Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Michael Gove brings back 12 times tables in new British curriculum

Children will be taught fractions from the age of five and will once again have to learn the 12 times tables under a controversial new national curriculum to be announced today by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The emphasis on a more traditional academic curriculum has already provoked critics to warn that it will damage children’s education.

At present, pupils have to learn times tables up to 10 by the age of 11, but Mr Gove wants them to learn multiplication sums up to 12 by heart by the age of nine.

In English, he is expected to press for pupils to have to study a pre-20th century novel from the likes of Dickens, Austen or Thackeray, after research showed most pupils were shunning the great authors of the past.

In history, Mr Gove will stick to his guns, insisting that pupils learn their UK history chronologically – rather than focus on topics such as the Nazis or the Tudors, the most popular option in recent years. The curriculum will concentrate on key characters from history such as Queen Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell,  Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill.

However, in a concession to his critics, he will insist that – while the emphasis will be on British history – every pupil will have to study events in world history, too. History teachers criticised both Mr Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron’s original “gung ho” attitude that they should be teaching about British history “in all its glory”.

Mr Gove came under fire again last night. Professor Terry Wrigley of Leeds Metropolitan University, one of the organisers of a letter to The Independent signed by 100 academics opposing the plans, said: “My own feeling is that Mr Gove is simply not listening to anyone.

“To think you rely on memorisation is simply a delusion,” he said. “It strikes me the way that Gove’s mind works is he thinks you raise standards by getting nine-year-olds to remember their 12 times tables and five-year-olds to do fractions. It is not the direction other high-performing countries have taken.”

Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added that the proposals “are being rushed through with little thought given to the practicalities of implementation – never mind the content”. They were confronting schools with “an unprecedented amount of change”, coming as they did on top of GCSE and A-level reforms.

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, said they represented Mr Gove’s third attempt to rewrite the curriculum. “He should listen to the experts and not try to write it himself based on his personal prejudices,” he said.

The Department for Education said last night it would concentrate on “getting basics right”. Mr Gove added: “This curriculum is a foundation for learning the vital advanced skills that universities and businesses desperately need – skills such as essay writing, problem-solving, mathematical knowledge and computer programming.” He said it would aim to halt what he called England’s “disastrous” slide down international league tables from 24th to 28th in maths, 17th to 25th in reading and 14th to 16th in science between 2006 and 2009.

Computer programming and electronics will be given more emphasis, while evolution will be taught to primary school pupils for the first time.

Mr Cameron said: “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education... This is a curriculum to inspire a generation – and it will educate the great British engineers, scientists, writers and thinkers of the future.”

The new curriculum will be taught in schools from September 2014.


British medical schools could drop entrance grades for poorer students

Medical schools could drop their grades for students from poorer backgrounds, meaning those with better results miss out, under a project which has sparked concern from academics.

A national scheme promising “rapid progress” to help aspiring doctors from under-represented social and economic backgrounds will recommend changes to selection methods employed by medical schools to recruit more students from deprived groups.

The project, which has just been launched by the Medical Schools Council, will examine whether more use should be made of “contextual data” - information on candidates’ school, ethnicity, postcode, family income and level of parental education - to give students with lower grades a place.

Professor Tony Weetman, the council’s chairman said the initiative was “a commitment from the UK’s medical schools and indeed the whole of the medical profession to ensure we are selecting the right people for a career as a doctor”.

He said that while medical schools would retain autonomy in choosing their candidates, they needed to do more to recruit candidates from deprived backgrounds, just as action had been taken to recruit more female doctors and black and ethnic minority groups.

Prof Weetman said: “A medical team which can fully recognise the diversity of the population it serves will be better placed to meet the UK’s increasingly complex health needs.”

But last night Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at University of Buckingham, said he was concerned that good sense had been lost in a rush to promote equality.

He said: “I’m very concerned about this. Equality and opportunity is very important but in medicine we do need to have candidates of the highest ability; background shouldn’t be a barrier but candidates for medical school shouldn’t have an advantage over others because of where they were brought up.”

He said he was concerned that candidates with a strong academic record would lose places, which would not only be unfair for them, but could also damage the future health of the nation.

“The most important thing is that succesful candidates have the skills to diagnose accurately and treat their patients,” he said. “We are letting the climate of equality run away with us.”

The project, which has been endorsed by ministers, follow recommendations last month from Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, that universities should recruit 3,700 more state school students, and allow lower grades for those from poorly performing schools.

Last night Dr Dan Poulter, Health Minister, said “In recent years we have made significant progress towards a more meritocratically selected medical workforce. But there is still more to do. I want to encourage students from every background to think about being a doctor - that’s why I’m pleased that the Medical Schools Council is getting more pupils from deprived backgrounds involved.”

The initiative will also look at the use of “outreach” programmes to encourage children from poor backgrounds to consider a career as a doctor, and schemes to give them work experience in the NHS.

Members of the project include Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, who said the initiative aimed to ensure that no-one is put off from entering the profession because of family background or income.


Australian non-government schools defend right to expel homosexuals

A bid to overturn controversial laws allowing private schools to expel students simply because they are gay has been rejected by some faith-based schools as a threat to their religious freedom.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich will soon introduce a private member's bill to State Parliament to abolish the law, which he says could be used against highly vulnerable teenagers.  "It is already so hard to come to grips with your sexuality," said Mr Greenwich, who is gay.

Under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, it is unlawful for education authorities to refuse admission to, or expel, a student for being gay, lesbian or transgender.

Private schools and colleges are explicitly exempt from this law.

The bid to remove those exemptions is expected to be opposed by most religious school authorities, who told The Sun-Herald that, while there are few, if any, examples of students being expelled on the basis of their sexuality, it was important to retain the exemption to preserve their religious freedom.

The exemption is similar to many that exist in federal anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations, including schools.

Ian Baker, acting executive director of the NSW Catholic Education Commission, said the fact that so few, if any, cases of students being expelled were widely known was testament to the fact schools tended to treat such students with sensitivity.

"It speaks for itself," he said. "It's exercised with great caution and consideration. The objective is not to punish, but to protect the rights of those families who send their child to a school based on a religious faith.

"We couldn't agree to the exemptions being removed unless we could be assured that there's an alternative way of guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is an internationally recognised human right."

Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, agreed: "Most private schools have a religious ethos, they stand for something, and if these exemptions were removed that would break down the ability of these schools to maintain whatever their particular ethos is."

But Justin Koonin, from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said he questioned why schools wanted the laws if they did not use them. "It's not just that the student can be expelled, they can be discriminated against within the school environment, and the school doesn't have to do anything about it."

In a submission to the recent Senate inquiry into federal anti-discrimination laws, the Human Rights Council of Australia argued that organisations that are wholly or partially funded with public funds, including religious schools, should not be granted exemptions on religious grounds. "It is reasonable for the state to require public funds to be expended and applied wholly in accordance with principles of nondiscrimination," it said.

The most recent national report on same-sex-attracted young people found school was the most common place they experienced abuse.

While in opposition in 2011, Greg Smith, now NSW Attorney-General, was open to reviewing the law.

"I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed," he said.

Mr Smith is on leave but a spokesman for the acting Minister for Justice, Brad Hazzard, said the "government will consider Mr Greenwich's bill following its introduction as it does with all private member's bills".

Not all religious education authorities were opposed to removing the exemptions, though.

"While Jewish schools jealously guard against any incursion into our ability to teach the Jewish religion in a manner consistent with its tenets, and consider those tenets and that ability fundamental to our existence," said Len Hain, executive director of the Australian Council of Jewish Schools, "we do not see any practical limitation, or the imposition of any practical burden on that ability from the amendments deleting the specific exclusions to the Anti-Discrimination Act."


No comments: