It’s not about the curriculum

I read Michael Gove’s recent speech with a great deal of interest, partly because of the Mr Men thing but mainly because he mentioned one of my favourite bloggers, @oldandrewuk.  To me it shows the importance Gove places on argument and debate.

I’ve already poked a bit of fun at the Mr Men debate, because I think some people are missing the point. While it might be unfair of Michael Gove to single out one particular lesson, I think he’s making a general point about the need to raise expectations, or at least about the need for a debate about how expectations can be raised. My chosen Mr Man for Gove is not as others have suggested Mr Wrong or Mr Grumpy, but it’s Mr Tickle, because I think he’s trying to prod us and provoke us into debate.

When we debate education, it makes us more sure of our purpose and so we become better educators. I might fervently disagree with Gove or I might completely support his views. Either way, when I debate them, I become more dedicated to my chosen pedagogies and the children benefit – standards are raised. I know from this from my own personal journey – since starting blogging and tweeting about education I have become a far better teacher – I am more sure of what I am doing and more competent at doing it.

It’s tempting to hear Gove’s speech and think that he’s talking about his new curriculum. The history curriculum is one example that has been in particularly fierce debate (in what seems to me a bizarre reprise of a Mary Whitehouse’s experience’s 2 professors sketch).  Concerning history, Gove says:

And while some good individual points have been made by constructive critics of our draft, I have to record that, amidst all the debate which the draft history curriculum has stimulated, no coherent single alternative model has emerged as a superior rival.

From this one might suppose that it is Gove’s purpose to create one superior and coherent single curriculum for all students to benefit from. But this is not the case. Gove’s purpose is to raise standards. His strategy for doing this it increase autonomy for schools and the process he has chosen to do this is ‘academisation’. If Gove really believed that his new curriculum would raise standards for all, then he would make all schools do it. But no. The intention of the DfE is that all schools become academies, and academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

You might think it is slightly disingenuous, insincere even, for Michael Gove to spend so much time talking about curriculum stuff, when actually his key policy is academies. It could be that he thinks the academies debate is already won – academies will happen – it is just how we get there that matters now, and perhaps the new curriculum is just another tool for moving more schools to academies.

Gove says lots of things in his speeches that we can get terribly pedantic about. That is our job after all – some dictionaries say that ‘pedantic’ is defined as ‘school masterly’. For example his claim that infantilisation happens at primary schools is somewhat laughable, given that the bulk of primary school children are infants. However to focus on Gove’s mistakes can distract from the real debate.

This debate is not about Gove’s mistakes, nor is it about the new curriculum. It was, and it still is about academies. Should we have an education system of ever-increasing autonomy, or should we have a more one-size fits all approach? Academies offer the former; maintained schools offer the latter. Which is best for our society, our economy, our children and their futures? Don’t be distracted by the curriculum.