THE head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is determined to root
out "damaging 1960s orthodoxies" from the minority of schools that
cling to them. He, like Michael Gove, is strongly opposed to
"progressive" teaching methods, which encourage children to develop
their own creativity and rarely enforce discipline.
This child-centred approach reflects a wonderfully idealistic
vision of what education should be, but, as is now apparent, it has
left too many adults deprived of basic skills.
I saw this when I taught ordinands who were the product of such
methods: individuals whose abilities were stifled because they had
never learnt to spell, punctuate, or write in sentences. This often
meant that they struggled to construct a written argument; they
could emote verbally, but not reason.
Those who support traditional structured learning often compare
our educational standards unfavourably with those of successful
Asian schools, where rote learning is normal, and iron discipline
enforced. In spite of the damage that '60s orthodoxies have done,
however, our educationists would be unwise to go too far down the
While it produces competence and reliability, it is often at the
cost of something just as valuable: the unorthodoxy that leads to
innovation. For all its faults, our system has encouraged
creativity, which is why Britain punches above its weight in the
arts, fashion, science, and technology. We have a capacity for
producing quirky thinkers.
I went to a highly academic school where excellence was expected
and prized. But it had its eccentricities, for which I have always
been grateful. The ethos was non-competitive. Grades were used
rather than marks; so no one ever knew who came top. I was
moderately academic, although far from outstanding, and I was
really bad at art.
At a school reunion some years ago, I met some of my former
contemporaries who had performed poorly at academic subjects, while
excelling in art. Several of them had gone on to outstandingly
successful careers in textiles and design. I reflected afterwards
on how permissive the school was; how ready to nurture
Nobody ever told me that I was bad at art (I could see that for
myself), but I adored messing about with clay, creating monstrous
objects, which I tugged home proudly, to the bewilderment of my
parents. No one suggested I was wasting my time. Schools should
teach us what we need to know, but also help us to become who we