Praise the quiet revolution

Praise the quiet revolution

It is easy to criticise and pick faults with our education system because we all have thoughts about how it should be run and how children should be taught.

But praise must also be issued when the system improves.

And that has happened. A quiet revolution has been taking place since the coalition Government took office in 2010 and introduced the new curriculum four years later.

For much of the time since then Nick Gibb has been a Minister and his insistence on schools using systematic phonics to teach reading has been revolutionary.

It is a new term for what is old-fashioned teaching techniques using sounds.

Systematic phonics was introduced despite fierce opposition by what we might call the ‘education blob’ – academics, progressives and unions.

They believe that progressive teaching methods introduced in the 1970s are the best way to teach reading.

This has now been debunked with the news that the Pirls index, the international survey of the reading ability of nine to 10-year-olds, has reported that England is fourth out of 43 comparable countries that tested pupils of the same age. A huge improvement.

Writing in the Telegraph Nick Gibb described the forces he was up against.

He said: “We faced vocal and bitter opposition from education academics and others. They said our “obsession” with phonics would fail and would kill children’s joy of reading.

“In their view, it was better to teach children using “progressive” teaching methods such as “look and say”, where they are encouraged to repeat high-frequency words – “Look John look. Look Janet look” – or a method that expected children to identify or guess words through picture or story cues and just a bit of phonics.

“But all the evidence suggested that these methods failed too many children, particularly the less able or those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Making changes in education is a long-term process but much of what government has done is paying off.

The 2014 primary curriculum is more structured and traditional in approach and it is working.

Children are being taught grammar in English in a more rigorous manner, and in maths they are learning algorithms.

Much of the progressive approach – that was adopted with keenness in Scotland – has been discarded and this has been a very positive step forward.

It is also interesting to note that Finland is now falling in the rankings. Finland has always been lauded for its educational system but many don’t realise that it has adopted a far more progressive approach over the last few years and it is letting their children down.

It is sad that those in the educational establishment are not prepared to really acknowledge that the Government’s policy was right on the new curriculum and the phonics reading policy and it is now paying off.

It is good to congratulate teachers on their success in the classroom, but credit should also be paid to politicians such as Nick Gibb who has helped make it happen.

Reading Nick Gibb’s article reminded me of the question Bamber Gascoigne always used to ask each participant of University Challenge with – ‘What are you reading?’.

In other words, what are you studying – for to study is to read and to be educated well is to be well-read. Through reading, children learn about the world, develop their knowledge of words and their meanings and learn about how to live through the storytelling of others.