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The curse of Plowden

Often reports commissioned by the Government are quietly ignored. However Lady Plowden's Report  into primary school education has been disastrously influential.

The most trenchant denunciation I have seen of it comes from the Labour MP Jack Straw in his memoirs Last Man Standing. Mr Straw was Shadow Education Secretary for five years.

Mr Straw writes:

"Plowden said that some use should be made of objective tests, but eschewed the idea that parents should be told about them for the most patronizing of reasons: 'The ability of a child as known to its teachers should not, in our opinion, be written down because his parents may in the future fail to encourage him.' Plowden proposed much greater 'flexibility in the curriculum' - ie leve it to the class teacher - but was stunningly didactic on the question of English grammar: 'Formal study of grammar will have little place in the primary school...The theory of grammar that is studied should describe the child's language and not be a theory based on Latin, many of whose categories, inflexions, case systems, tenses and so on do not exist in English.

Although the committee was blind to what it was saying, to deny the mass of the people access to the formal rules of our language would be to inhibit their future economic progress and their social mobility. I bet they ensured that their own children learnt grammar.

This was all for 'other people's children.'

Almost all the parents on the Plowden Committee had sent their children into the private sector, or to selective state schools, and would continue to do so."

A powerful indictment and one which apparently already reflected his views from 1987-92. So why didn't he speak out at the time? The problem was not so much his leader Neil Kinnock as his leader's wife Glenys - an NUT activist and an ardently Plowdenite primary school teacher in Neasden.


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