Poisoned legacy of Plowden

27th October 2000 at 01:00
LADY Plowden's legacy does indeed live on (TES, October 13) but it is not one in which we can take any pride. Three features of the legacy are apparent.

First, the effect of Plowden ideology in the classroom, whether misinterpreted by teachers or not, has left a generation of children, now well into adulthood, short on essential literacy and numeracy skills and insecure in their knowledge of science and the humanities.

It may also be the case that some adults assimilated from their primary school experience the unfortunate notion that education is about choosing what you want to learn and learning it in your own way and at your own pace, an unhelpful misconception to be passing on to their children.

A second feature of the legacy is evident in the continued reluctance of those involved in primary education to renounce the doctrine of Plowden altogether and view their task with objective clarity untainted by ideology. Group work, cross-curricular themes, seating arrangemens, elaborate displays and suspicion of textbooks are examples of issues which go back to Plowden and which need to be considered on their educational merits rather than on their association with a bygone era.

The third effect of Plowden lies in where it has led. Such was the confusion in progressive thinking accompanied by low attainment in the classroom that a reaction against the ideas and the practice was inevitable. The national curriculum, the literacy and numeracy strategies, targets and testing are that reaction and represent the true legacy of Plowden in the primary school.

Many of us who argued against the progressive ideology legitimised by the Plowden Report broadly, if not unreservedly, welcome the more structured and purposeful approach to learning which young children experience today. Plowden was a huge mistake and recovering from it has been a long and painful process.

Alan Kerr

8 The Barton




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