In which the writer re-visits a socialist analysis of the English education system. Vgotsky at Marxism 2011.

This week I had the privilege of attending a packed seminar (around 100 people were present) with Jane Reed, NUT member at the cultural and political festival Marxism 2011. Jane introduced a seminar on “Vgotsky and how children learn”. All issues raised were relevant to the cuts in education : particularly the decimation of special needs provision and the much criticised Phonics test for five and six year olds – (the pilot alone will cost us a quarter of a million). You can obtain a recording of the session from Bookmarks bookshop.

Jane Reed speaks on "Vgotsky and how children learn". London, 2011

Speaking in an individual capacity Jane had been on strike this week. 

I’d never heard of Vgotsky before (although I’m a trained teacher in Adult Education). He was a Russian educational theorist and psychologist and his work is enjoying something of a revival right now amongst progressive teachers. It seems  highly relevant to Early Years Education and what is currently happening in the English educational system.

The session was an international one – with colleagues from the Czech Republic and Germany. Apparently the Vgotsky revival is showing itself in the States too (see the video below).
Jane’s talk focussed on the question: “What is education FOR?”. She spoke of an ideological attack which is currently taking place – which equates to an attempt to discipline teachers and students – an attack on teaching as a craft. She referred to a Department of Education quote: “students need to know their place again after 1968”.
Vgotsky wrote seven books in the 1920s and 30s in tsarist Russia and was particularly interested in children with special needs. His theories and practice are enjoying something of a revival amongst learning theorists and teachers right now –   not least because they emphasise the importance of ‘play’ AND the importance of learning in context – and the ways in which a child’s surroundings and the interactions in society and in a group –  influence how they learn.
Jane highlighted how Vgotsky’s theories and practice are directly relevant to early years education – the ‘tick-box’ system of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the Phonics Test  for five and six year olds. The much criticised Phonics Test includes ‘non-words’ – words completely taken out of context. 
There were many contributions from the floor including points made by a maths teacher, a drama teacher, and more than one special needs teacher. I spoke too briefly- I mentioned the relevance of this blog and the forthcoming Open Eye book “Dissent and the English Early Years Education System” – which I have contributed a chapter to – entitled:
 “A Parent’s  Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”. Fellow contributors to this book include Dr. Penelope Leach and Barry Sheerman, M.P.
The seminar was recorded and recordings are being made available at the Bookmarks Socialist Bookshop London. A Vgotsky study group also emerged from the seminar.
More on Vgotsky at this link: Vgotsky versus Piaget and in the videos below:


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