Schools minister: The ‘purpose of education’ is to understand academic texts and appreciate theatre

The “purpose of education” is to enable people to read academic texts and appreciate the theatre, schools minister Nick Gibb has said.

Speaking at the Education Reform Summit in London today, Mr Gibb said schools must teach pupils the “fundamental principles” of core subjects in a way that will enable them to read around the subject for leisure as adults.

“What we need to do in school is give those young people the fundamental principles so they are able to read New Scientist, to read around the subject and to understand developments as they happen as they go through adult life,” he said.

“That’s the purpose of education in my judgement, in every subject. Can you read a geography book after you leave school, can you read further history books by famous historians after you leave school?

“The purpose of school is to provide that grounding to indulge and read around those subjects as you go through adult life.”

Speaking after the event, Mr Gibb said studying English at GCSE was crucial to enable people to enjoy the theatre as adults.

“I think it’s hard to really appreciate a play at the Donmar [Warehouse] or the National Theatre if you haven’t studied English to GCSE…Studying English literature to the age of 16 helps you to understand a demanding play by David Mamet,” he said.

Mr Gibb added that the core academic subjects included in the Ebac – English, maths, science, a modern language and either history or geography – “underpin so many other subjects” and “open up a whole raft of subjects that emanate from those core academic subjects later in life.”

He described the core subjects as “the primary colours of an educated person’s palette.”

“History and maths are very important in being able to understand economics,” he said. “You don’t need to necessarily study all these [other] subjects [such as] palaeontology or economics at GCSE, to enable you to study it later.”

During his speech to the conference Mr Gibb said there was “clear evidence” that schools could make a “significant contribution” to pupils’ achievement by “finding opportunities to instil key character traits, including persistence, grit, optimism and curiosity.”

“This is not about vague notions of ‘learning how to learn’ or ‘therapeutic education,’” he said, adding that the Labour government’s “social and emotional aspects of learning” programme had “failed because it was part of a wider retreat from the importance of knowledge-based curriculums in schools.”

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