Wednesday, 25 March 2009

New Labour losing its way on education (again)

Today's front page Guardian headline - 'Pupils to study Twitter and blogs in primary shake-up' - is the kind of thing we've come to expect from the Daily Mail, rather than the 'serious' broadsheet press. As is the story below it, based as it is on leaked government 'plans' for the school curriculum. 

The real story (if there is one) is about proposals to allow teachers greater flexibility in deciding, within a broad framework, what they're going to teach - which should mark a refreshing change from two decades of ministerial prescription. 

The stuff about Twitter is a bit of a worry, though, and (if true) is further evidence of the tendency of the Brown administration to latch on to the latest trend (appointing celebrity chefs and TV psychologists as advisers is another example) in a vain attempt to court fading popularity. The Guardian claims the plans would ensure that children 'leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of communication'. But children don't need to be 'taught' these things: increasingly they know more about them than their teachers. And Wikipedia? If our children's schools are anything to go by, teachers already encourage an over-reliance on dubious internet sources for homework, rarely trusting their pupils to take home an actual book (now I'm beginning to sound like the Mail...)

I'm not too worked up about plans to let teachers choose which periods of history they focus on, which could mean (as the Guardian puts it, in shock-horror terms) that schools wouldn't be 'required' to teach the Victorians or the Second World War. But our offspring are fed up to the teeth with these topics, having returned them repeatedly throughout their primary and early secondary years. ('We haven't got to interview Grandma about her war work again, have we?')

I'm more concerned about the planned focus on 'health and well-being', which will apparently include lessons on diet and teaching children 'how to negotiate in their relationships'. More evidence of governmental paternalism and the therapeutic turn in education....

As John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, has said, this rag-bag of proposals looks like an uneasy mixture of responding to passing trends on the one hand and giving into political pressure on the other. Not much sign of a coherent plan to prepare children for informed, democratic citizenship in changing times....

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