Abolish all school subjects and teach 'entitlements'???

I thought I had ceased to be amazed at foolish theories from educationalists, but this piece from A.C.Grayling's blog on the Guardian website has introduced me to another one that, for a moment, took my breath away. What chance does the study of Classics have of surviving in this mad, mad world? I append the Guardian's report of the teachers' conference below the blog entry, including a dash of common sense from the Institute of Directors in the last paragraph.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) called this week for a radical reconfiguration of the educational curriculum in schools, replacing history and literature with what they call “entitlements” to “Creativity, Communication, Information management, Learning and thinking skills, Interpersonal skills, Citizenship”. Apparently they also wish to teach pupils how to move about without falling over (“Physical skills of co-ordination, control, manipulation and movement”). The ATL's general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, added that a bit of “British history and Shakespeare” could be (notice the mood of the verb) thrown in if anyone really insists.

So, what do the members of the ATL think that the study of history, mathematics, literature and science involves, if not (between them and among them) “creativity, communication, information management, learning and thinking skills, interpersonal skills, citizenship” – plus, rather usefully, some actual history, science, literature and mathematics? If the ATL really does fail to see that, in addition to providing substantive insights into the content of these subjects, they are also – and by their means – teaching precisely the buzzword skills they list, one can only be aghast at the impoverished view of education that the ATL appears to take.

The lack of exactly these skills, by the way, is apparent in Dr Bousted's remark about “British history and Shakespeare”. She should be told that the point is not to produce narrow xenophobes with a bit of artificial cultural nationalism daubed like aerosol cream on top. World history, with Dante, Goethe, Flaubert and Cao Xue Qin added to Shakespeare, would be far more to the point. It is said that many pupils find mathematics and science difficult: perhaps the ATL's desire to teach them “physical co-ordination” and “communication” instead is partly motivated by a desire to avoid that thankless task. But much of the supposed difficulty of mathematics and science can be reduced by really good teaching. Roll on the day when a teaching union campaigns among its own members for ever more tireless, imaginative, creative and persistent efforts to get all children to enjoy the alleged “hard” subjects and to aspire to contribute to them as adults.

Here is the Guardian's report on the ATL conference:

Teachers propose scrapping of national curriculum

Rebecca Smithers
Tuesday April 11, 2006

Teachers will today back radical new proposals to abolish the national curriculum and end all national testing for the under-16s.

Delegates attending the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Gateshead will debate controversial plans to rip up the hundreds of ring binders that contain detailed subject-by-subject specifications – originally introduced by the Conservatives in 1988 – and replace them with a “shortlist” of skills.

The plans for the curriculum in England and Wales are set out in a newly-published position statement released by ATL today, called Subject to change – new thinking on the curriculum. The ATL argues the current detailed requirements for each subject should be replaced by a shortlist of the skills needed by all young people. The curriculum itself should be designed and negotiated locally, within a nationally agreed framework. Teachers would be free to decide what was taught, the ATL says, as long as the full range of skills are developed and assessed. The association recognises that there should continue to be an exam at 16-plus and 18-plus to guide learners, employers and those involved in further education.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the ATL, said a centrally set one-size-fits-all curriculum could not provide the skills-based curriculum young people needed.

“Pupils and teachers alike are turned off by the current system of cramming pupils with useless facts for a never-ending round of tests. We know that the education systems which do best are those which test and select the least number at the latest age.

“We need to give teachers the freedom to inspire youngsters so they want to learn, not just pass tests. We also need pupils to have the space to develop as rounded people, and that includes physically, emotionally, creatively, socially and ethically.”

Martin Johnson, the ATL's head of education, said an existing, albeit limited model, was the Opening Minds project being trialled by the Royal Society of Arts in a small number of schools. It involves teaching youngsters across a range of specified “competences” rather than specific subjects.

But Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said yesterday of the ATL's proposals: “This is disturbing nonsense. The point about testing is that we discovered quite shocking things about how few of our children could handle words and numbers properly at the age of 11. Without that testing we would have assumed that everything was ok.”

Richard Wilson, of the Institute of Directors, said: “Even if employers do want skills over knowledge – and they don't – employers aren't the only ones who determine education in this country. Of course employers want people with skills, but they also want people who know about subjects as well. They would want employees to have a knowledge of history and a grasp of geography because some of the skills they are using are embedded in those subjects.”

Will a climate of fear help schools to do the best for pupils?

At first sight the news (I quote below the opening of The Times' version) that schools may be given a fortnight to improve, if the local authority decides they are 'failing to stretch pupils to their full potential', before being taken over by the local authority and given a new set of governors, is midsummer madness.

No wonder 'a headteachers' leader' described it as “very worrying”. Having reduced the numbing and often demoralising effect of over-frequent school inspections, the government is now putting a sword of Damocles over each school, and we remember the effect that had on the dinner-guest. It's not as though local authorities are obviously expert in rescuing schools from mediocrity.

As Atriades commented after a recent post: Why can't they just leave education alone?

Good headteachers work best when given the freedom to run their schools as they see is best for their particular children. It is difficult to find good candidates these days for headships and deputyships, largely because of the burdens and constraints put upon them by successive governments.

It is an interesting coincidence that the Teacher Support Network issued a report on teachers' health today, saying:

“Teaching is an increasingly challenging profession, with pupil behaviour, malicious allegations and government pressure to increase standards all making a serious impact on the wellbeing of teachers.”

Just a final thought: When a school is given 15 days to stretch its pupils, should we suggest that they immediately introduce a Latin option?

Town halls to take over 'coasting' state schools
By Tony Halpin, Education Editor

THOUSANDS of apparently successful schools will face the threat of being taken over by their local authorities under powers unveiled by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, today.

Schools that are “coasting” or failing to stretch pupils to their potential will be given just 15 days to make improvements spelt out in “warning notices” issued by councils.

Failure to respond will trigger intervention by town hall hit squads with powers to take control of a school’s budget and appoint new governors. As many as one in four of England’s 24,000 schools could be caught by the rules, which a headteachers’ leader described last night as “very worrying”.

Read more…

I checked the Times version with The Guardian, which might be expected to be more sympathetic with this move, and find much the same news:

Local authorities will be given the power to take control of thousands of successful schools if they are deemed to be underperforming under plans to be outlined by the education secretary, Ruth Kelly, today.

The move will allow councils to suspend a school's funds, force it to have closer ties with other schools or appoint a new board of governors if it is believed to performing poorly given its pupil intake. The proposals are part of a drive to address what Ofsted estimates as the one in four schools in England that are “coasting” and offer pupils only “mediocrity”.

Previously councils could only intervene if schools got persistently poor exam results or were very badly managed.

Under the proposals, to be unveiled at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference in Birmingham today, a school deemed to be underperforming could receive an enforcement notice even if it is getting good exam results. It then has 15 days to respond “in a meaningful way”, otherwise the council can send in a hit squad to take over.

<a href=”http://educ

ation.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,1752933,00.html”>Read more …