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Progressives take up cudgels against Tory proponents of 'back to basics'

Partnership of 14 education bodies bids to keep curriculum broad amid fears of 3Rs backlash

Partnership of 14 education bodies bids to keep curriculum broad amid fears of 3Rs backlash

A campaign designed to defend "progressive" education against a "back to basics" onslaught from the Conservatives was officially launched this week.

The Whole Education Campaign will emphasise the need to broaden teaching in schools beyond academic knowledge and the 3Rs.

The 14 organisations signed up to the partnership believe that "social and emotional competences" and wider skills also need to be taught.

Nick Gibb, the new Conservative schools minister who believes a battle needs to be won against the "educational establishment", has described the idea of introducing social and emotional learning into the classroom as "ghastly".

In November, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, which came up with the idea for Whole Education, said it was needed because of a "back to basics movement taking place that is very strongly driven by the Conservatives".

Mr Taylor, a former Labour party deputy general secretary, claimed the Tories' approach was characterised by calls for a more traditional curriculum and teaching, a concentration on knowledge rather than skills, and a view that the recent improvement in exam results was due to "dumbing down".

But this week John Dunford, chair of Whole Education and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the new Con-Lib Government looked ready to give schools the kind of curriculum flexibility the campaign is advocating.

Dr Dunford said the aim of the campaign was not party political, but would put schools in touch with organisations that could help them broaden their curriculum.

"I don't see a great division between the Labour and Conservative parties on this," he said. "They both see national testing and accountability as priorities.

"But equally, on the other side of the coin, they are both giving greater flexibility to schools to engage in projects like this."

All the participating organisations are non-government and not-for-profit, and offer schools ways to enrich the curriculum.

They have all also signed up to a set of beliefs that includes trusting teachers, the idea that young people are motivated to learn in a variety of ways, and the need to equip pupils to think for themselves.

More than 5,000 schools and colleges, including more than three-quarters of all secondaries, are already using at least one project offered by a Whole Education organisation, such as the RSA's Opening Minds curriculum. The campaign aims to make it easier for schools to get involved.

Dr Dunford said: "The moment to launch Whole Education is just right because I think for too long we have had a curriculum that has gradually become narrower and more focused on the need to pass tests.

"My very strong belief is that children and young people need a broader, richer education than they are currently getting."

Organisations involved in Whole Education are: Oxfam, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, RSA, Innovation Unit, the Young Foundation, Human Scale Education, UK Youth, Futurelab, Asdan, the Co-operative College, Food for Life Partnership, Campaign for Learning, Studio Schools Trust, and ViTaL Partnerships.


"This kind of stuff is ghastly. Schools have really got to focus on the core subjects of academic education and teaching children how to learn."

Nick Gibb, schools minister, on the teaching of social and emotional aspects of learning, April 2007

"For over 20 years political pressure to concentrate on the basics and use narrow test results to place schools in a spurious rank order has created an education system that has prioritised a narrower and less exciting curriculum."

John Dunford, ASCL general secretary, on the launch of the Whole Education campaign, May 2010.

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