The prince and the paperwork

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Charles used his English and history summer school to denounce Labour's stream of initiatives that 'stifle learning'. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

The Prince of Wales unleashed a scathing attack on Labour's education policies last week, claiming they were stifling learning and leading to "faddish" teaching methods.

He told an audience of English literature and history teachers that the curriculum was in a state of flux and that waves of initiatives were hampering efforts to teach.

Prince Charles also accused ministers of being obsessed with preparing children for work and questioned the wisdom of sending huge numbers of sixth-formers to university.

The prince was addressing almost 100 secondary teachers on the opening day of his third annual summer school, at a luxury hotel in Buxton, Derbyshire.

The four-day event was also attended by writers such as Robert Harris, PD James and historian David Starkey, as well as leading figures from the education world.

The prince met every teacher during afternoon tea as, dressed in evening wear, they enjoyed cucumber sandwiches without crusts and petit-fours.

He set up the school three years ago to stimulate debate about the subjects - which he believes are fundamental to a child's sense of self-worth and awareness - and for teachers to share good practice.

Prince Charles said that today's pupils were becoming "culturally disinherited" by an inadequate curriculum, which did not teach them their place in history.

He told delegates: "Schools and universities must, as politicians like to remind us, deliver the skilled workforce the UK needs if it is to remain competitive in the knowledge economy.

"But if we have reached the point where we justify education on utilitarian grounds alone, then we might as well give up."

Prince Charles sympathised with teachers whose enthusiasm had been sapped by reforms and whose authority had been undermined by parents.

He said: "It must be hard to keep order when your pupils apparently have little fear of the sanctions you can impose, when some of their parents collude to undermine your authority, when we live in a society where the very notion of authority is routinely criticised."

Bernice McCabe, the head of North London Collegiate school and the conference director, said delegates appreciated the prince's sincerity. She said: "There was a great deal of common feeling between professionals and the prince, who helped teachers to articulate some of the frustrations they are feeling."

Frances Robertson, a history teacher, from St Thomas More school, north Tyneside, said the prince's remarks had struck a chord with teachers.

"The prince's speech made me feel acknowledged as a teacher. It was heartening to hear him stress the importance and the beauty of subjects such as English literature and history in people's lives, and as teachers it is flattering that he takes such an interest."

Catherine Stone, head of English at Archbishop Blanch school, in Liverpool, said: "It would seem that he does have some notion of what life is like for teachers in the state sector, although I did wonder whether much of what he said was down to nostalgia for his own school days."

But Margaret Tulloch, of the Campaign for State Education, said: "It is important for people in public life to recognise the undoubted achievements of state education and someone like Prince Charles does not necessarily have that experience."

Diary 21

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