RSA chief leads 'progressive' values fight-back

13th November 2009 at 00:00
He calls for `broad coalition' of parents, pupils, teachers and others to take on `back to basics'

Original paper headline: RSA chief leads fight-back for `progressive' values in face of Tory traditionalism

New battle lines are being drawn in anticipation of the election of a Conservative government, with a campaign planned to defend "progressive" education in the face of a predicted "back to basics" onslaught.

The RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) will launch its Whole Education campaign in January to promote a vision of schooling that places as much emphasis on skills as content, allows teachers to design the curriculum and teaches pupils to be happy.

Matthew Taylor, RSA chief executive, said it was needed because education was at a crossroads with a "back to basics movement taking place that is very strongly driven by the Conservatives".

He claimed the approach of the party, looking increasingly likely to win the next general election, 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".

"There is a real possibility that the back to basics agenda will be supported by large swathes of the commentariat who send their children to private schools," the former Labour party deputy general secretary told a National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) education conference last week.

But a spokesman for Michael Gove, Conservative shadow schools secretary, said: "We've said for three years that people like Matthew Taylor who want to set up new schools with experimental curricula should be campaigning for a Conservative victory because, unlike Ed Balls, we would not just let him do it but fund him to do it under our `Swedish schools' policy."

The RSA wants to build a broad coalition of parents, pupils, teachers, organisations and the general public behind its campaign, and offer resources and spread best practice among schools.

But reaction to Mr Taylor's speech suggests his adversarial approach may put some off, with some NAHT members complaining he had been "too political".

He did acknowledge that there could be room under the Conservatives for a "progressive model" of education, because the party had pledged to give schools more freedom.

But Mr Taylor said proponents of their argument must improve the way it makes its case because the education world spent 90 per cent of its time talking to itself.

"What happens in schools is too often closed off from parents and discussed in a language that they don't understand," he said.

The ideas he is promoting are summed up in an RSA education charter it drafted last year that says education should "help young people to understand how to be happy", "balance abstract and practical knowledge", offer "opportunities for learning through experience and by doing" and allow pupils to contribute to "the design of their own learning, and in shaping the way their learning environment operates".

The document, signed by organisations including the Association of School and College Leaders, Oxfam and Edge, says teachers should be trusted "creative professionals . involved in the design of curricula and learning environments".

"Every school should be different, every school innovative and we must find ways of holding them to account for their performance that reward rather than stifle this creativity," it adds.

Read Matthew Taylor's opinion piece on how schools should strive for a more inventive curriculum


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