Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Let's hear it for the Blob

Michael Gove has decided to pour scorn on the academic education community who oppose his imposed curriculum reforms by referring to them as 'The Blob'. It is incredibly arrogant of our Secretary of State for Education just to assume that his prejudices about education are necessarily right and thus to dismiss as worthless the views of those who have devoted their professional careers to researching and reflecting on the nature of learning and teaching, children in schools, curriculum theory, the aims of education, how to cater for the range of abilities and learnings styles, the nature of understanding, how to develop higher order learning, effective teaching methodologies, the promotion of positive attitudes and values, subject knowledge pedagogy, how to assess learning, creative and critical thinking, and so on. How come this branch of academic study is suddenly worthless and irrelevant and totally misguided?

Of course, I do not agree with all my colleagues in education about everything all the time. Sometimes, I do not even agree with myself. The study of children learning in classroom contexts is not a science and the practice of teaching is not a branch of technology. So there will always be different shades of emphasis. I recall, for example, being criticised by hard-line constructivists for calling one of my books 'Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers' because, they argued, mathematics is not learnt by a teacher explaining but by children constructing their own meanings from their experiences. Yes, I agree with the constructivist viewpoint to some extent, some of the time, and in some respects, but it is not the whole truth. (Apart from anything else children like teachers who explain things clearly and help them to make sense of their experiences.) The debate and the sharing of different perspectives are helpful and important. Academic education conferences can be quite lively at times, with probing questions and challenges to various positions being adopted.

But for all our different enthusiasms and insights, there is a remarkable consensus in the field of education that Gove's reforms are driven by prejudice and reactionary opinions and that his new curriculum is a disaster, that it fails to put the needs of the child at the centre of learning, and that it has the wrong balance between learning facts and the development of higher order learning. In the proposed mathematics curriculum for primary schools, for example, most of the negative feedback in the consultation process has been ignored. There remains, for example, an over-emphasis on the rote-learning of formal written calculation methods, at a level which, in a technological age is obsolete and anachronistic. There remains a glaring mismatch between some of the laudable aims stated in the introductory paragraphs and the details of the actual content of the statutory curriculum. Mathematics is conceived in this curriculum as being mostly about doing calculations, the harder the better. This is arithmetic, not mathematics. For mathematicians the subject is about the beauty of pattern and generalising, making connections, equivalence and transformation, application, problem solving and creativity. Where is all that in this curriculum?

For Mr Gove to dismiss this consensus within the field of academic study of education just by labelling his opponents 'The Blob' and not to be prepared to listen to those who do not agree with him is arrogant, prejudiced, pig-headed, ill-mannered and, sadly, – for the next generation of children who have to live with his arid, ill-conceived, dull, narrow, inappropriate, constricting, reactionary and antideluvian curriculum – disastrous.

Let's hear it for the Blob! Somebody has to go on challenging the Govian prejudices and presumptions that are driving the current education policy in this country.


  1. Hi Derek, Thanks for this post. I was one of your PGCE students many years ago, and benefited from your teaching about mathematics education a great deal. I am now myself working in teacher education and share your concerns, especially about the children who will be subject to this "curriculum" having to live with it's effects for a long time. Watching this slow-motion car crash it makes me wonder whether this is being done deliberately to sabotage children's education.

  2. Hi Derek
    I bought the 2nd edition of your book from a charity shop and I think it's still relevant.
    I teach GCSE maths as a private tutor and Iwish that you publish KS3 and GCSE versions as well, some of the contents are applicable to high school maths. Thank You