“Knowledge is the key to social mobility,” Michael Gove said earlier this year. True enough. For me it started with bedtime stories as a small boy – my dad or mum taking the time every night to read a few pages, or a chapter if I was good. Then came setting aside money for school trips, those days outside a classroom that would capture the imagination. Neither of my parents went to university, and there were parts of school they hated. But their commitment to our learning – by rote and by entertainment – coursed through our childhoods.
What, then, to make of the new curriculum for children between the ages of five and 14? Well, the brouhaha over poetry, Shakespeare and Churchill – the cultural whim of ministers – seems an unwelcome distraction from the more fundamental question of how we equip today’s children for the world in 2030. For too long our curriculum has ignored the need for brilliance in computing and mathematics and promoted European languages while disregarding (say) Mandarin and Arabic.
In fairness to Gove, he tries to tackle some of this: more complex maths will be taught from age five and basic coding between five and 11. (Although insisting on the 12-times table is an anachronism, as i readers point out in today’s Letters.) There will be more science, although if your science lessons were like mine they were glorified crowd control, with people setting fire to pencil cases and building circuits to blow 50 bulbs at the flick of a switch.
Gove’s problem is practical – not just where are all the extra computers and IT teachers going to come from, but how to introduce such far-ranging reforms so quickly, when he’s lost the support of the profession he has been appointed to lead.