E.D. Hirsch – one academic’s influence on British education

SCHOOLS NorthEast attended Policy Exchange’s 2nd Annual Education Lecture, held at Pimlico Academy in London last week, where the acclaimed American academic E.D. Hirsch was keynote speaker.


Many school leaders will be aware of the profound influence Professor Hirsch’s work has had on shaping the current course of education policy. Delegates at the lecture were left in no doubt about the seminal effect on the evening’s introductory speaker, Skills Minister Nick Gibb MP. His essay ‘How E.D. Hirsch Came to Shape UK Government Policy’ (which formed the backbone of his speech on the evening) on his discovery of Hirsch’s work is telling.


The impact of his theory on core knowledge curriculum is witnessed in the subjects that are centrepiece in both the EBacc and Progress 8 school performance measures.

Hirsch’s self-deprecating style was at the fore when commenting on the UK Government’s appetite for his work, joking: “In America, it is so rare for people of high office to read books.”

He reflected on his belief that broad cultural literacy is the bedrock for learning as opposed to skills-based learning in the modern era, saying that the internet “rewards people with wide knowledge”. He added: “Google is not an equal opportunities fact finder … it exacerbates educational inequalities.”

A recording of the event is available here.

* KS3 NOTE: The Policy Exchange event was held in the week Ofsted published its KS3 report ‘The Wasted Years?’. Nick Gibb commented that not enough knowledge was being taken on board in KS3 which was adding pressure to “cram more into KS4”. He was at pains to stress it was “not a policy announcement” … watch this space.

Further reading/listening:

Let universities write school curriculum, says academic E.D. Hirsch (Schools Week)

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