In a speech at Durham University today Nick Gibb tried to map out what a good education for the 21st century looked like. He lighted on Zadie Smith’s wonderful account of life in modern London, ‘NW’ whose protagonist is Natalie Blake – Whilst seeking out a primary school for her son, she visits a medieval parish church. Inside, she picks up and reads a leaflet in the church: “…present church dates from around 1315 … Cromwellian bullet holes in the door…”.
Natalie’s reading continues: “… the famous shrine of Our Lady of Willesden, ‘The Black Madonna’, destroyed in the Reformation and burnt, along with the ladies of Walsingham, Ipswich and Worcester – by the Lord Privy Seal. Also a Cromwell. Different Cromwell. Doesn’t say. This is where decent history GCSE-level teaching would have come in helpful…”.
On reading that passage Gibb I wondered whether Natalie’s life is irretrievably held back by her inability to distinguish between Oliver and Thomas Cromwell? Perhaps not he thinks. But, he claims,the situation described in this passage of the novel is indicative of a broader phenomenon: that the recipient of a core academic curriculum leaves school with an intellectual hinterland, which allows them to make sense of the world around them.
Wait for it. All that Gibb thinks is needed is a new GCSE history curriculum. Can you see the flaw in his own logic? Let him put his own foot in his mouth.
Had Natalie studied for the new reformed history GCSE, due to be taught from September 2016, she would have stood a better chance of knowing about both Oliver and Thomas Cromwell, thus having the knowledge to understand the historical significance of her parish church.
I have just emailed Gibb to let him know that the chances of any 16 year-old studying Thomas Cromwell let alone alongside Oliver Cromwell are very thin indeed. I then went on to ask Gibb if he was being disingenuous, or simply indefensibly ill-informed. If he genuinely wanted all students to know about the Cromwells at GCSE level he would not only have made history compulsory up to 16 he would also have made a common core of knowledge that all GCSE students must study. My guess is that the number will be at the very most, in single-figure percentages.
Shame on him!
I’ll blog his reply, if/when I receiveit.