Callaghan’s ‘great debate’ on education forty years on

Its forty years ago today since Prime Minister Jim Callaghan gave his speech at Ruskin College which many feel was the start of a ‘great debate’ launching significant changes to UK education. His speech put the idea of a national curriculum high on the agenda.

Callaghan’s speech described how the education system had in the past provided pupils with limited skills. in his speech he said,

“The goals of our education, from nursery school through to adult education, are clear enough. They are to equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive, place in society, and also to fit them to do a job of work. Not one or the other but both.

Both of the basic purposes of education require the same essential tools. These are basic literacy, basic numeracy, the understanding of how to live and work together, respect for others, respect for the individual. This means requiring certain basic knowledge, and skills and reasoning ability. It means developing lively inquiring minds and an appetite for further knowledge that will last a lifetime. It means mitigating as far as possible the disadvantages that may be suffered through poor home conditions or physical or mental handicap.”

Dr Richard Race, Senior Lecturer in Education, Roehampton University and author of Multiculturalism and Education commented:

“Jim Callaghan talked about a core curriculum at Ruskin College, twelve years before the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988 which we have had for the last twenty-eight years. Michael Gove introduced the biggest reform to the national curriculum in the Coalition government but we still have three ‘core’ and seven foundation subjects within the national curriculum. It’s lead to more integrationist rather than multicultural education policy.”

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