The debate over education reform in Britain took a turn toward schoolyard conflict after Education Secretary Michael Gove criticized opponents of his plans for English schools. Responding to a critique leveled by some of the country’s top professors, Gove said that they were “more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence” than doing the hard work required in improving education for the country’s students.
In an editorial for the Mail on Sunday, Gove said that he was fighting not for the status quo, but for the hundreds of thousands of students who were being ill-served by their local schools. He called his opponents the Enemies of Promise, and said that their sole objective is to deny the poorest kids the education that would improve their lot in life.
He also had some words for Britain’s teachers unions who he called “ultra-militants” because of their strike plans for the coming summer and fall. The two largest teachers unions in the country have announced plans to hold one-day strikes starting in the summer and continuing into the fall term to protest the move by Gove to allow the introduction of performance-based pay for faculty.
He said: “They oppose our plans to pay good teachers more because they resent the recognition of excellence and they hate academy schools because heads in those schools put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards.”
The heated rhetoric was in response to a letter published in The Daily Telegraph, where the country’s preeminent education professors attacked the new curriculum introduced by Gove as being damaging to children’s ability to learn. They said that the new program required nothing but rote memorization and was in opposition to the systems employed in other countries that relied more on problem-solving and critical thinking.
The letter came a month after the new curriculum – which covers knowledge that British students must gain by the time they turn 14 – was made public for the first time.
In English, it suggests pupils should recite poetry by heart in the first two years and master around 200 complex spellings by 11.
The maths curriculum introduces pupils to fractions at the age of five, 12 times tables by nine and algebra at 11.
In history, pupils are to be taught a sweeping chronology of British history from the Stone Age to the Glorious Revolution of the 17th Century in primary school.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, insisted the curriculum would provide pupils with the “fundamental building blocks of study” that would give them the knowledge needed to progress onto GCSEs, A-levels, university and the workplace.