tzu or explore the richness of Bob Dylan’s lyrics that might have as much resonance to our young people in the 21st century as Shakespeare – just a thought.]
- [In response to a question from a student who said that Sex and Relationships Education should be statutory] – “SRE is a statutory subject in secondary schools. There’s debate over what is taught in primary schools. Government guidance is that SRE should be age appropriate and we also guide schools to resources from charities such as Brook which have real experience in this area, who ensure that children are taught not just the biological mechanics but the importance of relationships, respect and tolerance. So it is that. If there are examples of schools where it’s not taught appropriately then we need to know about them.”
[3Di: Well Mr Gove, if you are really interested in examples of schools where SRE isn’t taught appropriately, we could give you a list – and it probably covers the large majority of schools.
Also, let’s get the “facts” straight. SRE is NOT statutory. Just to reiterate this point, here is a direct quote from the NC Framework from the DfE.
“All state schools are also required to make provision for a daily act of collective worship and must teach religious education to pupils at every key stage and sex education to pupils in secondary education.”
Now where is the “relationships” in that?
A policy on Sex Education is statutory but there is nothing statutory about relationships education. There is nothing statutory about PSHE. There is now nothing in the KS3 or KS4 science curriculum that is about Sex Education – the only existing statutory content component for sex education.
- “Levels give a false sense of achievement. New assessment materials are looking good.”
[3Di: This is interesting. Yes, some levels do give a false sense of achievement and encourage teaching to the level descriptors rather than looking at the needs of the individual child. However, the reason he has removed levels in National Curriculum is to justify his “new” assessment methods such as the Y1 phonics test and the Y6 SPAG test. He hasn’t removed them because he trusts teachers to use formative methods of assessment. That’s not rigorous enough, according to Mr Gove.]
- [In response to a question about not publishing the pass mark for the Y1 phonics tests] – “It’s not necessary to publish the pass mark. It was a mistake last year to do so. I’ll let people reflect on why. Why would you want the pass mark? You’re not teaching to test!”
[3Di: Oh the irony! The audience nearly exploded at that point. We hope Gove was listening. Nobody said it but it was evident from the uproar that this is exactly how people feel they are expected to teach – to test, even a test as ridiculous as decoding imaginary words; words that able readers are failing to “decode” because they have no context or meaning.]
- “We should teach children to decode. It’s a powerful tool to tackle illiteracy. Hands up who believe in synthetic phonics as most effective way to decode and read? Disagree? – well there you go.”
[3Di: The majority of hands were raised in agreement that synthetic phonics was the most effective method for decoding and reading. This hand was raised in dissent. It’s one way. It’s one way that works for many children but not all. We’ve said plenty about this subject before but one would guess that many of the hands raised in agreement were not primary practitioners.]
“Disagree? Well there you go”.
And that really is it with Mr Gove. If you disagree, then off you go. You could provide all the evidence from around the world, and Mr Gove would manipulate it or dismiss it. He really is a determined man. His way is the way – the be all and end all of education.
But we know that there is another way, and a way that reflects the needs of our young people. A revolution, a new model of education is needed – a philosophy built on the value of a holistic education, one that puts education firmly in the hands of the educators.