Letter: Saving the comprehensive school ideal

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The Independent Online
Sir: I entered teacher training college in 1967, the year of the Plowden report. That report had already acquired a biblical status, and, like the Bible, was interpreted according to the wishes of its mediators. For the college staff of those days it was a licence to denigrate some teaching techniques and to give demon status to the labels used to describe them. As well as "rote learning", I note that "formal methods", "parrot fashion" and "class teaching" are still taboo ideas for Elizabeth Lawrence (letter, 7 June).

She does not explain how she has replaced these methods. My contemporaries and I were armed with nothing more than the concept of a "stimulating environment", which in practice reduced teachers to interior decorators, forever creating new, "exciting" displays on the classroom walls. Certainly, coloured paper, drapes and Blu-tak are more directly malleable than children and with a pretty classroom a teacher can acquire a misplaced sense of achievement. The connection of decor, though, with inspiration and motivation had to be accepted as an act of faith.

A well motivated child will learn more readily, and it is a teacher's duty to inspire a will to learn. Having said that, most skills can only be acquired and perfected through regular routine and repeated application. Needless to say these particular "3 Rs" were outlawed in the Sixties.

I am delighted that now David Blunkett has publicly declared the emperor "Progressive Education" to be naked. It is a shame that for three decades so many children have been denied the opportunity to develop their potential.