Charles to quiz experts

26th November 2004 at 00:00
The Prince of Wales is to survey teacher training after his controversial memo, reports Adi Bloom.

The Prince of Wales has commissioned an investigation into the role of teacher training in promoting his bete noire - child-centred learning.

He is pressing on with a survey of approaches to teacher-training despite this week's furore over a memo in which he apparently suggested that modern teaching methods encourage people to think above their station.

The prince has asked James Sabben-Clare, former head of Winchester college, to question teacher-training experts on the importance of a thorough subject knowledge in would-be teachers.

He is also asking them about their attitudes towards child-centred learning and its central role in training. Among those approached by Mr Sabben-Clare are Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, and Bethan Marshall, English education lecturer at King's college, London.

Dr Marshall said: "It's an unusual teacher who doesn't listen to what a child has to say. But the prince is obsessed with child-centred education.

Basically, he thinks teachers should know a lot and convey it to pupils.

"Child-centred learning is all about people not knowing their place, thinking for themselves and asking questions. If you're quite hierarchical, you won't like it."

The prince's strong opposition to child-centred learning emerged this week, when a memo in which he attacked the learning culture in schools was presented as part of evidence at an industrial tribunal.

It stated: "What is wrong with everyone nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their actual capabilities?

"This is all to do with the learning culture in schools - the child-centred learning emphasis which admits of no failure."

Many of the prince's opinions are shared by high-profile figures he consults on education, including Mr Sabben-Clare, Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips and Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools.

In a recent booklet on teacher-training, published by right-wing think-tank Politeia, Mr Woodhead attacked as "distinctly suspect" the notion that pupils should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning.

The prince's memo was met with outrage by Charles Clarke, Education Secretary. Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Clarke said: "I think he is very old-fashioned and out-of-time, and he doesn't understand what is going on in the British education system at the moment."

The prince responded to Mr Clarke's accusations in a speech this week at Lambeth Palace. He said: "I know that my ideas are sometimes portrayed as old-fashioned. Well, they may be. But what I am concerned about are the things that are timeless, regardless of the age we live in."

David Lorimer, author of Radical Prince, an authorised biography, agrees.

He said: "His emphasis is on having a cultural understanding of where we come from. He wants to take what we can learn from the past, and what's best in the present, and see how they can work together in the future. He speaks for middle England."

Mr Lorimer also draws attention to the work carried out by the Prince's Trust, the charity which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to raise their aspirations, and to the prince's summer schools for English and history teachers, held annually since 2001.

Bernice McCabe, head of North London collegiate private school, and a director of the summer school, insists that the prince is anxious to listen to the views of teachers. She said: "He hears a wide range of opinion from many different people, and it is this experience that informs his own thinking on education."

But many in education question the effect of such consultation. Dr Marshall said: "He's very courteous, and purports to be interested, but he's obviously not listening to what people are saying."

And Lisa Jardine, author and academic, who attended one of Charles's summer schools this year, agrees that the prince's emphasis on consultation is not reflected in his public statements.

"The prince is utterly committed to education," she said. "But when he's cross the wrong soundbites come out. They don't represent his views. They represent him being misled by a small number of lunatics."

Peter Wilby 27

leadership 34

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