Ann Finlayson, SEEd Executive Chair

There is an interesting thread currently on LinkedIn on why Rishi Sunak has said he wants Maths to be compulsory until 18. Thanks Cindy Forde, a supporter of SEEd, for starting this!

As an ex maths teacher (PNG and Australia where students have to learn Math until 18 already) I was stunned by this distraction tool. That sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it? But… this proposal smacks of blame and an ‘if only people were more numerate they wouldn’t struggle in austerity’ message.

So we should be aware of the nuance here and how it fits with the current political ideology of those in power. However, it goes deeper. Firstly, the narrative becomes too easily one of ‘us and them’.

Secondly, everyone has their own ideas about how to fix the system without thinking where the power lies and how system structures work. Then we can all so easily be labelled as ‘progressives’, as they do in the UK. Sometimes ‘lefty progressives’ – nice to be labelled, but not sure we are all the same.

An example of how an idea fitted with a political ideology can be seen in the UK where they (the conservatives) have adopted a Knowledge Curriculum fully. This was from Ed Hirsch. Read this paper for more:

So if you want to know where this knowledge, fact drive, ‘broad and deep’, incremental understanding of concepts comes from – you need to understand both Hirsch and conservative ideology. You can see it in both government policy (the National Curriculum) and Ofsted, the schools inspectorate.

It is predicated on the idea that you can only understand new ‘facts’ if you they builds on previously attained facts. The theory is that children from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds do not have cultural knowledge and therefore do not achieve social mobility.

Two problems with this (of many!):

  1. Knowledge can be built in many ways – not just by being taught facts – for example through experiences, media, social interactions etc.
  2. Building on these can also occur in many ways. Applying knowledge can reinforce and develop existing knowledge.

So project based learning, inquiry based projects, skills for life, practical application, real world learning, learning for sustainability etc can all deepen knowledge. So it’s not an either/or. It should be about asking how do we use different methods to build true and deep learning and competencies. And what is the purpose of education? Is it social mobility into a pre-existing system? What about preparing for a changing future?

If we keep saying things are missing – the argument comes back that there isn’t room in the curriculum for school timetables. Let’s change the narrative so we don’t keep ending up in these dead-end arguments. And let’s be clear – it’s not us and them!