Schools minister Nick Gibb has new enemy: ‘futurologists’

Janet Downs's picture

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has a new enemy in his sites: ‘futurologists’.

Futurologists attempt to predict the future based on current trends.  It’s an imprecise science – sometimes predictions come true, sometimes they don’t.  And sometimes they don’t because people take steps to prevent a prediction coming true. 

But Gibb wants some futurologists to be made redundant.  He wants them consigned to the dustbin because some of them want pupils to be trained in ‘critical thinking’.   And the best way to destroy them, Gibb says, is by starting a debate on ‘oracy’.

Is this the same Nick Gibb who reportedly described classroom talk as ‘idle chatter’?  What has caused his apparent conversion to the view that oracy is a desirable skill?

It appears he’s been convinced about the importance of skilled questioning by teachers.  But just as Gibb equates decoding with fluent reading, he appears to think teacher-led questioning is all that oracy is.

Well-structured questioning is part of oracy development, yes.  But oracy is more than being able to articulate an answer. 

Voice 21, an organisation connected to the outstanding School 21 which puts oracy at the heart of its curriculum, and the University of Cambridge have developed an oracy framework designed to raise understanding of ‘the physical, linguistic, cognitive, and social and emotional skills that enable successful discussion, inspiring speech and effective communication.’

Much wider, then, than Gibb’s narrow definition of oracy as being able to engage in ‘structured dialogue’ with a teacher, important though that is. 

Gibb made his plea to slay these wayward futurologists at a conference in January run by the Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE).  His speech was reported in TES and Schools Week but it was not published in full by the Department for Education as would be expected.      

Freedom of Information unearthed the transcript.  It contains much of the same stuff regularly regurgitated by ministers: ‘success of MATs’; ‘1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools than in 2010’; ‘autonomy and accountability’. 

This padding is accompanied by praise for PTE for ‘diligently’ highlighting and celebrating ‘the quiet revolution’ allegedly permeating English schools: a ‘knowledge-rich curriculum’ (aka government endorsed) and ‘sensible whole-school approaches to behaviour’ (aka ‘no excuses’ rigidly enforced).

In other words, Gibb praised PTE for endorsing policies favoured by Gibb.  Rather a one-sided ‘debate’.

 PTE isn’t the grass roots organisation it claims to be.  It’s a private limited company with two directors: Jonathan Moynihan, director of Vote Leave, and Dame Rachel De Souza, CEO of Inspiration Trust, the multi-academy trust closely associated with schools minister Lord Agnew.  Its advisory panel includes not just Inspiration employees but many fans of former education secretary Michael Gove.   All very cosy.  And more top-down than bottom up.  No wonder Gibb’s a fan.

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John Mountford's picture
Sat, 23/02/2019 - 13:03

In his most recent article, published on his website only today, Roger Titcombe helps readers understand the extent to which education reform has been hijacked, sometimes by often well-meaning groups or organisations in their efforts to offer support to teachers in light of the new 'knowledge-rich curriculum' under consideration. In Roger's article we are offered a detailed analysis of resources made available by The Education Endowment Foundation - Teaching and Learning Toolkit, the strand on metacognition and self-regulation.

Set against this, readers learn, in this Janet's latest piece, about the drastic about-turn from Nick Gibb on oracy. The linking of these two important articles at such a crucial time in the ongoing debate about the 'knowledge-rich curriculum' can best be clarified through the following comment from Janet, "It appears he’s (Gibb) been convinced about the importance of skilled questioning by teachers." This identifies for me that nothing less than a cognitive divide separates what is needed in our schools (as identified by Roger) and what government ministers want and also what, in this instance, EEF is offering by way of support for teachers.

What Roger so clearly and convincingly argues for is a proper understanding of how to promote teaching for cognitive growth. This cannot be resolved by teachers simply needing to employ skillful questioning. Without the cognitive dissonance that Roger refers to, that arises out of the discomfort experienced by learners as they struggle for deep understanding in collaboration with others, all the skillful questioning in the world will not promote the kind of cognitive growth that is needed. This kind of growth is not what the minister is seeking to achieve.

As we learn from Janet, the official stance of the present government needs to be assessed in light of the minister's affiliations with the powerful vested interest of supporters of the education reform movement that is producing such harm in our national education system.

We can only hope that Roger and Janet keep reminding us of what is happening and what is at stake if we do not challenge such developments.

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