Sunday 15 July 2012

Learning or control? The future of education?

This is the package: The Draft National Curriculum for English, the Phonics Screening Test, SATs, the Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar Test, Ofsted.

That is both the 'what' and the 'how' of primary education in language, literacy and literature  in England as from 2014.

From start to finish it is a castle built on a nothing. There is no evidence that:
1.Pure or even 'intensive' phonics instruction in the first year of Primary school results in children being better able to read real books, or to be able to understand real books.
2. Intense spelling instruction through handing out lists helps children to spell better.
3. The teaching of 'grammar' helps children to write better.

(ie 'better' than mixed methods which have been in place for years anyway.)

However, the combination of what's in the 'package' is going to direct schools, teachers, children and parents into doing precisely these things. Teachers will of course teach to the tests. The tests lay down both the curriculum and how it is to be taught. Only a few very strong headteachers will resist this.

This is an education with the model of 'instruction' at its heart. It does not acknowledge children as learners, children who make meanings for themselves or in conversation with teachers. It will involve hours and hours of children being told to learn things that they don't understand, to learn things by rote, doing many, many repetitive tasks.It is an education based on obedience and submission. It can only be carried out with persistent enforcement, control and containment. And there is no evidence that it results in children being readers who understand what they're reading, or writers who write well!

We have to ask ourselves what is this all for? What kind of education is going on here?

There is the possibility of seeing all children as learners, experimenters, inventors, thinkers, reflectors and interpreters. This view helps us make schools into places which welcome and encourage a thinking that can compare, contrast, review and be critical of what's going on. This view helps us make schools which welcome and encourage the idea that children can make, invent and create things and that this is a form of learning too. This view helps us make schools which welcome and encourage the idea that children can investigate and discover things.