STUDENTS
06/10/2011 08:45 BST | Updated 06/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Katharine Birbalsingh: Some Pupils Think Winston Churchill Is A TV Dog

Some pupils think France and Paris are the same thing, while others believe Winston Churchill is a dog from a television advert, a former teacher has declared in a bid to highlight gaps in children's education.

The former teacher, previously dubbed the 'Tory's darling', raised concerns that pupils are struggling to grasp basic knowledge as traditional facts and figures are considered "old-fashioned", during a speech at Cass Business School, London on Wednesday.

"I can't tell you the number of times I've had conversations with kids about Winston Churchill where they think he's 'that dog' off the insurance advert from TV", she told her audience.

"In the last 30 years, the concept of teaching knowledge in our classrooms has nearly disappeared altogether. Teaching historical facts or lists of vocab which rely on memory skills is considered old-fashioned.

The education campaigner has previously received harsh criticism for her outspoken views, which she discussed in an exclusive interview with the Huffington Post.

Birbalsingh was catapulted into the public eye after her damning speech on the failing English school system at the Conservative party conference last year. She was a former deputy head at St Michael's and All Angels Church of England Academy, south London but was suspended after her now infamous maiden speech.

During her Sir John Cass's Foundation Lecture she argued today's children no longer had any background knowledge.

"Recently, I read an article about Carla Bruni. To understand just the title and subtitle, one would have to know who she was: that she is married to Nicolas Sarkozy, that he is the president of France. Indeed you would have to know what France is. Is it a city? Is it a country? Is it in Europe? You may laugh, but I have, as a teacher, had conversations with 14-year-olds where they simply don't understand the difference between France and Paris. For them, it is all the same."

Birbalsingh accused the public of underestimating the importance of teaching knowledge "for children to do something with", and failing to realise how little some children actually know. She upheld the traditional methods of teaching, even if sometimes means "being bored in lessons and learning the discipline to struggle through".

"Instead, we think it better to inspire children to be creative through group discussion and project work. But background knowledge is absolutely essential to enable children to absorb new ideas", she continued.

Birbalsingh is currently attempting to set up a free school in Lambeth, south London.