Saturday, March 27, 2010

Layer 274 . . . Philosophy of Education, Warnock, Questa, Morris and Brighouse

Talking of Philosophers . . .

This week we heard that schools are increasingly failing to provide opportunities for children to carry out proper scientific investigations - such is the apparent pressure to cram them with facts and do practices for tests and examinations. There's also a question of large classes, too few resources and poor teaching. So increasingly kids are expected to memorise scientific "knowledge", but have no experience or real understanding of how scientists are supposed to behave, from hypothesis through fair testing to drawing conclusions on the basis of real evidence. Sounds very New Labour. There's never been any proper evidence to support their approaches to education.


Children are being deprived of the chance to conduct experiments in science lessons because teachers say there isn't time, or youngsters are too naughty, poll reveals


Baroness Mary Warnock spoke about her concerns for science teaching, and for teaching in general, on the Today programme, after having written about them in Questa magazine:

Download Issue 1 of the emagazine (published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain) here:

Questa aims to create a meeting ground or forum in which philosophers and non-philosophers can reflect and engage in conversation. It is a space in which philosophers, practitioners, journalists, parents and policy-makers will hopefully sustain a high quality, carefully reasoned debate with the power to influence future policy in positive ways.

In this issue, we are focusing on the 2010 general election with contributions from writers including Mary Warnock, John White, Richard Pring, Richard Smith and Fiona Millar. The magazine can be downloaded as a whole, or the essays can be downloaded individually.


Lady Warnock says:

Three reasons for hope in a new Age of Austerity

Mary Warnock wants no more platitudes about Education as Investment. Instead she welcomes the recession as a chance to shake off the chains of centralisation.

 It is wrong to think that efficiency economies will be enough. We need radical change to avoid waste, and not only of money, but of the talents of children who all too often find nothing to engage their interest once they have left their primary schools.

In one way we can count ourselves better off than they were in 1945: we have more mistakes to learn from; and centralisation has been one of the biggest mis­takes of all. We must, forthwith, abolish targets, league tables, and compulsory curricula. We must, if necessary by primary legislation, untangle education law from anti-discrimination law, so that local authorities, gover­nors and headteachers can regain control of the variety of schools that they want to be responsible for.

The whole exam system must be changed, if we are to see value for money. There should be one set of exams only, to replace GCSE, taken at the end of Year 9, whose purpose would be to ensure that good standards of reading, writing and comprehension had been achieved over a wide range of subjects, including mathemat­ics, science, history and a foreign language, ancient or modern. This could be examined within the school, by the appropriate subject teachers, and monitored by teachers from other schools (appropriately paid), and sporadically by Ofsted. Thereafter there would be no common exams.

Huge sums of money would be saved by the abandon­ment of externally-examined GCSE and A-levels, graded tests being substituted, over all the courses, to be taken when the student was thought, by himself or his teach­ers to be ready. These tests would be externally admin­istered, modelled on those already existing for music, ballet, drama and languages. Admission to higher educa­tion would be the business of individual institutions which would rely on graded test results and interview.

All these changes would streamline education, and save the money now wasted on the academic bias that still bedevils our educational system. It would motivate children by allowing them to do whatever they do best and enjoy most, and by treating them as grown-up, when they feel that they are so, largely taking charge of their own lives but within a formal structure. These changes, if they could come about, would be grounds for hope.


In the anti-philosophy and pro-faith camp this week we have Estelle Morris and , sad to say, Tim Brighouse. These are both, no doubt, extremely pleasant people who have a genuine understanding of and sympathy with pupils and teachers, but are both politicians to their core, and as such they are mealy-mouthed and lacking in the courage to speak truth to power. They may well speak more plainly to their many politican friends behind closed doors, but their public utterings are rather pathetic. We, the people, are the ultimate source of power, and they ought to have the courage to speak to us in straighforward, plain language about crucial issues of education policy. Instead they write feeble little missives in Guardian Education, carefully avoiding any overt criticism of their New Labour chums.

Morris says this in her column this week:

It is his [Michael Gove's] "return to children sitting in rows and rote learning" that worries me most. It's not just that those teaching methods failed to engage so many young children in the past; it's the assumption that the huge body of evidence built up over recent years on what constitutes good teaching and learning is of no value.

It reveals the shallowness of his party's pledge to trust teachers. If teachers can't be trusted to arrange their own classroom and seat their pupils in the way they think best, they shouldn't hold out much hope for professional autonomy under a Tory government.

Does she really not see that New Labour have done everything they can to promote didactic teaching and passive learning, and to get Primary kids back in rows facing interactive whiteboards? New Labour have failed to trust professionals on ANY issues, and have micromanaged and controlled schools to death.

The huge body of understanding about what constitutes good teaching and learning that had accumulated before New Labour came to power (for example regarding the teaching of reading and writing) was totally disregarded in their rush to implement centrally-directed 'strategies'. Unbelievable!!

As for Tim Brighouse,

this is about as mealy-mouthed and waffly as you can get. I just wonder why he's not had the balls to speak out against the New Labour 'reforms', instead of just running around pretending to be an education 'commissioner'.

Come to think about it, it was Brighouse who started the craze to impose 'challenging targets' when he was Birmingham's director of education.

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