Gopal vs Gove
In yesterday’s Guardian, a Cambridge academic named Priyamvada Gopal argued that University academics are too detached from the reality of schooling to set A-levels. This is certainly true. However, her lame attack on the rest of Gove’s policies demonstrated that they are also too detached to comment sensibly on Britain’s education policy. For a piece by a Cambridge academic, this was a depressingly ill thought through and inaccurate attack.
She claimed that Gove’s ‘proposal returns us to the bad old days when only the privately educated and well-funded could go to university.’ Bad old days? The proportion of state school pupils at Cambridge was actually higher during the 1970s before the comprehensivisation of Britain’s education system, than it is today. Vive le counter-revolution.
In order to really improve British education, she calls for ‘a richly resourced educational system that equips young people across social classes to develop their intellectual and creative abilities.’ This is precisely what New Labour spent thirteen unsuccessful years trying to introduce, but it was not enough. I am a history teacher at a state secondary school, and despite enormous funding schools such as mine are still offering a far inferior education to the private sector.
Lastly, Gopal characterises Gove’s view of education as ‘rote-learning of poems and kings and queens of England’. This is a ridiculous straw man. In fact, Gove is calling for state schools to take on the sort of serious, rigorous and disciplined style of education that is practiced in the private sector. My school is suffused with limp, ineffective methods of ‘child-centred’ education which have been failing state school pupils for generations. Only by playing private schools at their own game, and offering rigorous schooling, do state schools stand a chance of closing our country’s lamentable education apartheid.
Like him or loath him, Gove is closer to the answer than any education secretary has been for fifty years.