I’ve been reading this, via Janice Turner’s Twitter feed, on my phone, and I’ve gotten up to “there are criticisms flying about” and I had to get up and link to it on here because I just keep laughing out loud and doing subtle air punches (we’ve just had dinner, the child is in bed, Peter’s researching Lego sets, and I mustn’t knock over my glass of wine).

I’ll link to a few bits but then I’ll probably just trail off not because I’ve run out of stuff to link to but because there’s just too much:

Politics.co.uk – Michael Gove’s ‘anti-Mr Men’ speech in full

First, the set up:

Parents, it is sometimes alleged, don’t want choice in education. Well, many of us here are parents – so let me pose some choices.

You come home to find your 17-year-old daughter engrossed in a book. Which would delight you more – if it were Twilight or Middlemarch?

You see your son is totally absorbed, hunched over the family laptop. You steal a look over his shoulder – and what would please you more – to see him playing Angry Birds, or coding?

Your son says he wants to spend more time with one particular group of friends. Which would be more inspiring – because he wants to improve his pool or because they’re in the cadets and he wants to join?

Your daughter says she wants to compete with the very best, but which is more wonderful – on Big Brother or at the Rio Olympics?

False choices? I suspect those of us who are parents would recognise that there are all too many children and young people only too happy to lose themselves in Stephanie Meyer, while away hours flinging electronic fowl at virtual pigs, hang out rather than shape up and dream of fame finding them rather than them pursuing glory.

And I also suspect that all of us who are parents would be delighted if our children were learning to love George Eliot, write their own computer programmes, daring to take themselves out of their comfort zone and aspiring to be faster, higher or stronger.

Unless, of course, we write for Guardian Education.

Because it is natural for parents to want their children to be happy, fulfilled and successful. Not in a narrow material sense. But through the development of their natural curiosity, talents and potential.

It is natural for any of us to feel a sense of pride at our child’s graduation, passing out parade or personal best.

We all harbour high hopes for our own children – and we know they are happiest when they succeed in any endeavour beyond their own expectations.

R.H. Tawney, the great progressive thinker, argued that, “what a wise parent would wish for their children, so the State must wish for all its children.”


But again the unions – and their allies – have objected to the suggestion that eleven year-olds should be able to spell words in Standard English, use full stops and commas with confidence or deploy adverbs appropriately.

One of the critics – Michael Rosen – attacked the proposed assessment in his column, “Letter from a Curious Parent”, in the Guardian.

Mr Rosen criticised the test on the basis that there was no such thing as correct grammar, but if you were perverse enough to want to ensure children knew how to use Standard English you could of course devise some form of assessment. However, such a test was only ever accessible to a minority because when a comparable test of grammatical knowledge existed in the past, only a minority of students passed that. So this new test was clearly a fiendish exercise to brand hundreds of thousands of children as failures so that they were reconciled to a future of supine wage slavery.

I could argue that nothing is more likely to condemn any young person to limited employment opportunities – or indeed joblessness – than illiteracy. I could point out that the newspaper Mr Rosen writes for has a style guide, a team of trained sub-editors and a revise sub-editor as well as a night editor and a backbench of assistant night editors to ensure that what appears under his – and everyone else’s – byline is correct English. I could observe that it was a funny form of progressive thinking that held that the knowledge which elites have used to communicate with confidence and authority over the years – and which they pay to ensure their children can master – should be denied to the majority of children.

But I will abjure such Ciceronian rhetorical tricks.

And quote instead from John Blake of Labour Teachers. He said Michael Rosen’s column should be renamed “Letter from a Conspiracy Theorist” and was “basically an argument that poor kids can’t possibly learn to write properly”.

YES! *applause*

The next bit is too long, but it’s to do with most of the nearly 300,000 students getting their GCSEs from one firm? agency? who knows how that system works, studying a 20th century novel, mostly the same three, while just 1% did 19th century novels (so who is going to stand out, hmm?). The other agency…thing had no students choose any novel earlier than the 20th century.

And then!

We are currently reflecting on all the arguments made in our consultation on the new curriculum. But I take particularly seriously the concerns idealistic and ambitious teachers such as Joe Kirby have about the teaching practices which our current examination system encourages.

He, and many others, are deeply worried about what he calls, “the enacted school curriculum: what actually gets taught in classrooms.”

“Schemes of work in schools,” he explains, “are admired based on how relevant and engaging they are as opposed to how rigorous and challenging they are. In principle, there is no trade-off between relevance and rigour; in practice, there is all the difference in the world: the difference between teaching transient vampire books or transcendent Victorian novels.”

Kirby is right – Stephenie Meyer cannot hold a flaming pitch torch to George Eliot. There is a Great Tradition of English Literature – a Canon of transcendent works – and Breaking Dawn is not part of it.


Then he gets to the history curriculum, and in the middle of this I had to get up and do a post, so here’s where I’m probably going to run out of steam, but THIS just made me have to get up, because I HATED THIS CRAP when I was a kid (and I STILL DO):

And here the reality is – if anything – even more concerning that what the exam system has done to English.

Take the lesson plans outlined in Primary History – the journal of the Historical Association. These are not marginal influences on classroom practice. These are the resources produced by the most influential subject association which speaks for history teachers.

In their Autumn 2012 issue of Primary History, the Historical Association suggest students learn about the early Middle Ages by studying the depiction of King John as a cowardly lion in Disney’s ‘Robin Hood’. If that proves too taxing then they are asked to organise a fashion parade or make plasticine models.

Alternatively, students can help create “an interactive powerpoint based on well known animated aquatic characters: for example, Nemo”. Or if Disney’s clown fish is an inappropriate subject for reflection, then teachers can turn to guidance on ‘Primary pedagogy and interactive power point’ where it is suggested that a project about rail travel, should focus on the – no doubt – highly influential historical character of George Stephenson’s friend, Eddy the Teddy.

If finding out about Nemo and investigating Eddy prove too much then there are other approaches which are encouraged.

Students are invited to become “history detectives”. Which sounds potentially promising. But the lesson plan outlined doesn’t actually involve any real history, just pretend detective work. Students are asked to investigate the death of a fictional “John Green” by drawing up a “cunning plan” which involves asking to study up to three clues. I couldn’t help thinking as I read the lesson plan that I’d seen this exercise played out in front of my eyes before. Maybe Mr Green was killed in the library with a candlestick by Professor Plum. Or maybe proper history teaching is being crushed under the weight of play-based pedagogy which infantilises children, teachers and our culture.

It would be bad enough if this approach were restricted to primary schools. But even at GCSE level this infantilisation continues. One set of history teaching resources targeted at year 11s – 15 and 16 year olds – suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a ‘Mr Men’ story.

If I may quote – “The following steps are a useful framework: Brainstorm the key people involved (Hitler, Hindenburg, Goering, Van der Lubbe, Rohm…). Discuss their personalities / actions in relation to the topic. Bring up a picture of the Mr Men characters on the board. Discuss which characters are the best match.”

I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves’ work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.

But I am familiar with the superb historical account Richard J Evans gives of the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich and I cannot believe he could possibly be happy with reducing the history of Germany’s darkest years to a falling out between Mr Tickle and Mr Topsy-Turvy.

Yes!! *applause*

…I shall continue reading.

Nearly an immediate Update: OMG:

I will, of course, weigh carefully all the submissions we’ve received about how the curriculum might be improved. But it won’t be improved by taking out Clive of India and Wolfe of Quebec and replacing them with Eddy the Teddy and Finding Nemo.

Omg omg omg. *applause*

Update 2 (5.10):

Well well, how’s that for a coincidence. Article here.