Drop 'middle-class' academic subjects, says schools adviser

By Laura Clark
Mail Online
Jun. 12, 2008

Children should no longer be taught traditional subjects at school because they are "middle-class" creations, a Government adviser will claim today.

Professor John White, who contributed to a controversial shake-up of the secondary curriculum, believes lessons should instead cover a series of personal skills.

Pupils would no longer study history, geography and science but learn skills such as energy- saving and civic responsibility through projects and themes.

He will outline his theories at a conference today staged by London's Institute of Education - to which he is affiliated - to mark the 20th anniversary of the national curriculum.

Last night, critics attacked his ideas as "deeply corrosive" and condemned the Government for allowing him to advise on a new curriculum.

Professor White will claim ministers are already "moving in the right direction" towards realising his vision of replacing subjects with a series of personal aims for pupils.

But he says they must go further because traditional subjects were invented by the middle classes and are "mere stepping stones to wealth".

The professor believes the origins of our subject-based education system can be traced back to 19th century middle-class values.

While public schools focused largely on the classics, and elementary schools for the working class concentrated on the three Rs, middle-class schools taught a range of academic subjects.

These included English, maths, history, geography, science and Latin or a modern language.

They "fed into the idea of academic learning as the mark of a well-heeled middle- class", he said last night.

The Tories then attempted to impose these middle-class values by introducing a traditional subject-based curriculum in 1988.

But this "alienated many youngsters, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds", he claimed.

The professor, who specialises in philosophy of education, was a member of a committee set up to advise Government curriculum authors on changes to secondary schooling for 11 to 14-year-olds.

The reforms caused a row when they were unveiled last year for sidelining large swathes of subject content in favour of lessons on issues such as climate change and managing debt.

Professor White wants ministers to encourage schools to shift away from single-subject teaching to "theme or project-based learning".

Pupils would still cover some content but would be encouraged to meet a series of personal aims. The curriculum already states some of these but is "hampered" by the continued primacy of subjects.

The aims include fostering a model pupil who "values personal relationships, is a responsible and caring citizen, is entrepreneurial, able to manage risk and committed to sustainable development".

Critics claim theme-based work is distracting and can lead to gaps in pupils' knowledge.

Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said Professor White's view was "deeply corrosive". He added: "In the world we are living in, we need people who are better educated, not more poorly educated, more knowledgeable about the world, not less so.

"This anti-knowledge, anti-subject ideology is deeply damaging to our education system. It is this sort of thinking that has led to the promotion of discredited reading methods, the erosion of three separate sciences and the decline of mathematics skills.

"I just find it astonishing that someone with his extreme views has been allowed to advise the Government on education policy."







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