John Bald commends the latest initiative from Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Three superb speeches from education ministers in one week must be some kind of record. First, Michael Gove on the failings of academy opponents, then Nick Gibb on the knock-on consequences of failure to learn basic reading, and finally yesterday’s corker from Michael Gove, which began by setting out the failures of New Labour’s curriculum for information and communication technology (ICT, or computers to the rest of us) and then abolished it by suspending the programmes of study that give it legal force. All three speeches can be read here.
Academy opponents, notably David Lammy and Diane Abbott, are prime examples of Labour hypocrisy. Lammy escaped inner London secondary education via a scholarship to a choral school in Peterborough, while Abbott attended a grammar school herself and then made enough money to provide an escape route for her son via St Paul’s. Some are more equal than others. “Don’t treat us like a bunch of fools,” protests Mr Lammy, but what exactly are he and his parliamentary neighbour doing to their constituents?
Academies and free schools are based on the proven idea that the old system will produce the old results, and must be dismantled.
Nick Gibb argued that failure to learn basic reading prevented children from being able to enjoy the work of writers such as Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, C. S. Lewis, Jacqueline Wilson, Kenneth Graham and J. K. Rowling, as well as being a major cause of poor behaviour. The government’s pilot test of phonics had shown that only 32% of children had developed the phonic skills they needed by the age of six. 40% of our children do not read for pleasure and a third do not even own a book. If our children performed as well as those in Shanghai, the pass rate for 5 GCSEs including English and maths would be 77%, which is closer to where it should be.
Michael Gove’s speech this morning was the best of the lot, and one of the very best ever from an education secretary. He covered the whole ground of ICT, including small companies such as Crick Software, who have just sold their wonderful Clicker literacy and language programme to all of the schools in Moscow, to the intellectual rigour required in modern computer programming – even for games – to the woeful shortcomings of the national curriculum, in which operating basic word processors and spreadsheets was taught to “bored pupils…by bored teachers,” and to the possibility of making the best teaching available to all through combinations of direct teaching and websites such as 02 Learning. Tearing up the national curriculum programmes of study for ICT was a masterstroke rivalling the slicing of the Gordian knot. Checking my spelling of Gordian – no connection, of course, to the former Prime Minister, I found this in Wickipedia:
"Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter" (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)
Quite so. And having unloosed it, we must build a new curriculum for ICT (and for foreign languages…)