Gove hits out at left wing academics
But why is the education debate so polarised?
Millions of school pupils are being actively denied success by a cabal of Marxist academics, according to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Gove ,writing in The Mail on Sunday, accused “a set of politically motivated individuals” who run university education departments of a campaign to undermine traditional schooling because they are in favour of far left-wing ideology. These individual and those who support their views had populated the quangos, some of which have been scrapped by this government, and university education departments and have encouraged some of the brightest teachers to join them. Gove writes ‘We have abolished the quangos they controlled. We have given a majority of secondary schools academy status so they are free from the influence of The Blob’s allies in local government. We are moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools. And we are reforming our curriculum and exams to restore the rigour they abandoned.’
Collectively they are known as the Blob. Gove made his comments in reply to the 100 academics who co-signed a letter in The Independent a few days ago warning that the new curriculum risks eroding educational standards. The letter says that the new curriculum promotes “rote learning without understanding” and demands “too much too young”. The academics, all of whom are either professors of education or teach in university education departments, write: “This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think – including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.”
Gove said: “You would expect such people to value learning, revere knowledge and dedicate themselves to fighting ignorance. Sadly, they seem more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence. “He called the group the “new Enemies of Promise”, referring to the book by Cyril Connolly, a 20th-century intellectual, which described how talented young people were prevented from reaching their potential. Whether such a conspiracy theory is credible is a moot point but it is certainly the case that many of those academics who signed the letter to the Independent would not be embarrassed to be called left leaning.
Simon Kelner, a left leaning former editor of the Independent , wrote ‘My problem is that I don’t see why these different approaches are mutually exclusive. Surely, children can be encouraged to develop a creative and individual outlook on life while still being taught the correct use of a bloody apostrophe.’ John Rentoul also of the Independent wrote in the wake of the letter ‘Gove’s proposals are, to me, socialist in their intention, which is to equip every child with the sort of education that has traditionally been available to only a very few. How is that wrong? And what do left-leaning academics think they’re doing when they say, “Ooh, no, the children won’t understand any of it; it’s bad for them”? What? As bad as the fact that state-school students are still shamefully under-represented at our top universities?’
Ironically, the academics letter was criticised for its syntax and grammar. What seems to be happening is that curriculum reforms are becoming an ideological battleground between progressives and conservatives ,which is worrying. When education becomes a battleground children’s interests become a secondary priority. The NUT conference, over the Easter break, reminded us just how polarised and adversarial debates on education have become in this country. If you look at Finland, which we often do, one of the key pillars of its success has been that unions, officials and politicians work seamlessly together towards shared education goals. It just doesn’t happen in this country. Nor does it seem to matter which government happens to be in power (remember the grief that the Labour Secretary of State David Blunkett received from the NUT). One has to ask the question, why? Because until this changes, it looks unlikely that outcomes for children will change much for the better.
Meanwhile the Spectator is holding an education conference this month that will be looking at the schools revolution, and the concept of ‘the Blob’.
The idea that universities education departments were training teachers in ‘progressive’ ideas and that these ideas and the practices they spawned damaged the education of children goes back to the late 1980’s and early 1990s. Traditionally Universities and schools had collaborated closely in the provision of training. Critics of the universities then fought to shift teacher training away from universities (there were also technical concerns about the quality of teaching and the lack of balance between theory and practice) with, for example, more school based teacher training.For the record very few of the academics who signed the letter to the Independent are teacher trainers, or involved in the design of teachers training.