‘Take Lego, which once upon a time meant a jumble of assorted bricks from which you built a house or a gun or a spaceship. They weren’t brilliant spaceships necessarily, but they were a place for a game to start. Your imagination filled in the rest.
Only now it doesn’t have to, because go into any toyshop and you’ll see row upon row of Lego kits. These pre-bagged sets provide exactly the right bricks needed to build detailed replicas of anything from the Millennium Falcon to a pastel ice-cream parlour, plus hundreds of step-by-step instructions.
That was the thunderingly obvious theme of last year’s hit The Lego Movie, which (spoiler alert) told the story of a boy banned from playing with a Lego cityscape built by his prissy spoilsport of a dad. Naturally the kid can’t resist, and so begins an animated adventure whose subversive message is that creativity sometimes means breaking rules.
It’s this idea that you learn the rules precisely in order to break them – that kids absolutely need to master grammar and times tables, but only to build something more exciting with them – that many parents fear is being sidelined.
The education secretary needs her own Lego Movie moment, to show that she recognises the delicate balance between rising standards and crushing children’s enthusiasm. For a start, Nicky Morgan could be crystal clear that proposals for longer school days aren’t just about cramming in extra maths but about making schools places where kids do sometimes make dens and play sport and draw, if only in after-school clubs.
She could halt the relentless tinkering with testing and assessment levels which leaves both teachers and parents confused; depoliticise curricular changes by putting them into the hands of experts; or even play the striking parents at their own game by instigating a national day of Learning Through Fun, where schools swap good practice in imaginative teaching. (And better still, gently pass on ideas for learning through fun at home to parents who don’t really know where to start.) - Guardian