Wednesday 11th January 2012
GOVE, Michael, a former journalist, is the man now in charge of the nation’s schooling. Twelve secretaries of state have led the Department of Education – a new one every two years, on average – since state schools were compelled to implement the National Curriculum in the late 1980s.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Mr Gove, who tells us he is ‘not going to be coming up with any prescriptive lists’ and then lists Horatio Nelson, Florence Nightingale and Winston Churchill as essential to the History syllabus, along with ‘facts and knowledge’ as central to his thinking: whatever that means.
Meanwhile, no requirement to follow the national curriculum is placed on independent schools, those academies operating outside local authority control, and Gove’s much-heralded free schools.
One is inclined to ask why.
It’s almost thirty years since I left teaching, but freelance work takes me into a couple of dozen schools every year, allowing opportunities to chat to those at the chalk face and their scholars.
What I see and hear can be disheartening: dedicated professionals treated disrespectfully by politicians, parents and pupils; inquisitive young minds stifled by dull routines, anxiety and inappropriate hegemonies; environments as cold as houses of correction or as gaudy and obstreperous as shopping malls.
And yet, there are also moments of compelling beauty and touching humanity, of individual flair and concordant unison, when smiles and laughter and the hum of endeavour bring tears to my eyes. With most kids, if you put your trust in them, they won’t let you down. And the same goes for teachers, of course.
I doubt we’ll ever get it as right as it should be, being hampered by tradition and cautious orthodoxy. Nor do I expect the slippery Gove to undo the harm caused by his predecessors, but one never knows.
And almost anything would be better than a grinding of teeth amounting to nothing but a pain in the neck from climbing chimneys: the gnash null crick lum.