Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Little Trust Would Go a Long Way: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

A Little Trust Would Go a Long Way: Comment

Article excerpt

Government prescription is worse for pupils than anything schools do, says Bernard Trafford.

"I learned me 12 times table by the time I was 9. It didn't do me no harm!"

If you overlook the tick in his right cheek and the rictus grin, the certainty of the apocryphal London cabbie is reassuring. I bet it was he who told Michael Gove how maths should be taught.

People of my generation learned our times tables by rote when we were in junior school. I think I was well taught and I don't know why the rote learning of times tables apparently disappeared from schools. It worked for me.

That is the point, though. It worked for me - but it didn't work for everyone. Since my 1960s childhood, we have become more subtle and flexible in our approach. Teaching methods, ways of tackling tasks, the building blocks of fundamental learning: they work differently for different children.

Government pressure over the past two decades has forced teachers to teach specified schemes of work, in specified ways, so children reach specified levels at specified ages. We all know the result of using prescription to "drive up standards": one searing proof lies in the fact that too many pupils get to secondary school with unsatisfactory levels of literacy or numeracy.

Constantly under the cosh from ministerial interference and hostile inspection, schools and teachers are invariably characterised as lowering standards. In truth, the lowering is more frequently caused by banal government prescription, benchmarks and floor targets. Teachers, like schools, come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better than others. But a teacher who really cannot be bothered to help children grow and make something of their potential is a rare beast indeed.

Nonetheless, yet another secretary of state is micromanaging. He is telling schools what to teach, when and how. How hollow those early promises of freedom and choice for schools now ring.

There was dissent within Gove's national curriculum review panel. Andrew Pollard, its leading academic, described the proposed changes to the curriculum as "fatally flawed" and "overly prescriptive". They are based on a misguided principle of linearity that insists children learn "first this, then that". It is misguided because they don't. …

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