Education Secretary Michael Gove has failed to “engage and excite” teachers over his plans for a new national curriculum, headteachers warned today.
They were responding to a letter signed by 100 academics in today’s Independent warning that the proposals would cause lasting damage to education standards by insisting children learn “endless lists of spelling, facts and rules” thus sacrificing understanding for rote learning.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the professional expertise of school leaders was “frequently overlooked” - particularly on the challenges of implementing such massive changes.
“Government risks sacrificing the engagement of the teaching profession in order to score cheap political points,” he added. “Yet that engagement is the only thing that can make a new curriculum work.
“When the classroom door is shut, it is what a teacher believes and values that gets taught not what’s written in a dry document on the department’s website.”
Mr Hobby acknowledged there was a need for change, saying “there is much that we could have agreed on: there are arguments that could have inspired the profession to new and greater heights”. “This has not yet happened,” he added. “What a high price to pay for a few sound-bites.
“We urge the Government to raise the game on communicating where the national curriculum fits into the broader work of a school, to listen to specific concerns on subjects like history and computing and to take implementation seriously.”
Mr Gove also faced fresh concern over his proposals today with wildlife experts warning they could lead to children failing to be taught about the need to protect the natural environment.
The wildlife Trust said current proposals had “quietly” dropped any reference to English pupils being required to be taught to “care for the environment” or about “ways in which living things and the environment need protection”.
Simon King, president of the Wildlife Trusts, pressed Mr Gove to reinstate teaching about the natural environment into the curriculum.
“I can hardly believe that anyone would want to make changes to the curriculum that could lead to large-scale human suffering and damage the rest of life on earth,” he said. “Yet Michael Gove proposes to stop teaching children to care for the environment.”
Ministers have made it plain their aim in the new draft document is to slim down the demands made on teachers - leaving them freer to decide for themselves what they should be teaching
Under the Government’s proposals, which are currently out for consultation, children should be taught standard English from the moment they arrive at school and more weight is given to grammar, spelling and punctuation. In maths, they should learn their 12 times tables by the age of nine while in history the document says pupils should know “how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world”.
The academics, led by Professor Terry Wrigley of Leeds Metropolitan University, said the proposals would lead to a “dumbing down” of teaching and learning.
The Department for Education said the distinction made by the academics between knowledge and skills was a “false dichotomy”.
“We are reforming the examination 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.”
However, Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, said: “yet again Michael Gove’s back-of-an-envelope plans have been criticised by experts.
“We need to ensure young people have the knowledge and skills for the modern world of work. Going back to an outdated, narrow curriculum will damage our future economic prospects.”