'Exams, exams, exams': Children's author Sally Gardner says new national curriculum would stifle classroom creativity

'I'd like to see a divorce in the case of politics versus state education'

Education Editor

Award-winning children's author Sally Gardner today savaged the Government's proposed new national curriculum for stifling creativity in the classroom by leaving pupils with a diet of "exams, exams, exams, exams".

Ms Gardner, who was awarded the prestigious CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Carnegie Medial for children's authors at a ceremony at the National History Museum at lunchtime today, said it was time for education and politics to divorce from each other.

"I come from a long line of lawyers, judges and hopeless marriages so consider myself an expert in the subject of divorce," she said in her acceptance speech. "Which is why I'd like to see a divorce in the case of politics versus state education.

"Over recent years this relationship has deteriorated beyond repair, forced schools and teachers to accommodate the whims and egos of ministers with virtually no knowledge of the departments they take over, bringing in policies that damage the future of a whole generation of children.

"What a hypocritical partner politics has turned out to be - it says it wants more children reading yet it forces libraries to close: says it wants more great diversity yet insists on uniform exams for all."

Ms Gardner, who herself is dyslexic and was written off as "unteachable" whilst at school in an age when the condition was not recognised, said: "Wouldn't it be better if we could let teachers do what they do best - teach.  Not judge each child on a series of standardised tests.  Let schools embrace, not exclude, those like me with a different way of thinking.

"Stop praising literacy with one hand and closing libraries with the other."

She said she had been brought up on a diet of Janet and John books as a child - "my nightmare, a reading scheme that I couldn't get out of, that I was forced to stay on until the age of 11, getting no further than Janet and John had a ball'".

Now, though, she added, John was an adviser to Education Secretary Michael Gove while Janet worked for education standards watchdog Ofsted "enjoying the terror her department can bring to schools and teachers alike".

"Both Janet and John agree with Mr Gove that learning by rote (or by rope as I call it - the gallows for the inquiring mind), is the only answer.  Cut down on creativity, give the little blighters exams, exams, exams, exams until they all become good sheep."

She concluded: "Lastly, I would like to say: you can spell every word in the dictionary and know every grammar rule in the world but this does not make you a writer and it does not give you an imagination."

Sally Gardner won the coveted award for her novel, Maggot Moon, featuring an unlikely hero, Standish, who - like his creator is dyslexic and stands up to a sinister dictatorship while friends and family "disappear".

Yesterday she described her dyslexia as a "gift, adding: "Without books, I would not be a writer and without the zeal of librarians I would not have won this award.

"I believe teachers and librarians should be free to instil a life-long love of learning, without being policed by an outdated curriculum.

"I firmly believe Gove's new curriculum excludes rather than embraces those like me, and millions of others, with a different way of seeing and thinking."

Past winners of the medal include Arthur Ransome, C.S.Lewis, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Noel Streatfield and Penelope Lively.

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