John Bald says primary schools teach the Tudors and the Second World War – but nothing in between
I promised history this week, but could not find the report from the all-party committee that had been covered by the BBC. All routes led back to its website, and it has clearly acted in haste. The report was not approved at the committee's meeting on Tuesday, probably to protect New Labour's citizenship curriculum. This is effectively a training course for party members, promoting multiculturalism and "the role of the voluntary sector", a Labour euphemism for its conversion of the idea of charity into an instrument of party policy.
Still, here is Martin Kettle in The Guardian, lamenting his son's ignorance of the English Civil War, and here are Ofsted's history surveys, which provide strong support for Chris Skidmore MP's case. They show primary schools picking a couple of topics, usually World War Two and the Tudors. They cover these in depth, but often teach nothing in between, so that pupils have no idea of historical time, or, indeed of our island story. Secondary schools are slashing teaching time in all subjects that do not guarantee them a grade C or better at GCSE, and I'm sure many would do no languages, history or geography at all if they could avoid them.
Just what they would do instead is harder to figure out. The head featured in the Educating Essex series last year said this week (Guardian again) that I'm really not a political person, I don't care who's in charge… Just tell me where the goalposts are and I'll try and score. The lack of thought in this is remarkable, but typical. Labour put in place a generation of heads whose main concerns are social and managerial rather than educational, and many have no commitment at all to intellectual development. If it takes a shift in the goalposts to change their priorities, then Ebacc can't come soon enough.
A grade D, incidentally, is a good deal better than nothing, and should be more strictly defined to reflect this. I know a computer specialist with a grade D in English who has saved the country over £150m as a fraud buster with HMRC, and his use of English is perfectly adequate for his work. NATE and its friends have, though, ensured that accurate use of English takes second place to literary appreciation, and this needs to be reversed. A grade C for a pupil who should have an A or A* is very nearly as bad as a fail. The focus on C encourages low expectations of the brightest, and should be replaced by a scale that gives credit to all grades above E, as Ofsted did before Labour wrecked it.
I liked the good press this week for the curriculum announcement from Liz Truss on languages, despite very poor and ill-informed advice from an Open University professor, who said that primary children lacked the capacity to make progress in a language. He has no evidence for this, but evidence does not matter to lefties who have a chance to attack the government. The questions from the grammar test were also well received.
Many thanks to everyone who commented on last week's piece, and particularly to Ken Stevens, whose comments led me to an interesting punctuation change (from a colon to a comma) in the first sentence of A Christmas Carol. I was discussing grammar from a teaching rather than a testing perspective, but would still argue that a test should put the most important elements of grammar first, and that these are sentence, verb and subject. Sentence construction in all European languages – in fact, in all languages I know of – is based on the relationship between subject and verb, and we need to put first things first.
Finally, a Christmas plug for Heffer's Children's Bookshop, Trinity Street, Cambridge, which has a wonderful selection of books, very kind and well-informed staff, and surprisingly keen prices. Its range of pop-up books is fabulous. Robert Sabuda's Alice in Wonderland (see above) – is astonishing, and makes a wonderful present for the giver as well as the lucky child who receives it. If people know of other good children's bookshops, please mention them below and we'll give them all a plug.