Sense of Purpose

Liz Truss has made some comments which, if accurately reported in this morning’s Guardian, suggest that she and I sit at opposite ends of a spectrum of views of how children learn best.  “Free-flow play is not compulsory,” she states in the Mail. I will be addressing this as a key theme in my class tomorrow morning  – a gift ( as is Toby Young’s rather sideways defence in the Telegraph) for my summative class on Play and Pedagogy of the semester!

But we do need to look behind the rhetoric and the snarling with which the Guardian message boards are filling up. The bile is extraordinary, a tap turned on to release a slurry pit of anger. Maybe that was her intention; it certainly doesn’t help a reasoned voice to be heard in response. Giving children a sense of purpose is important, and I worry that this sort of statement is liable to drown out a lot of good work that thoughtful people do with their own children and as paid professionals or volunteers.  Few parents (or grandparents) want a bear pit at home, any more than a nursery worker wants a block play corner wrecked or Lord of The Flies in the garden – but that’s not what actually happens; by building on children’s interests that grow from adult stimuli (a book, a song, some colour in the water tray) children are encouraged to develop a sense of purpose. This is autonomous learning: satnav politeness isn’t the aim, and in any case politeness is best modelled rather than instructed, which requires, for one thing, warm, genuine interest from the adults around the child.

And here is part of my chapter from our book Themes and Debates, blogged last summer. I note an increase recently in people finding my longer extract on by searching for “Formal and informal curricula,” too.

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