Latest in a long history of political meddling in education

From: Peter Asquith-Cowen, Anlaby, Kingston-upon-Hull.

Ever since the 1950s, education seems to have been a ball in a big political game. Labour introduced the idea of the comprehensive school, while the Tories staunchly supported the age-old concept of the grammar school.

The one was intended to provide equal education for all, while the other supported selection at 11. The grammar schools were seen as pro-establishment, while
the new comprehensives were seen to be progressive, ushering in a new age of egalitarian learning to fit young people for an entirely new age. Whatever, the whole thing smacks of that wretched thing called “The Class System”.

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The British seem obsessed with two things: class and home ownership. Nowhere in Europe can you find a more stratified society, hall-marked by clubs, societies, sport and the all-pervading obsession with gardens and homes; not to mention the old boy network and all-male societies. Into this add nepotism and queer handshakes and you’ve got Britain... England, anyway.

So, Michael Gove intends sweeping away GCSE exams with radical new education reforms to bring to an end “years of drift, decline and dumbing down”. Teachers and parents must be bewildered by the whirlpools of change that each successive government introduces.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, claimed the new proposals were entirely driven by political ideology. I have been involved in education for all my working life and feel uneasy about Gove’s proposals. Why, has he chosen to call his new exam a Baccalaureate? Why not an overall Matriculation?

The new exam will test – by examination – the core subjects of English, maths and science, followed by history, geography and languages. Have we not been here before? It isn’t so long ago that languages were not even included in the national curriculum and history – my subject – was taught in modules.

There has been a great debate about what pupils should learn at school but Michael Gove seems to be dismissing teachers, parents and everyone concerned.

I would like to bet his idea of teaching history will go back to the old system of names and dates and concentrate on British history.

There’s nothing wrong with that except the examination. Are the children going to have their memories examined or their intelligence? To have a working knowledge of the history of the mother country is, in my opinion, essential to have an understanding of our development as a nation, 
but merely testing facts is 
not enough.

Intuition, balance of ideas, arguments for and against, all come into the learning of history; and morality and ethics.

These are usually gleaned as part of the “process” of learning, but I fear Michael Gove’s proposals may prove very limiting and test the regurgitation of facts, omitting the intelligence and imagination of the child; areas I always laid great store by as teacher of history.