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.