100 academics savage Education Secretary Michael Gove for 'conveyor-belt curriculum' for schools

Leading figures from universities warn new curriculum promotes 'rote learning without understanding' and demands 'too much too young'

Education Editor

Michael Gove’s proposed new national curriculum will severely damage education standards by insisting children learn “endless lists of spellings, facts and rules”, experts are warning. In a letter to The Independent, 100 education academics warn that the new curriculum promotes “rote learning without understanding” and demands “too much too young”.

The academics, all of whom are either professors of education or teach in university education departments, write: “This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think – including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.”

Their intervention means the Education Secretary faces dissent on yet another front over his education reforms – coming just 36 hours after teachers’ leaders warned of strike action over plans to squeeze their pensions and end automatic annual incremental pay rises for the profession, plus opposition to his plans to force under-performing schools to become academies.

The signatories to the letter, who include leading figures in the world of academia such as Professor Terry Wrigley, from Leeds Metropolitan University, who co-ordinated the letter with Professor Michael Bassey from Nottingham Trent University, said: “A system which is very, very heavily prescribed and which encourages cramming through tests actually reduces fairly sharply the development of thinking. The pupils memorise just enough detail to get over the hurdle of the tests.”

Professor Wrigley added: “I think if these reforms go ahead it will be miserable for the children. Secondly, I think it will put further emphasis on memorisation and rote learning rather than understanding.”

The academics’ intervention also follows a controversy over changes planned for the history curriculum – where historians and teachers claim the proposals neglect world history in favour of the chronological learning of facts about British history. Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor of history at Cambridge University, said they would restore “rote learning of the patriotic stocking-fillers so beloved of traditionalists”.

Under Mr Gove’s plans – out for consultation until mid-April – children should be taught standard English with more weight given to spelling, punctuation and grammar. In maths, they should know their times tables up to 12 by the age of nine and start learning about algebra and geometry by the time they leave primary school.

In history, the document says pupils should know “how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world”.

In languages, children will for the first time have to learn a language – ancient or modern – from the age of seven.

In their letter, the academics say of the proposed curriculum: “Much of it demands too much, too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation.”

They say the plan “betrays a serious distrust of teachers in its amount of detailed instructions”.

“Whatever the intention, the proposed curriculum in England will result in a ‘dumbing down’ of teaching and learning,” they add.

It is also “too narrow”, they argue. “The mountains of detail for English, maths and science leave little space for other learning. Speaking and listening, drama and modern media have almost disappeared from English.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “This distinction made by the signatories between knowledge and skills is a false dichotomy. The new curriculum is based on careful analysis of the world’s most successful school system. We are giving schools more freedom over the curriculum and teaching, not less. We are reforming the exam system to test deeper cognitive skills such as mathematical problem-solving and extended writing, which are neglected now, but these skills... depend on solid foundations.”

The DfE released the results of a Freedom of Information request which listed more than 400 people who had been consulted. It said it received 5,763 responses to its call for evidence to be submitted to the curriculum review.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Guru Careers: Product Training Specialist / Software Trainer

£25 - 32,500K (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Produ...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence