Letters: Gove will bury pupils in facts and rules

These letters are published in the Wednesday 20th March issue of The Independent

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We are writing to warn of the dangers posed by Michael Gove’s new National Curriculum which could severely erode educational standards. The proposed curriculum consists of endless lists of spellings, facts and rules. This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think, including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.

Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.

The new curriculum is extremely narrow. The mountains of detail for English, maths and science leave little space for other learning. Speaking and listening, drama and modern media have almost disappeared from English.

This curriculum betrays a serious distrust of teachers, in its amount of detailed instructions, and the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. Whatever the intention, the proposed curriculum for England will result in a “dumbing down” of teaching and learning.

We believe our concerns are widely shared. A recent CBI report argued that “we need to end the culture of micro-management”, and (citing the Cambridge Primary Review) that “memorisation and recall are being valued over understanding and inquiry”. Further, “we have a conveyor-belt education system that tolerates a long tail of low performance and fails to stretch the able”. The new curriculum will only make things worse.

Mr Gove has clearly misunderstood England’s decline in Pisa international tests. Schools in high-achieving Finland, Massachusetts and Alberta emphasise cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity, not rote learning. 

We urge parents, teachers and other stakeholders to respond to the Government consultation in its few remaining weeks, and demand a fresh start. 

Prof Michael Bassey

Nottingham Trent University

Prof Terry Wrigley

Leeds Metropolitan University

Prof Meg Maguire

King’s College London

Prof Richard Pring

University of Oxford

Prof Harvey Goldstein

University of Bristol

and 95 others

Cyprus bank madness

The Cypriot bank levy brings to mind the proverb that those whom the Gods would destroy, they first drive mad, for one would be hard put to find a more foolish measure.

The proposed levy will undermine confidence in the banks, discourage foreign investment, encourage domestic capital flight and discourage saving. These effects will be felt strongly throughout the Mediterranean euro-members. 

Given that the measure effectively negates the EU’s €100,000 deposit guarantee, it will undermine confidence in retail banks throughout the EU. 

In addition, the levy will have geopolitical consequences, for Russian investors stand to lose billions. It is likely that within a few years, Russia will acquire a naval port in Cyprus to replace Tartus in Syria.

Although we are outside euro-land, we in Britain should not be too cheerful. Our savings and economic prospects are being robbed from us as thoroughly as the Cypriots, only here the instruments are inflation, negative real interest rates and the decline in our currency.

Europe needs an approach that puts sound economics before the vanity project of a single currency. 

Otto Inglis, Edinburgh

All governments, not just gangsterocracies like the government in Cyprus, work hand in glove with their banks to steal the money of their citizens. The only difference is the subtlety or brazenness of the methods they use.

For example, it is impossible to get a regular UK savings account which pays more than 1 or 2 per cent (less tax) in an inflation regime of maybe 3 or 4 per cent. Even government-backed ISAs, paying about 2.5 per cent, are a rip-off. Maybe the Cyprus government should be congratulated for being so in-your-face about its theft?

Chris Payne, Lipa City, Philippines

River wildlife put in danger

I agree totally with Martin Harper (Voices, 19 March) that there is a great danger to our wild heritage if Natural England is subsumed within the Environment Agency. Here in Ely there is a prime example.

The Environment Agency has recently sold a piece of land to Cambridge University Boat Club for a boathouse and training centre with accommodation for a caretaker and visiting crews. The site is within the River Ouse County Wildlife Site and adjacent to the Ely Pits and Meadows site of special scientific interest, designated as such by Natural England for its biodiversity. 

The increased use of the river in the early mornings, and lighting associated with the boathouse, will have a detrimental effect on local wildlife. This includes otter which pass through, watervoles which live on site, and bittern which have been seen regularly in the area, not to mention all the commoner species which inhabit the area.

How can an organisation prepared to promote development on a county wildlife site and adjacent to an SSSI be responsible for our wildlife?

Helen Moore, Ely, Cambridgeshire

Press crusaders tumble to earth

You would think from all the feverish press comment on the Leveson vote that the media are part of a superhero troupe called something like “The Fantastic Fourth Estate”.

Unfortunately their powers must have faded due to the kryptonitic effects associated with close proximity to corporate balance sheets, as they have singularly failed to stop national disasters like the Iraq war, eliminate political corruption, or rescue us from any of the other things that they rail against such as child poverty, EU directives on the shape of vegetables, or the British weather.

The truth is that this imaginary role is like the British Empire: long gone. However, the press hang on to it and hope that the public never question why news, entertainment and celebrity are now so hopelessly mashed together, and never get to see the amount of under-the-table trading that goes on between the press and politicians.

The press has forfeited any right to sympathy and they would do well to remember that when it comes to finding stuff out in modern technological societies there are always alternatives to their stylised dramatics. People eventually grow up and grow out of believing in caped crusaders.

Martin Liddament, Sheffield

Some newspaper owners are unhappy that they might be regulated and have to change their ways. It is they and their journalists who broke the rules when they were supposed to be self-regulated.

It is possible to carry on having a free press and good investigative journalism if the rules are not broken. It was the press who hacked into phones and made up stories. They were caught breaking the law and now they have to pay the consequences.

They have nothing to fear if they collect their stories in an honourable, honest and straightforward way. It is time for those against being regulated to understand that it is they who caused these steps to be taken, because they cannot be trusted to do this themselves.

If the result is we have a press that thinks once, twice or three times before publishing, then we might end up with news and information that can be trusted.

Graham Jarvis, Guiseley, Leeds

The new arrangements for press regulation seem to have been broadly welcomed. However the hugger-mugger way in which they were arrived at hardly enhances the reputation of the political system. Late-night meetings, party horse-trading and the like are not the way to reach a lasting settlement on any matter of national importance.

We are seeing much the same in my own field of education, with nudges and winks, tentative experiments here and pulling back there. We should bring back the Royal Commissions and due process of Parliament, which obtained before “sofa government”.

Andrew McLuskey, Staines, Surrey

Tax the rich – but first catch them

John Day (letter, 18 March) refers to the exceptionally high rates of taxation on the wealthy in the 1930s as part of the move out of the Depression. But today it is so much easier for the rich to move money around from country to country in order to profit from varying tax levels.

This is why we need many more supra-national decisions on these matters. Unfortunately, any suggestion along these lines is met by howls of protest from those who hate the idea of a stronger EU or other international organisations. You cannot have it both ways.

Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Kent

Child bounty

I fully support ensuring greater equality for women and making sure that children are properly cared for. But, in effect, paying parents to have as many children as they like, while free services are being cut, seems perverse (“Families will receive up to £1,200 to help bring down cost of childcare”, 19 March). We have an increasing population, encroachment on countryside, overcrowding in cities and a shortage of school places.

Jane Eades, London SW11

Hunger games

You report (18 March) that “Mr Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions has sought to play down the significance of the rise of food banks, claiming that an explosion in numbers dependent on hand-outs is predominately a result of better marketing by the Trussell Trust”, the lead charity. The better marketing of hunger and desperation?

Linda Nye, Crosby, Merseyside

Budget for poor

The Pope tries to look at life through the eyes of the poor. It seems to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, should try this, too, or is it beyond the realms of his (and other Cabinet members’) comprehension?

Maggie LeMare, Birmingham

Swift exits

When it comes to change of occupancy No 10 can certainly teach the White House a lesson in brisk efficiency.  But the Vatican can do the same for Lambeth Palace.

Robert Davies, London E3

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