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NATE Calls Education Secretary “A Bird Brain”

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007 at 18:32 by Sue Stewart

The row about about what’s appropriate for the core school curriculum goes on. After the QCA’s report on a proposed curriculum shakeup for Key Stage 3 (ages 11 to 14) earlier this month, Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, famously came up with a list of “untouchable” classic authors who must be taught - because otherwise teachers just wouldn’t bother to teach these kids proper stuff, would they?

In response, Ian McNeilly, policy director of NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) came up with the now much-quoted comment “The guy’s a bird brain. If he wants to make an informed decision he can give me a ring”. Well. You don’t get that sort of language in “Pride and Prejudice”, dear reader.

This comment has been quoted so much it’s hard to track down where it originally appeared. However, Ian McNeilly has recently expanded on it in an online post:

“In recent years I’ve taught Chaucer, Stevenson and Dickens to Year 7, H.G. Wells and Blake to Year 8, Thomas Hardy and Wordsworth to Year 9… [but] SOME pupils simply do not have the literacy skills or the emotional development to understand or engage with the texts of these named authors. That’s that.”

It’s not a bad point. It’s been said that given enough time and resources, anyone can learn anything, but teachers never have infinite time and resources. Is saying that some pupils don’t have the skills the same as saying we don’t care about teaching them? I bet that someone’s going to argue that it is.

But just in case the Ed Sec’s forgotten who he’s dealing with, there’s a final reminder: “Teachers know what’s best in curriculum terms. We are in it for the long haul. We know about our subject. We love it. We want our pupils to love it too.”

Wow. It sounds like naughty Mr Johnson has just been given an old-fashioned (or is that “classic”?) caning.

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One Comment on “NATE Calls Education Secretary “A Bird Brain””

  1. DannyMackay Says:

    McNeilly is a wally.

    If he can’t teach a simple classic with timeless themse like the Merchant of Venice succesfully then he has no right to call himself a teacher. (And obviously while some kids won’t be interested, they are unlikely to be any more interested in modern classics than old ones)

    Sure Thomas Hardy is out of date claptrap with no relevance to the modern world, and with such use of language that a translation is needed for a typical reader to understand what is happening.

    But thats not true of Dickens. And if the education system doesn’t teach such culturally important works then whats the point in education?

    Sure we could teach kids the things they need to know to get good jobs without teaching anything about great literature - but is that all teaching is about?

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