News Round Up Issue 1

Current pressures on modern society and the need for more family friendly measures mean that school days should be longer, and school holidays shorter, Education Secretary Michael Gove has stated recently.

His opinion is influenced by the most successful East Asian education systems, in Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, where children stay longer at school and therefore have greater expectations placed upon their standard of work. The suggestion has been met with derision, not unexpectedly. Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders said that any changes should be based on proper research and “not anecdotes from other countries with vastly different cultures and attitudes to education.”

It may have been for this reason that Michael Gove received a fierce reception at the National Association of Head Teacher’s conference in Birmingham in May. He was heckled, laughed at and his responses received groans instead of positivity.

Gove was nevertheless defiant in his approach, refusing to back down over his demands for higher standards. Further he said that whilst people were happy enough to attack the system, there was a distinct lack of evidence over what could be done to make it better. People had been quick to be “critical”, he said, but not “constructive”.

At the conference, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, warned of the dangers of ‘management by data’ and likened Gove’s desire to hit targets to the “human tragedy” of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust where it was found that patients had died unnecessarily because of the focus on hitting targets instead of patient care.

The new national curriculum set to be introduced in 2014 came in for criticism, with Hobby encouraging teachers to ditch it. Teachers should instead teach what they think is best, he said.

The new curriculum is too focussed on spelling and grammar in English, it has been said. Around 600,000 pupils recently took part in an exam testing these skills, however, in an attempt to improve statistics which show that, in 2012, 100,000 7 year olds were below the expected level for writing. Around 40% of employers are reportedly not satisfied with the literacy of school and college leavers.

A motion of no confidence was passed at the conference in relation to Gove’s education policies.

Gove has also recently announced a consultation set to reform GCSEs. Proposals include replacing the A* – G grades with a numbered grading system, axing coursework and redefining the works that pupils will study for the English exam. Should proposals the accepted, pupils will study a whole Shakespeare play instead of extracts, at least one 19th century novel and a selection of Romantic poetry. Advanced algebra and statistics will receive more attention in maths courses, as will evolution and genetics in biology. The consultation will run until 20th August 2013.