Am I a blob, or at least an ally? Yesterday, Michael Gove wrote in his newspaper column that ‘we have given a majority of secondary schools academy status so they are free from the influence of The Blob’s allies in local government.’ By blobs’ he was referring to the 100 academics that wrote a letter to the independent newspaper last week opposing his reforms for the curriculum. So where do I stand?
At the start of my career in education I taught for seven years in Tottenham, and I know how challenging inner city schools can be. After all, I suffered being stabbed and having my nose broken in front of a class of pupils. I also taught the first pupil in my comprehensive school to win a place at Cambridge, and stage managed the first school group ever to win the adult Southgate Drama Festival. I also joined the profession as an untrained graduate, and this hampered my ability to teach effectively during my early years in the classroom.
I do agree with Michael Gove that unless children acquire the basics of literacy and numeracy they cannot progress to be effective citizens in a modern democracy. However, he is as much hidebound by ideology as those he castigates in his column. He allowed a Minister to compel intending teachers to be taught phonics as the only option during their training for teaching children to read while espousing the doctrine that a school should be free to teach as it sees fit. Overall, he doesn’t seem to pay enough attention to the primary sector where most of the work in helping to create a world class education system in England probably needs to be undertaken, especially with the pressures rising pupil numbers will bring to many of these schools.
I have long felt that the present arrangement for training primary school teachers are not always fit for purpose, and the government’s reforms won’t help that much given we have somewhere around 20,000 new entrants to training; more than one for every primary school. Where I depart from Mr Gove is over where to draw the line between rote learning and acquisition of the essential vocabulary of any subject. I think children do need to internalise a basic knowledge of their tables for the same reason they internalise the knowledge of a basic collection of letter groupings. How they achieve that goal I am happy to leave to the professionals, providing that it doesn’t take too long, and every child without special needs can acquire the skill.
I do, however, still believe in local democratic control of education and will resist a super-NHS model for schooling driven from Westminster. I also believe that universities have an essential role to play in preparing teachers, but that they have understated their contribution. I don’t know whether it has been mere modesty or a lack of awareness of brand marketing, but now they are largely free of government funding they might take a lesson from Teach First’s hard sell approach to quality.
So does this make me an ally of the blobs? Well, it will do if I am elected to Oxfordshire County Council this May, even if I wouldn’t have signed the letter to the Independent had I been asked.