Jan Sramek and Racing Towards Excellence

We’ve been having some very interesting meetings with the team from Racing Towards Excellence. They seem to share some of our concerns about the provision for quality, impartial careers advice in schools today.

For the purposes of this post, I wanted to quote a bit from Jan Sramek (the co-author’s) introduction to the book – in which he discusses his own education. Those with especially good memories might remember the small ripples of controversy caused by his astonishing A-level results: 10 A’s.

To Jan:

What was remarkable during those formative years of my life was my parents’ ability to create an inspiring environment where outperformance was natural, rather than expected. The pressure was non-existent, replaced by an almost implicit understanding that I would go on to do great things…

…My parents’ thinking on parenting and education [were] progressive for the time and place [the Czech Republic]..My chores as a child were very light to non-existent, as was any intervention from either of them into how I spent my free time. This allowed me to spend much of it studying what I wanted to study, rather than what others thought I should study.

The idea of naturalizing a habit of mind resonates very much with comments I’ve heard from Matthew Taylor about this. There is obviously cross-over with Outliers too on the role of upbringing for future “outperformance” status, even if Jan’s 10,000 hours remains in doubt.

Michael Gove and the return to ‘chalk-and-talk’

I would really urge watching Michael Gove at the RSA on ‘What education is for’. There’s quite some possibility that this talk will act as one of the first big salvos in what is shaping up to be an increasingly divisive debate between the parties on education ahead of the General Election.

It has galvanised certain bloggers into action, to be sure. This post was emailed to me: it packs some important and convincing punches, but it is the tone – unbridled concern – that is the most noteworthy.

This paragraph is good:

No, for the purposes of this diatribe, let’s just focus on his spurious argument that not teaching history in chronological order, and depriving kids access to Cicero and Wagner is some social injustice, perpetrated through the ‘tyranny of relevance’. First, it’s a fallacy that ‘relevance’ automatically means hip-hop, Carol Ann Duffy, and pandering to what kids like, rather than ‘the very best of what has been thought and written’.

Matthew Taylor could well become one of the forefront commentators in this education debate, and his plea (best expressed here) that the debate is an open one without recourse to knee-jerk reactions is surely one we should all support: and is why I have set up this blog. His open letter to Michael Gove, still unanswered to the best of my knowledge, raises such important questions, and is posted below. These are the inferences that Matthew Taylor draws from Michael Gove’s talk – what education is for, in conservative eyes:

1. Curriculum content should contain the classical canon of history, literature and scientific knowledge and we should pull back from seeking to make content more relevant to the contemporary concerns and lives of young people. Young people should be discouraged from pursuing newer or non traditional subjects like media studies, which are not seen as credible by the best universities.

2. The curriculum should be delivered though traditional subject disciplines and not through approaches emphasising cross cutting themes and competencies, such as, for example, the RSA’s Opening Minds.

3. (Something I heard emphasised by your number two, Nick Gibb), the practice of the best schools shows traditional chalk and talk forms of pedagogy are superior to practical, project based, forms of learning.

4. Schools should focus much more on the core activity of imparting knowledge. Children’s wider development is best enhanced through extra curricular activities such as schools clubs and societies but not through ‘teaching’ life skills or well-being.

5. Schools should be institutions that are primarily or even exclusively about learning and should not be required to engage in the wider delivery of children’s or community services.

6. Rather than blurring the divide between academic and vocational learning we should assert it, with, for example, 14-19 Diplomas restricted to vocational content.

7. Implicitly, strategies to widen participation in learning should not include developing forms of content and levels of assessment which enable more children to succeed: more should rise to the bar, the bar shouldn’t be moved to allow more to jump it.