Gove’s Reforms Take Turn for the Worst.

Michael Gove’s reforms have taken a turn for the worst. What was arguably the most promising department to deliver real change and reform is quickly throwing up one bad policy after another.

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It’s satirical stuff, but is it right? Are some of these reforms better suited in the 1950’s?

The expansion of the Academy programme and the ability to create Free Schools were a great boost to education, allowing greater choice and a real competitive element to drive up standards. Changes to teacher’s pensions and pay, extra grants for better qualified graduates, giving teachers more discretion, all of these were steps in the right direction.

Recently however, we’re seeing a move towards the worst of central planning, with a number of outdated, ‘traditional’ methods being introduced.

Firstly there’s the plan to bring in former members of the armed forces to teach in classrooms. The none-too-subtle implication being that classrooms are lacking discipline and some stern, no-nonsense domineering by soldiers will keep the children quiet and obedient. Short of ritual floggings, it’s a policy straight from the Daily Mail column section. People seemingly haven’t considered the fact that children are distracted in class because the way they’re educated is not conducive to focus, or because many of the topics are irrelevant and boring to them, or because they’ve been raised badly without having things talked through with them and instead have just been shouted down. Do I think this policy would make classrooms quieter? Possibly. Will it improve education? No. Will it potentially harm child development? Absolutely. We should be moving to a system of greater freedom of learning for children, of more open discussion, of a more equal relationship between children (who after all are the consumers in this relationship) and teachers, who are supposed to be providing them with a service, not scaring the life out of them so they remain silent to be lectured at for hours on end.

Secondly, there’s the change to exams. Now in this instance I’m slightly in agreement that something needs to change. The grade inflation problem certainly needs to be addressed, but this can be done through a much more simple change of raising the pass marks. However, all sorts of other policies are being proposed which are wrongheaded and deeply problematic. For instance, coursework being largely scrapped, exams being taken at the end of two years rather than as a modular format, fewer resits etc. This idea is nothing sort of ridiculous. The pressure it puts on children is immense. Their entire future can be decided in a couple of days and it only takes one or two slip ups or bad exams to ruin years of their lives. The worst part about this is that it’s completely unnecessary. School is designed to prepare children for ‘real life’. But in real life there are almost no instances where you’re put under this kind of pressure. There are some career paths where this is the case, but those are limited, are well paying and are voluntary for the people involved. In other careers you can write reports over a period of time, you can check sources, you can ask help and advice etc.

The fact is, the reforms are placing children in a position in which they’re being forced to adhere to one very narrow interpretation of skill and achievement. If you can cram and recite masses of (largely useless) information in an absurdly high-pressured environment you get a good life, if not, bad luck. We should be moving in completely the opposite direction. Make sure children learn the information, help them pursue the goals they’re interested in.

The next big issue for libertarians has to be the case of children. Why should they be the exceptions to the rule when it comes to promoting freedom? We cannot expect to produce generations of children with centrally-planned, authority driven schooling that does nothing to promote individuality and hope for them to suddenly embrace freedom later on. Their formative years need to prepare them for the world we hope to create. Libertarians often complain about schools being a problem for teaching biased information to children, and this is true, but the problem extends well beyond the curriculum. The problem is in the system itself, it’s the way children are taught, not just what they’re taught. If we want children to be well-rounded, thoughtful individuals, we have to fundamentally rethink the way we educate them. We can’t promote freedom for adults while we continue to deny it for children.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I find your argument worthy of thought but that’s just about it. I don’t
    like the way it indirectly degrades teachers. I don’t think you’ve ever stepped
    into a modern classroom and tried to teach as an ‘equal’ to a 15 year old (Year
    9) and experienced the attitude and refusal to follow simple instructions just
    because they feel it’s their right to question the relevancy and value of
    learning that a teacher has prepared for them. Did you used to do the same? Did
    you get where you are because you were successful in questioning the quality of
    your teachers? Did your teachers treat you as an equal in this ‘relationship’?
    You have no idea what it takes to engage a classroom of 25 15/16 year olds.
    It’s easy for you to insist that it’s the way they are taught rather than what
    they are taught that makes today’s students act the way they do. You’ve never
    experienced being a teacher and don’t think you’d like or have the balls to
    become one.

    I’m also not really sure you understand the meaning of ‘real life’ and
    ‘freedom’. If you did then you would know that in Britain ‘real life’ means
    field of work and in today’s climate it is a competitive field. Changes in
    education are required because the current crop of students cannot handle ‘real
    life’. They are not competitive enough and as a result the UK is losing ground
    to other nations who are producing a well-educated and competitive workforce.
    Have you ever sat down and facilitated coursework at school with BTEC or Level
    2 students? I don’t think so. You need to define what type of freedom you’re
    talking about, whether it’s negative or positive freedom because right now what
    we’re experiencing is negative freedom where everyone freely pursues their
    desires and wants selfishly with little regard for society. This is not the
    definition of freedom classical liberals advocated.

    I’ll conclude here but you need to really think about your choice of
    argument when you’re talking about a career in which you have no experience as
    a professional practitioner. Yes, of course your opinions are of great value
    but you must acknowledge the effort those who are qualified to teach and do
    teach are putting in to ensure that children get the level of learning that
    builds their social capital, especially when a lot of them nowadays come to us
    without habitus.

  2. I’ve worked, for 35 years, with ex-Armed Forces staff in schools, who were, without exception, very good indeed. Respected, confident, used to giving orders and with a line in put-downs that’s most effective.

    So your first complaint simply does not stack up against the facts. In addition to which there are large numbers of redundant ex-Forces people around now, so this is as good a way of employing them as any. They also have an impact on the other staff around them, too – competition is all in the Forces, and that’s something far, far, too many schools have forgotten.

    On the exams front, the grade inflation on both GCSEs and A-levels has gone so fas as to make them meaningless – a grade C GCSE was supposed to be equivalent to an old O-level pass. Today, A is about right, and A* in some subjects, at GCSE: at A-level I have an actual O-level question from 1985 which is word-for-word identical to an A2 question from 2006, so I have no doubt that modern A-levels are largely meaningless below B-grade.

    The new exams require LEARNING and KNOWLEDGE and WORK and GOOD TEACHING, non of which are elements of an A/B garde at GCSE today.

    So the entire basis of your gripe is wrong-headed.

    Gove (with Laws in tow) has not gone nearly far enough. What’s required is for EVERY school to set entrance exams, charge (modest) fees and (crucially) award scholarships to 50% or so of pupils, who show real talent, in a wide range of academic AND non-academic fields – those scholarships being retained ONLY as long as the pupil does as well as they expect.

    Furthermore, the fees are deductible against the tax of the parents (in an ideal world, against the tax bill of MARRIED parents only) so that ALL parents are encouraged to use private schools, with the basic cost of a State school place being met through Educational Vouchers.

    But, to his immense credit, Gove has done more good, and far less harm, as Ed Sec than ANY other holder of that post since 1944, when the nationalisation of UK education destroyed it, just as nationalisation destroyed power, gas, telephones, rail road, health – and every other service that’s ever been provided by a nationalised, state-run organisation.

    And that includes Government itself.

    • As for the forces, I’m not suggesting people from the forces would inherently be a failure. I’m sure there are lots of talented people who’d make excellent teachers. My point is that the deliberate policy of fast-tracking them specifically is designed because it believes they will make better teachers than the average applicant. The reasoning for this is going to be because of the values people generally believe members of the armed forces have, namely strictness, discipline, enforcing obedience etc. Hence the reason the right wing press have gone so big on it.

      I address grade inflation, and yes it is a problem, but a problem that could be solved with tougher questions and higher grade limits. The system they’re supporting is making it so that it puts unrealistic and ridiculous pressure on kids to cram two full years of knowledge into their heads, to put their whole future on the line on one day, knowing there’s limited chance of a second go etc. People in real life rarely ever have to do this, and to put it on the shoulders of a 15/16 year old is mad.

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