Teachers crammed into an Education for Liberation fringe meeting organised by the Socialist Teachers Alliance on Saturday.
The meeting was a chance for teachers to discuss how the government’s narrow focus on testing was wrecking education – and what the alternatives looked like.
Speakers attacked the idea that children don’t want to learn or aren’t capable of learning. They showed the chinks of light that can emerge when children who have been written off are treated and taught differently.
Alan Gibbons read out two poems that 10-year old boys had written. They were inspired by the idea of being in a tunnel facing a monster. “People say that boys can’t write,” he said.
“But if you ask them to write a radio script of course they won’t write it – it’s rubbish!”
There was a sense of anger that Michael Gove, a man with no educational qualifications or experience, was dictating how children should learn. “If we want to engage children in reading, we should look at countries where they are succeeding,” said Alan.
“Finland and South Korea rate highly for children’s reading standards. Britain doesn’t. In Finland and South Korea, education is based on creativity, not testing. Here it is not.
“In Britain the government is closing more than 500 libraries. South Korea is opening 180 new ones.”
Phillipa Harvey, a primary school teacher from Croydon, said that education “shouldn’t be about passing on a bank of knowledge, but about teaching the skills that will help children become lifelong learners.”
She said that, in the face of academies, she found herself defending children’s entitlement to a curriculum – although not the one that Gove wants.
John Lockwood, a science teacher in Warwickshire, described the potential for children to learn. “I do outdoor education with my science class and I took them rockclimbing,” he said. “I found that I could engage with them better outside the classroom – and that I taught more science.
“I talked with one boy for over an hour about the universe and cosmology. He learnt much more because he didn’t think he was being taught, he thought it was a conversation.
“But if you saw these children in a classroom you’d think they had an attention span of three minutes.”
John went on to say that, after an Ofsted inspection, the outdoor education was going to be closed down in July.
Delegates unanimously backed a motion reasserting the right of teachers to control the curriculum and rejecting Michael Gove's push for a 'traditionalist' education.
Amendments passed also opposed plans to introduce league tables in early years education and to devalue teacher training.
Robin Hood from the union's executive called for the government to 'give the curriculum back to people who understand it'. Jeremy Taylor, a delegate from Brent in London, challenged Gove's attacks on teachers. 'Gove says that history teachers don't teach facts,' he said.
'So what do I do in my lessons? Make it all up?'
He said that teaching should not be about filling children's heads with facts but about developing skills to critically analyse facts. 'Gove doesn't want children to look critically at the world around them and that's why he wants these changes,' he said.
Paula Champion from Cambridgeshire described her 'sheer horror' at plans for league tables for very young children. She said that the amendment condemning the plans 'gives us confidence to resist – and if that means boycotting then we should.'