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Maggie Jones on the Education Secretary’s ideological-driven attempts to change the schools’ cirriculum
Today I am challenging the Education Minister in the Lords to explain who was behind the decision to spell out in such detail the content of the new English, maths and science primary curriculum at the expense of other subjects. I am also seeking evidence that the proposals were based on the best international comparisons.
My concern follows reports that 3 of the 4 Expert Curriculum Advisors, appointed by Michael Gove, are unhappy with the proposals, and that 2 of them had sought to resign half way through the process as the evidence they had amassed was being disregarded. They had written at the time that aspects of the government’s proposals “fly in the face of evidence from the UK and internationally and, in our judgement, cannot be justified educationally”.
The advisors had been attempting, in their initial report, to set out the key principles which should determine the curriculum based on learning from the best education systems in the world. It is alleged however, that Mr Gove was not happy with the direction they were taking – particularly the emphasis on a broad curriculum and the need to give teachers freedom to teach. So the Expert Report was published quietly just before Christmas along with a deadline for drawing up new proposals, so that a small group close in ideology to Mr Gove could take his agenda forward. The result is a government plan described by Professor Andrew Pollard as ‘punitive and controlling’ with none of the freedoms originally envisaged.
This issue was raised in the Commons earlier this week by Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg. And Mr Gove’s throwaway response “As Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven once said, advisors advise but Ministers decide” rather confirms he was happy to overturn expert advice on the basis of his own dogma. He is correct of course that it is ultimately for Ministers to decide on these issues. But on a matter as important as the curriculum plans for the next generation of children, teachers, parents and young people must all have faith that the proposals are based on solid research and evidence.
This is why Labour are committed to setting up the Office of Educational Achievement which will provide a genuinely independent clearing house to learn and share best practice amongst teachers. This is also why I am challenging the government to publish the names and educational qualifications of those drawing up the final curriculum proposals that it is using to justify such a rigid, restrictive and ideologically driven curriculum.
Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a member of Labour’s Shadow Education team in the Lords