Saturday, November 17, 2007

Telegraph hack knows nothing about education shock

I was so annoyed about this article by Simon Heffer that I posted a lengthy, and not entirely coherent reply. Gratifying to see that even Telegraph readers can see, for the most part, what nonsense this is. I wrote the following, but it's worth checking the link to see the comments of others. Somehow, I think "Edmund Burke" may be a pseudonym...

My response:
I notice that Mr Heffer talks about "the Marxist drivel" taught in "teacher training colleges for the last 40 years". I suppose that's one way of keeping the old canard of sixties looniness going. Has Mr Heffer ever visited a training college - if he had, he might know that they don't actually exist any more, but why let the facts get in the way of a good rant? It might also be pertinent to point out that the Tories have been in charge for half the period he mentions. How about some truth?
I was at school in the sixties, routinely described by people such as Mr Heffer as a time when anything went, kids could do what they liked etc. I sat in a class with 40 others, in rows, chanting my times table. Later, when I trained as a teacher (and never heard Marx mentioned at all) I learned that, yes, there were a couple of experimental schools like that in the sixties - but literally a couple. Ever since, though, right-wing commentators have painted this ridiculously exaggerated picture of feckless teachers, indoctrinated by Stalinist trainers, turning out useless school-leavers. In fact, the major problem has been the ever-increasing attention on exams, exacerbated by the use of targets and league tables. Teachers are under considerable pressure to produce results by any means. This culture was, of course, a Thatcherite invention, enthusiastically pursued by her education secretaries, and since then equally vigorously pursued by the various Labour ministers. You'll recall that the national Curriculum, introduced by Thatcher's government, was considered so important that every school had to follow it - except, of course, those schools where the sons and daughters of the cabinet went. Dumbing down has, certainly, happened. A first year undergraduate in the university where I now work told me this week that she was struggling with the modest demands of our curriculum because, in her words, "at school, we were just given everything." The system now is based on getting results, not on educating people. Other countries manage perfectly well without this insane emphasis on testing. Look at Denmark, where schools are given minimal guidelines, and left to use their professional judgement and expertise. They turn out highly qualified, literate, humane and confident school leavers. So could we.