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Leading article: The lifelong benefits of learning by heart


The lessons that Michael Gove wants young schoolchildren to learn have been understood by poets since the time of Homer. Heightened language, driven by rhyme and rhythm, facilitates memory.

Some may scorn the Education Secretary's insistence that children should be learning by heart as an echo of some character-building Victorian mental gymnasium. But, as Ted Hughes said, learning by heart is not the same as learning by rote. Our memories work at many levels. The power of patterns exercises the muscle of language, but it also creates an anchor for other reading or art. It installs, Hughes says, a guardian angel behind the tongue. It becomes a reef around which the life of language builds and breeds. The same is true of the basic mathematical scaffolding that is the times tables.

Mr Gove is right: children should be learning patterns in both words and numbers, by heart.