Thursday 14 December 2017

Justine Greening, 4 year olds, diktats and language.

Justine Greening has made a statement about social mobility, focussing in part on Reception children.

1. How dare these politicians make interventions and devise policies like this from the heart of the DfE in consultation with the Tory Party? Anyone starting from scratch would devise ways in which Reception teachers and researchers working with these teachers were at the heart of devising any policy.

2. Greening has made reference to the 'word gap'. What's involved here is a misconception of what language is. Language is not 'words'. It's how and why words are grouped. Any policy based on the idea that 'words' equals language is doomed. What matters is language in action and use, children planning, playing, discussing.

3. It's worth observing that there is a weakness in a good deal of research about children's language: it's based on adults asking children questions without this being cross-referenced with children talking to each other with no adult being present. I get my students (usually teachers) to compare transcripts of children answering questions asked by adults, with children discussing (e.g. a poem or picture book etc) with no adult present, with/without trigger questions given beforehand. Only if we nuance research like this, do we really find out what children can or can't do in language. Don't expect this kind of work is present in what Greening is saying.

4. I can see people already saying, 'Oh there's some good things in what Greening has said'. This is a re-run of every dictate coming from the DfE since 1988. It all misses the point. Since 1988, successive governments have worked to a regime of gathering trusties together, and delivering policy by diktat. It's not the only or the best way to do things. There is even another model, another way: the Language in the National Curriculum Project pioneered a participatory way of arriving at policy. After several years work, it was junked at a cost of many million quid. The point about all these policies is that they are devised because of the immediate political need of the party in power. In this case, the demand has gone out to all ministers that they should appear 'caring' and interested in the fact that their policies have caused poverty and a bit of plaster can make it seem as if they are dealing with this. We should not accept that devising education according to the political needs of an unpopular Tory Party is the best way to proceed.