Edfest: What children should know debate

Fergal Keane chairs.

Toby Young first, free school founder and journalist. He thinks there should be less emphasis on skills and more emphasis on knowledge. Forget the child-centred stuff! We should break down what children ought to know, even from the age of 2, and focus on teaching them that. Asked about child-centred learning, he quotes something from Rousseau which seems to completely miss the point of the question. He gets some mutters. He doesn’t appear to be doing this side any favours.

Lindsay Johns now, works in Peckham with a group called Leaders of Tomorrow (I think) They should know what it means to be a good human being, and given the sills to live in the world of today. Fully-functioning moral compass. More dead white men – they are out intellectual birthright. The alphabet was developed by a dead white man (echoes something from yesterday). Proper grammar and command of English – language is power and words are the best weapon children have at their disposal. It is patronising to dumb it down, and quite racist. Poverty of aspirations is harbour students. Nobody has ever suffered from be talked up to. He gets a huge clap, and a lot of love on Twitter.

Mark Thompson, LibDem activist and software developer. He thinks ICT education is vital and children need to be motivated to learn how to use them and how they work. He loses me a bit by suggesting that people in the tent looking at these devices are not listening to him. What does he think I am doing?! Since when can one not listen and type? Or is 19th century clerk work really dead? He finishes by saying, we need to prepare children for the global economy. He gets a clap.

Anastasia de Waal next, a policy maker. She chooses to talk about why the question is important. She points out that the dichotomy of skills vs knowledge, and prescription vs autonomy, is moot because there needs to be a blend of both. Schools need to make the decision based on their knowledge of their students. Another well-beaten drum this weekend. She gets a clap.

Shame Tristram Hunt is not here.

Lindsay says didactic is not bad and shy away from intellectual cowardice or bowing down to student pressure. They don’t know best and we’re not helping them.

Toby talks about the work of Hirsch and the impact it has had on closing the achievement gap in the US. More muttering from the people around me. He talks about 30 years of evidence and research but fails to adequately reference it, which lessens the power of his argument. Mark says the move back to tradition will disadvantage some young people and will not prepare them for the world we live in.

Anastasia wonders why we have to talk about the knowledge based approach as going back to… because it doesn’t have to be going backwards to learning by rote or the Victorian classroom.

Katie gets the first question. Knowledge is the best way to help increase social mobility but it is pitched as an ideology. How can we make it clear this approach a about the kids too? Tony says the only way to win the argument is to test it and track the impact, as the Curriculum Centre is doing. Anastasia says you have to bother engaging with teachers and the education community to explain why you believe in it – winning hearts and minds.

Matthew next. Has education become leftie? Mark says it is used as a political football and we mustn’t lose sight of the focus on children. Tony says he can’t understand how the left and the unions are opposite to Lindsay’s ideas when they should be on the same side.

The next comments are disagreeing with some of the panel comments. Ghetto grammar makes someone uneasy. Child-centred learning being crap is your opinion and you’ve offended me (what did you expect? Have your views challenged, please). Lindsay upsets me a bit by saying he wants children to know that the Battle of Hastings was in 1066, not how Harold felt when shot in the eye. They all know the former thanks to that insurance company advert and the latter, well, he probably wasn’t and I’d rather they knew that! #historyteacherwoes Anastasia wins hearts and minds by saying we need more teacher voices in the debate.

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