Freedom to teach – freedom to flourish?

Historically, there has been inconsistency in the support of and approach to the old national curriculum. Jones and Wyse (2004) suggested that the delivery of the curriculum via the National Strategies and curriculum was ‘over-prescriptive’ and had been critised by Ofsted (2003) for hindering creativity in both teaching and learning. Many educators such as Sir Ken Robinson (2006) argued that a lack of creativity in education is a major issue. He goes further to suggest that it can have a negative impact on the development of the whole child at such an important stage in their lives. There was overwhelming support in this view, educational professionals were expecting great change and freedoms once the new curriculum was implemented.

The former Education secretary Michael Gove met with journalist David Aaronovitch at the London Festival of Education in 2012 to discuss concerns over who exactly are we trying to create with our education system? Is it based on too narrow a view of intelligence, or should we be giving more young people the same types of knowledge?

To quote Gove directly,

“If you underestimate what children are capable of then you condemn them to a track, which means they never have the chance to flourish.”

Although the quote seems admirable, the majority of educational professionals have strong and negative views about recent changes in the new national curriculum, national assessment and examinations. Albeit less prescriptive and removal of the archaic National Strategies, they saw these changes as highly political and felt they had produced great confusion, lack of clarity and increased workload. The changes were seen to have shifted the focus from engaging students and innovating in teaching to managing change and achieving targets with too much focus on tests and examination results. It is questionable whether there are enough freedoms and support in teaching to allow practitioners to deliver inspiring lessons for their children to flourish. There is an ever increasing pressure on schools to perform, as Gove highlights in the discussion, by comparing our educational system with the worlds top.

In the 2010 Schools White Paper Mr Gove states “…education provides a route to liberation from these imposed constraints. Education allows individuals to choose a fulfilling job, to shape the society around them, to enrich their inner life. It allows us all to become authors of our own life stories.”

Under the Government’s reforms, Maths has been made tougher for primary school pupils, who now must learn their 12 times tables by age nine. British History is to be taught chronologically; coding is to be taught to children from age five and pupils must learn more Shakespeare in the first few years of secondary schooling. In addition, the focus in GCSE and A-level exams has shifted from coursework to end-of-course “all in” exams. Is this the right way to become authors of our own life stories? In my experience, it could be difficult to provide the children in our classes every opportunity to flourish, whether that be an academic subject or not, with the ever increasing focus on performance tables against the world’s best. Crucially, will the freedom be granted to do what teachers do best?

Watch the full video of the interview between David Aaronovitch and Michael Gove here.

References –

Ofsted (2003) Expecting the Unexpected: developing creativity in schools London: Ofsted [now available from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/4766/1/Expecting_the_unexpected_(PDF_format).pdf ]

Robinson, K. (2011) Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative 2nd edn Chichester: Capstone

Jones, R., Wyse, D. (2004) Creativity in the Primary Curriculum. David Fulton Publishers: London

Department for Education. 2010. Schools White Paper, Importance of Teaching. London.

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