Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


I agree with Mr Gove - learning by rote can be the basis of a good education

A hundred eminent educationalists have written to The Independent to complain about the new national curriculum. I may sound like an old fart, but I think they're wrong

Well, it never did me any harm to learn my twelve times table, or to be told that i comes before e except after c. Increasingly these days, I have to stop myself beginning a column with a similar sentiment. But I can't find a more direct expression of my antipathy to the cabal of academics who have come out in opposition to Michael Gove's proposed new national curriculum.

It's not that I think I've turned out to be a perfectly well-adjusted, rational, highly-intelligent human being. And I know that I sound more and more like an old fart. But I happen to agree with Mr Gove that learning by rote - as was the way in those far-off days when I was at school - can indeed be the basis of a good education.

In a letter to The Independent yesterday, a hundred eminent educationalists - a ton of brains, you may say - complained about the new curriculum's "endless lists of spellings, facts and rules". This highly prescriptive programme, they contend, "will not develop children's ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity".

This may well be true, and, in any case, who am I to argue with this posse of professors? But if Mr Gove's way will stop young people writing to me, saying "hope your well", or their reliance on a calculator to work out even the simplest sum, or a BBC sports presenter using the word "hopefully" in its wrong sense twice in a short report (as happened on the Today programme on Tuesday morning), or my having to explain to a young colleague, once again, the difference between "stationary" and "stationery" ("a" for cars, and "e" for envelopes, as I was told at primary school), then I am four-square behind the education secretary.

I share the academics' concern that we are in danger of raising generations of young people who are unable to think for themselves, but I think this has more to do with a dependency on the conveniences of the modern world. Satellite navigation, for instance, which gets you to your destination without your having to pay any attention to how you actually got there. Or that the answer to any question is to Google it, and not consider it. Or the need to be plugged into at least two electronic devices at the same time. "Young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity," wrote the academics, and of course no one could argue with that.

What's more, I couldn't gainsay their worry that Gove's proposals are too narrow, and don't allow teachers enough space to take their pupils off piste. My problem is that I don't see why these different approaches are mutually exclusive. Surely, children can be encouraged to develop a creative and individual outlook on life while still being taught the correct use of a bloody apostrophe. In the end, it all comes back to the apostrophe. Does it matter any more? As we saw last week, Devon County Council has banned apostrophes from street signs because of "potential confusion". No confusion, I'm afraid: it's about standards. Told you I'd sound like an old fart. More power to Michael Gove.