Just look at the pretty birdeez, children

Uh oh, it’s 11:50. That’s cutting it too fine.

The UK education secretary has decided to fuck up science education.

All children are to be taught a foreign language – which could include Mandarin, Latin or Greek – from the age of seven under reforms to the national curriculum being unveiled by the education secretary, Michael Gove.

In other reforms, children will be encouraged to learn science by studying nature, and schools will be expected to place less emphasis on teaching scientific method.

Less emphasis on teaching scientific method? What the hell? Why would they do that? They might as well say they’re going to place less emphasis on teaching children critical thinking and just stuff them with a Box o’ Facts.

The science curriculum is expected to emphasise using the natural habitat around schools – learning biology by studying the growth and development of trees, for example.

There will be less of a focus on doing experiments. Instead, children will be taught to observe their surroundings and learn how scientists have classified the natural world.

Seriously? Seriously? Forget experiments, just look at stuff and learn some lists?

That sounds like me at my teenage worst. “Uhhh, I like to look at stuff, that’s good enough.”

One of the first few comments captures it nicely.

Learning foreign languages from age 7 using songs and poetry and learning about science by spending time outside observing nature – that’s not news, my step-son did that at school 15 years ago. But then he did go to a Steiner school…


Whew – 11:58.

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  1. maureen.brian says

    I’m not sure that Michael Gove would realise this but a fair proportion of UK kids arrive at school already bi-lingual.

    My sneaking suspicion is that the drop in interest in languages at a later stage may have something to do with the way these other languages were treated with disdain or beaten out of the little ones in the early years. Is someone constantly in trouble for speaking Cantonese in the playground going to be wildly enthusiastic about taking up Mandarin at seven?

    I’m not aware that this anti-foreign-language vs. pro-foreign-language cognitive dissonance has ever been studied so my only “evidence” is several decades of inner city council estate living, motherhood and a spell as a school governor.

    In an ideal world we would have the active encouragement of all a person’s natural languages throughout life, GCSE and A Level exams available in most of them and an end to the notion that passing an exam 20 years ago beats speaking the language every day to your Granny.

    We will not be getting that ideal world under the current government whose aim seems to be to have people reciting infant school poetry before they sleep, unpaid and in fear of losing benefits, under the bridges of the nation.

  2. ThetisMercurio says

    The DfE @educationgovuk tweeted in response to this Guardian article:

    ‘Claims new Nat Curriculum will dump proper science for “nature study” not true. We want all children to learn about the scientific method.’

    Which is reassuring, and must mean they intend not to fund any Steiner Free schools. Or Maharishi. And certainly no creationist schools.

  3. says

    Oh dear. It looks like Gove could be not unclueless.

    I once met a young Indian boy (about 13 years old) from Penang, Malaysia. He was fluent in English, Hindi, Cantonese and Malay: all acquired in the course of growing up in that diverse society. To my knowledge, he had never formally studied any of them.

    A friend of mine ran a very successful private preschool here in Australia for years. She had a Japanese woman on her teaching staff whose brief was to participate in the normal running and organisation of the preschool, but with this special requirement: she was only ever to speak to the toddlers in Japanese. Never in English.

    This and other initiatives had local parents banging on the door to get their kids admitted as pupils.

    A common feature of biographies of many great scientists – eg Newton, Darwin, Einstein… – has been the combination of natural childhood curiosity and the emergence of a personal quest, to explore some intriguing fact of nature to the furthest extent they could. The tricky bit is maintaining that very common aspect of childhood in the context of formal education, as the two sit uneasily with one another.

  4. says

    It could be possible to do that non-terribly. Science is a lot more than the sorts of “experiments” I did in school (which in most cases seemed to be more about teaching-students-how-to-use-a-bunsen-burner than anything to do with scientific literacy). Assuming they teach it rigorously, then that may well be an improvement. It’s the “rigorously” part that worries me.

    And likewise, with the scientific method – well, the version of the scientific method that gets taught in schools bears little resemblance to what’s actually done by scientists (and, I will add, tends to pretty much exclude purely observational studies). Some of the quotes in that article did make it sound like the plan is mostly just stuffing kids with facts though.

  5. Bruce Gorton says


    We will not be getting that ideal world under the current government whose aim seems to be to have people reciting infant school poetry before they sleep, unpaid and in fear of losing benefits, under the bridges of the nation.

    Do you mind if I steal that from you?

  6. Dunc says

    The science curriculum is expected to emphasise using the natural habitat around schools

    Hmmm… I can maybe see how that would work if your at a public (i.e. private) school with extensive grounds, or possibly a comprehensive in leafy suburbia, but I think it might be a little more challenging in poorer, more urban locations.

    Also, does this sound to anybody else like an excuse to quite spending anything on lab equipment?

  7. Dave says

    OTOH, there’s also this:

    ‘In science, there will be content added on the “solar system, speed and evolution”, with an “increased focus on practical scientific experiments and demonstrations”.’


    Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the curriculum review had positive changes in science and in encouraging reading for pleasure.

    And he said that the new versions of maths and English would be “more demanding”.

    But he said the “proposals are less dramatic than they seem at first glance”.

  8. eric says

    Less emphasis on method and more on naturalistic observation? Might as well call that Insane Clown Posse approach to science. You’re going to get a lot of “f*ing magnets, how do they work?” from kids who just observe and don’t experiment.


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