Parents, children, and “an unfamiliar sense of dread”. The need for change in our system of education.

If you haven’t seen it already we urge you to read the latest column by John Harris in the Guardian. (Memo to Guardian: why isn’t ‘Education’ on one of the tabs at the top of your website? It’s difficult to find! And why isn’t this article in a large panel at the top of the home page?)

I’d rather have a Margaret Thatcher state school than a Michael Gove one

His legacy is clear to see: no room for creativity and critical thinking, plenty for exams and rote learning

We agree wholeheartedly with John:

Subjects such as art and drama are being pushed to the margins, and even the humanities are under question.

What is all this about, and where does it come from? One self-evident factor is the longstanding – and, it seems, worsening – subjugation of education to a mess of targets, league tables and spreadsheets compiled in case of the inevitable visit to a school from Ofsted, which too often reduces education to the desiccated nonsense insiders call “teaching to the test”.

Another is a pretty obvious set of cultural prejudices, rooted in Conservative dogma and the fact that so many high-ranking Tory MPs went to private schools. Five years ago, Gove was loudly decrying progressive education and declaring war on the supposed vested liberal interests he called “the Blob”; now we see the consequences of what he was up to.

How strange to look back 30-plus years and realise that my time at school coincided with a momentary flowering of modern education methods, which were positively futuristic by 2016’s standards. At my state primary, there were no uniforms, nor many doors. We were eventually taught to identify nouns and verbs, but most of our reading and writing was focused on just that, and rote-learning in maths or any other subject was kept to a minimum.

The problem is, the likes of me – and more importantly the droves of parents I regularly hear sounding more and more anxious about what is happening – are not the people anyone in government wants to listen to.

Public education is being revolutionised in line with [a] messed-up mixture of snobbery, hidebound traditionalism and the neurotic idea that their kids must “achieve” at all costs. Meanwhile, what education – state education – should be about is withering, at speed.

Well, I want it back. How grim that creativity and critical thinking should be under such attack, by people who fail to grasp a point so basic as to seem banal: that education emphasising cold formalities over substance is not really education at all. How awful, too, to be looking ahead to the progress of your own children, and suddenly feeling an unfamiliar sense of dread.

illustration by Andrzej Krause

illustration by Andrzej Krause

Meanwhile, the young people attending the likes of Eton and Wellington colleges are having a very rich diet of creative, cultural, artistic and physical education (as well as scientific, mathematical and technical education) that supports personal, social and emotional development as well as critical thinking, self-expression and creative problem solving.

And to be fair to those two schools and many others like them, they too would like to see their type of broad and balanced education available to all children and young people. [They are not, needless to say, required to follow the national curriculum, or to subject their students to UK exams.]

Please follow the links below (and the links within them) to our previous posts on education, and consider the views of Tony Little and Anthony Seldon, recently retired headmasters of Eton and Wellington respectively:

John Harris writes powerfully about the state of education in England and about his concerns for the future of education and the schooling of his and other people’s children. He rightly implies in his article that many of the parents who send their children to “high attaining” state schools have no wish to see changes to the “reforms” inflicted on our system and on our schools by Michael Gove.

So what are worried parents who passionately want their children to have an education worthy of the name supposed to do about this state of affairs? For a start they can write letters and articles to newspapers. To be really effective, however, they must come together, engage with one another, read what respected educationalists, practitioners and employers’ organisations are saying about our system, and demand change. The Tory party will never, in our opinion, row back on the Gove ‘reforms’. The Labour party appears to be too timid to contemplate radical change or a fundamental review/reinvention of our system, in spite of all the advice they’ve been offered by employers, unions, academics and individual educationalists.

Change will only happen when parents (and voters) begin to demand it.

See also: [and the many links within our post] [This is our most-read post, thanks to a recommendation by Sir Ken Robinson] [Some bullet points on changing the system, the national curriculum and pedagogy] [the announcement of the CBI inquiry into education] [the CBI’s final report on education] [the Compass report on education in England] [A report on education by the British Chambers of Commerce]


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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