Wednesday, January 12, 2011

more education, more Gove

So, Schools in England are now being measured according to how many pupils achieve grades A*-C in five core subjects - Maths, English, two Science qualifications, a Foreign Language and either History or Geography. I’m afraid I’m not a great lover of league tables at the best of times and I certainly have reservations about the Government’s latest education initiative (English Baccalaureate). My fear is that schools will feel the need to focus on the more traditional subjects and I really don’t think that a narrow academic course is appropriate for ALL students. There will no doubt be a tendency for schools to feel that they should be promoting a curriculum to improve a school’s league table standing rather than adopting a system that would benefit all students – including the less academic.
It would appear that, in the Government’s eyes, Physical Education, Art, Music, Technology, Drama, Dance, Philosophy+Belief and the like are very much second division subjects (continuing the league table jargon!).
I thought this caller on a radio phone-in had a number of salient points for consideration by Mr Gove on the new English Baccalaureate – click here, it’s definitely worth a listen.
The caller said: "Children go to school to work out who they are and what they want to study…. My guess is that this just reflects your own personal, narrow experience of education... I'd just ignore your silly English Baccalaureate."


Anonymous said...

good post steve.

thought that gove comes across very poorly in that clip.
patronising, rather sneery, and either he's very disingenuous or completely unable to follow another person's line of argument [apparently saying that all subjects are equally important means that you think that science is unimportant or that schools shouldn't teach spelling or numeracy...]



just Gai said...

It's not always I agree with Mr Gove. In fact I can't ever remember doing so before and, as I haven't heard the full speech/interview, I'm hoping it turns out that I don't even do so on this occasion. However, to get to the point, I do believe that a foreign language, history and geography are vitally important, if not absolutely necessary subjects for all children to at least attempt at GCSE level.

A language not only enables us to communicate with people from a different country but also gives us an insight into their life and culture. It makes foreigners less foreign and more like us. History teaches us how we got to where we are and gives context to what we read in the papers or watch on the telly. Geography helps us understand how our planet works and the nature of our relationship with it. It enables us to identify the people and places we hear about on the news.

I've always thought that it's a tragedy that children can drop one or all of these subjects at the age of 14 when they have barely scratched the surface of what they have to offer. Humanities do what it says on the tin. They humanise facts and figures, put flesh and blood on data.

Education is so much more than just equipping children to go out and get a job. It's about learning who they are and how they relate to other people and the world, and languages and history and geography enable them to do so.

I'm not discrediting the value of PE, Art, Music etc. There should be room on the curriculum for all of them. I think our children are encouraged to specialise way too early. There's time enough in sixth form and college/university. Until then education should be as broad as possible.

As for these subjects being too academic, I don't agree. In fact, in that they relate so closely to people and their everyday lives, I think they are eminently accessible.

I guess my education could be described as narrow and traditional. I'm not going to pretend that it was perfect but I do know when to use an apostophe, I could point out the Amazon on a map and I can get by in a couple of European countries. I wouldn't be unhappy with a return to basics in education.

bigdaddystevieB said...

GARETH: Yes, I agree with lots of your points. My fear is that schools will now begin to focus on these core subjects at the expense of the arts, sport etc etc - to improve their league table standings. I'm well aware from my own school about the pressures already on Technology, for instance (a subject close to my heart given my architectural background!) and fear that children will be channelled away from studying the "wider" subjects. I'd like to introduce Gove to dozens of kids at our school for whom the English Baccalaureate would be totally irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, Tony Mayell here.
I actually listened to the programme and was initially incensed. As a teacher of the arts I fought for years against any option system which discriminated against so called "soft subjects" and limited student choice. As a parent, however, I wanted my children to be broadly educated and still consider the study of english,history languages maths and science etc. to be essential. I was a victim of an over-academic education taking three sciences and obligatory languages for an eight subject O level and have always regretted that I had to drop history which I enjoyed in order to take Art, my passion. It seems to me that there should be a baseline although in honesty students will not benefit from being obliged by school and parents to take subjects in which they have no interest.
I suppose that all students should take nine or ten subjects for GCSE and this would enable the kind of choice that students need. I hated Mr. Gove's patronising approach to the listener but I was also reminded of the difficulty of teaching A level Art history to students who had no idea of the significance of The Reformation or The Renaissance. Mind you GCSE history probably wouldn't help here. It's all the first world war.

bigdaddystevieB said...

TONY: I'm in very much the same camp as you... and also had to drop History to take Art (and also Biology for some reason!) - with similar regrets. What annoys me about the baccalaureate core subjects is not that I don't think that they're incredibly important, but that schools will tend to push pupils (especially the talented ones) towards them at the expense of some of the others.
If league tables have to happen, then I'd prefer a system that would enable me to find out how ALL the subjects score - so I know whether or not, for example, Art is highly valued and/or produces good students/results.
I'm afraid Mr Gove's patronising style always makes him an easy target in my eyes!
We still miss you... any chance of you becoming a government advisor?!

just Gai said...

Me again!

I think we're all agreed that the purpose of a good education system is not (primarily) to enable students to achieve as many A-C grades as they can manage, or push their school a couple of notches up in the league tables, but to prepare them for the life that they hope to lead once they leave school, whether this is at the age of 16, or 18.

My contention is that the best way to achieve this is to keep the curriculum as broad as possible for as long as possible, to expose each and every child to the full range of subjects, academic and otherwise, without the pressure to excel in one subjest in prference to another.

The system should not prevent the son of a single parent living on a sink estate from reading classics at Oxford any more than the daughter of a stockbroker in the leafy suburbs from taking sports science at Loughborough.

However, for this to happen the government should be allowing/encouraging schools to concentrate on stiumlating their students' thirst for knowledge rather than priming them for exams.