Michael Gove is right: we must do better
Say what you like about the British education system, but when it comes to passing the buck, it remains world-class. When business and industry complain – as they so frequently do – about the quality of the graduates they are asked to find jobs for, the universities tend to blame the secondary schools for not preparing students adequately for the demands of higher education. The secondaries, in turn, blame the primary schools for failing to equip pupils with the basic skills needed at GCSE or A-level. The primaries presumably excuse themselves by arguing that they have to invest too much time in repairing the damage inflicted by the nurseries.
In his review of the National Curriculum in primary schools, Michael Gove, the increasingly impressive Education Secretary, is attempting to ensure that the secondaries and universities have rather better material to work with. Instead of the vague “areas of learning and development” introduced under Labour, there will be a renewed focus on core subjects, facts and learning. Foreign languages will be pushed up the agenda, but the highest priority will be given to English, science and maths – a reflection of the decline in numeracy that prompted this newspaper’s Make Britain Count campaign. Study of poetry and literature will be mandatory; proper grammar will be taught; and the most glaring gaps in the present curriculum, such as the failure to teach the use and multiplication of fractions (a vital precursor to studying algebra), will be addressed.
Mr Gove’s critics will doubtless claim that teachers are already trying their hardest, and that micro-managing classrooms further, and putting more pressure on pupils, will be counter-productive. Why should it matter, they will say, that an 11-year-old only knows their 10 times tables, rather than their 12? This, of course, is to miss the point spectacularly. A touchy-feely insistence on letting children learn at their own pace, and a lazy tolerance of low standards, have blighted the lives of millions. They have also had calamitous consequences for the economy: witness the damning comments of firms surveyed recently by the CBI. In the hyper-competitive world of the 21st century, the only way to prosper is to possess a highly skilled, highly educated and highly motivated workforce. The Government argues that its draft proposals – which will, once finalised, be adopted by non-academy state schools from September 2014 – are a match for the best and toughest curricula adopted by our rivals. By challenging Britain’s teachers and pupils to do better, Mr Gove hopes to turn around decades of educational under-performance. Let us hope he succeeds – and, indeed, that it is not already too late.
The Telegraph, 11 June 2012