Sunday, 15 September 2013


A brief interlude from fashion here. This poem was written following some rather unsavoury news on UK education secretary Michael Gove's latest move. His spokesman gave a very sniffy response to this letter written to The Telegraph calling for a later starting age for the formal education of young children, to ensure time for "physical, social, emotional and cognitive development."
My parents home-schooled me until the age of six and a half. This meant that I had plenty of time to play, think, make, experiment and explore. I value those years of experience beyond measure. Thus I wanted to write something combatting the notion that one must be completing hard sums by the age of five in order to be self-motivated and academically, creatively or vocationally successful later in life.

The villanelle is a tightly structured poem that requires strict, repeated rhymes and refrains. Squeezing anger into a difficult form felt apt. I could respond to Mr Gove and his colleagues through the very medium his spokesman mentioned - poetry. Testing pupils on their academic capabilities from a very young age will not enthuse and excite individuals to become poets. If they do find that they love the craft of poetry, it will probably be in spite of a rigid curriculum, not because of it. Teaching children how to pass tests encourages conformity, not independent thinking and creativity.

In the extended quote from Gove's spokesman, the 127 people who signed the letter were deemed to "represent the powerful and misguided lobby responsible for the devaluation of exams and a culture of low expectations in state schools." My brother is currently at the same state school I attended. Due to the timings of curriculum changes over the next few years, he will either be among the last to sit the current GCSEs or among the first to sit Michael Gove's updated GCSEs. If the former, then his achievements will be devalued regardless of what grades he gets, due to Gove's constant insistence that the current system is flawed, easy and dumbed down. If the latter, then he will essentially be a guinea pig. Between a rock and a hard place. He's just one of thousands in a similar position.

For Mr Gove's department to deflect blame elsewhere should be shocking. But then again, it is characteristic of a man who has continually ignored comments and criticisms from those who have the years of study and the direct, practical experience of teaching and of approaches to learning that he so sorely lacks.

Outfit postings and odes to vintage will be resumed shortly. 


Vix said...

I adore you, that is all. xxx

Helen said...

I'm a teacher, the constant need for testing and proving the worth of children's progress and abilities is both undermining and a barrier to learning.
Thank you

Emalina said...

A brilliant, excoriating attack of the terrible, powerful, inept fool that is Gove, not to mention a fantastic poem Roz! I love your writing, and how it captures so much of your characteristic passionate and strength. Well done to your parents for home schooling you to become a creative and confident individual.

Melanie said...

I like the discipline of your poem, and of course your response.
What I wish is that computers would disappear from schools until the very final year. I have too many reasons to list here, but one main one is I fear we are losing our hand-eye coordination and mark-making skills. Or maybe I'm just a Luddite.

GreenCoffeePot said...

Wow, very eloquently put, I totally agree. Mr. Gove seems like the worst kind of politician.


My cousin and I were just speaking about this, as she has a little one starting school. "school readiness" today is a bit different from when I was young. My parents put me in private school first, then public, but we were home taught courses initially because of moving a lot, yet I still had time to experience, play, and read for fun. I also agree with your assessment: contesting that one "must be completing hard sums ... in order to be self-motivated and academically, creatively or vocationally successful later in life."

Aniqah C said...

There is a danger, not only to the future of arts in schools but also the sciences. Gove's rigid policies will crush ingenuity and creativeness more than Labour ever did (and I thought the emphasis on academic grades was too high even then!)
The most shocking thing to me though is that there are stories of teachers paying for students to have lunch out of their own pockets. The children were too hungry to concentrate.
Would you be interested in having a "write a poem to a politician" day? I think this is a wonderful inventive piece of writing.

Izzy DM said...

Ugh, they're turning poetry into a form of calculus, or, worse a foreign language class. It's too horrible.
When you systematize everything, you take the life out of it. This is exactly why Americans don't speak another language. They learn endless grammar lessons but not how to speak, or in the case of poetry, how to sing.

Great job responding with a poem, and one in such a difficult format but whose repeating lines were perfect for resonating outrage. I don't know if they even teach poetry anymore in the States, only little units here and there in my day, which I was grateful for actually, because as you pointed out, I grew to love poetry despite the curriculum not because of it.

And I can understand your outrage on behalf of your brother. I can't believe the amount of pressure being put on kids now to get into college. Never mind 5 years old, I think pressure to achieve is inadvisable for any young person! My husband, for example, is doing better than I am in his career, and he didn't start to take school seriously until he went to law school at 26!

Thrifted Shift said...

Villanelles are so difficult I've never even attempted to write one. Bravo for you! I'm not exactly sure what's happening in your education system, but here in the US we're also at a crisis. Testing is such a high stakes practice that I simply do not have time to teach subjects such as art! My 4th grade students are being held responsible to learn skills that I was not taught until I myself was in the 5th or 6th grade. There is no reward for progress made, which I believe is wrong considering so many of my students do not come to me at grade level, sometimes do not speak English, and many qualify for special education! Now I've gone on too long and am afraid I won't be able to stop if I continue further, but I want you to know I appreciate your poem enormously!

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Bravo on the villanelle! I can't even write a haiku.

But oooh, this is a subject so close to my heart. I get so angry at the focus on scores and achievements while completely ignoring the actual substance of learning!

You have terrific parents for having raised you so. My parents were the same, and my mother truly an out-of-the-box thinker before they even used those terms. She often let me stay home from school whenever I said I didn't feel like going when I was very little! I finally asked her why as an adult. She said she knew I was learning so much at home just being creative or reading and whatnot. It was never a waste of a day. (My dad was horrified to learn recently that my mother signed all those "Please excuse the absence" notes!)

Anyway, as angry as I get about the world sometimes, I do get heartened when I see all is not lost. I received a video from a cousin last week. My 15-yr old nephew and his 2 friends were singing & playing instruments in a carefully composed short film, shot in the woods. (My nephew wants to be a film maker) Turns out, they had written lyrics and performed it (beautiful voices too, they're all in Band) and my nephew shot and edited their video. It was all about cellular biology! They had turned a dry, science project into an engaging music video!

So you're right. In spite of efforts by educational establishments to suck the education out of the curriculum, there may yet be some independent thinkers out there. - J xx

OrigamiGirl said...

I am with you on this one so much Rosalind. Michael Gove makes me furious. I was so angry about the recent refusal to make Sex Education a compulsary part of the curriculum. And saying pupils who arrive at school hungry is bad parenting and nothing to do with benfit cuts. And saying that Art and Drama shouldn't be on the curriculum. Do you remember that 'if people are artistic they will do it in their spare time anyway'.
The whole of Art reduced to a hobby.

And I'm angry about the way he always sees good results as meaning poor exams. In fact I hate the way every year when pupils do well the papers discuss how this could possibly have happened. Did the teachers give them too much help? Are the exams too easy? Is the whole system broken?

It's as though they long for young people to fail. Of course if they do fail, if results have fallen, they will blame the teachers. It makes me mad that when pupils do well the teachers are never praised.

I am sorry, this is just using your space to rant. I am glad that you care, and glad that people keep taking a stance against the treatment of pupils, teachers and our education system.

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