Posts Tagged ‘George Osborne’

Last week it was announced that England would be making its GCSEs “more rigorous” (GCSEs are the public exams taken by students in Year 11, when they are 16). Thankfully for those of us in Wales, Education is one of those areas for which Wales has autonomy from England, so we here in Wales will not be following what I consider to be a great leap backwards. These changes have been covered extensively in the press, see for example this story here from The Guardian newspaper.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is a privately educated Oxford graduate. He is, in my mind, one of the most repulsive and moronic of the current Government’s ministers, which is quite an achievement as he is up against some pretty stiff competition with the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne. Gove seems to be obsessed with Victorian Education values, and his latest reforms to the Education system in England do nothing to dispel me of that perception.


As far as I can tell, only details for reforms to the English and Maths curricula have so far been released. Now, I am no expert in the teaching of English, but I do find it illumanting to read that the reformed English curriculum will include more emphasis on Poetry of the Romantics and Victorian literature. Is Gove trying to take English school students back to the great dreamy days of the British Empire in the early to mid 1800s?

I may not be an expert in the teaching of English, but I do consider myself to be somewhat of an expert in the teaching of mathematics. I have taught mathematics from below GCSE level up to university graduate level. I love mathematics, in school it was my favourite subject, even more so that physics. But, I realise that a lot of people do not like mathematics, and do not like doing mathematics just for its own sake. They are not interested in learning how to solve quadratic equations unless they can see the relevance, and they are not interested in trigonometry unless they can see the relevance. I was interested, even without any relevance, but I realise that I am just strange.

Gove plans to take mathematics teaching back to how it was done in the 1960s and 1970s, with a lot more rote learning of formulae. Now, I have no idea who has been advising Gove on these changes, but I don’t think there are any mathematics teachers or lecturers I know of who think that learning formulae has any bearing whatsoever on whether one can actually do mathematics. It is just an exercise in rote learning and memorisation, whereas mathematics should be a subject of logical thought and reasoning and understanding. I have ended up remembering a lot of maths formulae just because I have used them hundreds of times, but being able to e.g. remember the formula for solving quadratic equations or the compound angle for sines is not testing a student’s maths ability, it is testing their memory. It would be better to spend several lessons teaching them where the formula comes from (by completing the “perfect square”), or teaching the students when being able to find the solutions to a quadratic equation are useful. But, there is nothing to be gained from expecting the students to remember it, it can be looked up on a phone these days in less than a few seconds.

It worries me a great deal if Gove and this Government think that mathematics and other scientific subjects are about memorising facts. When his reforms for the sciences come through, will he have students learning lists of the great physicists in British history, with their dates of birth and death? This is not what these subjects are about. That is how they used to be taught, but it is not the right way to teach them. Mathematics and the sciences should develop students’ abilities to think rationally and logically, to pose informed questions, to problem solve and to use the scientific method to ask questions, investigate those questions and come to sensible conclusions. If Gove thinks these subjects are about memorising facts and formulae, then England is going to fall even further behind its competitors. I’m just grateful to be Welsh.

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