Last week Civitas, a right-of-centre think-tank commissioned by Herr Gove to report on education standards, announced it is to call for a new inspectorate for academies and free schools. Calling for the scrapping of ‘Sixties-mired’ Ofsted, apparently it will argue that ‘the Education Secretary’s wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching is being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who are stifling innovation‘.
Well, not surprisingly this seemed to make Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw just the tiniest bit cross, or as it was widely reported in the media he was ‘spitting blood‘, and that he had even fallen out with The Great Dictator himself. Of course perhaps General Von Wiltshirehoffen should have known better than to announce that he would not hold back from criticising under-performing Free schools and Academies, and consequently preventing the complete ethnic cleansing of the entire left-wing in education. Even more surprisingly he apparently also said: ‘extreme educational philosophies’ had no place in modern schools, that some of his critics want ‘children to be lectured for six hours a day in serried ranks’. and that such ‘rote learning would not produce successful learners who can think for themselves‘.
So is General Von Wiltshirehoffen in reality a Marxist Enemy Of Promise Double Agent in disguise? Anyway it’s good to know the enemy are busy fighting their own internal battles. Well, they were for a few hours anyway, because later that day Herr Gove said he fully supported General Von Wiltshirehoffen and would immediately
execute exterminate dismiss anyone who said they didn’t, and then they both sat down together and had a really nice cup of tea and agreed they would be jolly good chums again, forever and ever.
But wait, they thought it was all over, when on Monday along comes David Green (Who’s he then?), the chief executive of Civitas, who clearly has no intention of allowing a peace process to erupt. Writing for The Spectator he is heavily critical of Wiltshire and Ofsted and promotes the need for a knowledge-led approach to learning in order to increase the performance of children who come from disadvantaged homes. So, if Herr Gove is true to his word, presumably one day soon there will be a knock on the door and David Green will never be heard of again.
Meanwhile All Change Please! was puzzled by the last phrase of Civitas’s original statement. First, what are all these unidentified ‘innovative approaches to teaching‘ that are being stifled? Presumably these involve traditional, old-fashioned approaches combined with a little help from computer-generated online knowledge-based, multiple choice questions, and a selection of dull and boring video clips, and based on the belief that all children are both created and grow-up equal, i.e. their needs are all exactly the same at any one point in time and space. And secondly, when Civitas criticises ‘child-first orthodoxies‘ is it really suggesting that the children should be seen to be of secondary importance in schools?
All Change Please! suspects that the concept of ‘child-first’, or ‘child-centred learning’ is completely misunderstood by those whom it suits to do so. They believe it means allowing children to do exactly what they like, when they like and not imposing any order or notion of discipline or sanctions for misbehaviour, when in reality it involves a flexible, yet strongly structured, scaffolded approach to learning, focusing on and prioritising the interests, abilities, and learning styles of the students, rather than the needs of those involved in managing the educational process, such as teachers and administrators – and of course politicians. Thus it recognises the learner as an individual, rather than a future mass-produced widgit (ie a small gadget or mechanical or electronic component device). Which is not to say the needs of the teachers and administrators should be ignored, but just not prioritised over those of the children.
Then there is the curious belief, again strongly promoted by Civitas, that it is the local authorities that have been solely responsible for promoting ‘discredited, out-dated progressive child-centred learning‘, as if setting up Free schools or Academies will, entirely all on its own, completely by itself, without anyone else’s help, solve the perceived problem and enable teachers to get back to those so-called innovative methods of whole-class teaching.
But wait, there’s more… will you welcome please The Employers with a completely different priority. For them it’s not schools or children first, it’s the future economic success of their own businesses, or as they prefer to call it…’the country‘. Sadly, while the great and good generals, politicians, company directors and academics all appear to be having great fun scoring points of each each other in the name of education, it’s the innocent children and teachers in the trenches who are being slaughtered on a daily basis.
What’s really needed is some sort of balanced consensus that meets the differing needs of the children and the country, delivered within the realistic constraints of the schools, the managers and the teachers. Surely that’s what the politicians should really be trying to achieve?
Meanwhile, the one clear approach that seems to be winning through can only be described as Gove-centred learning, and surely destined to produce a country full of Mini-Me Gove replicants. And in seems that in Australia it’s already happening….
“The clue about the approach Pyne is seeking to follow this week is in the snappy new glasses he unveiled at his Blue Room press conference. They are remarkably like those of Michael Gove, the current British secretary of state for education, who is busy prosecuting a culture war in English schools. This combines a radical commitment to setting up new schools outside of the framework of local government or professional regulation, while simultaneously trying to make exams harder, the curriculum more “fact” based, and leftie social workers named as the root of all contemporary evil.”
Image credit (top) SDASM Archives
Image credit (middle): Flickr vivido/rosefirerising