Friday, 10 April 2009

Education, Education, Education

Children today are (at least) two years behind their 1960s selves. Yet they're not becoming more stupid or inept; the fault lies in the quality of teaching and the broadening of the curriculum to the extent that every subject battles for supremacy and none is covered sufficiently.
The solution is clear. Revert to a 1950s-style grammar school education. Ensure before anything else that children can read and write their own name and add, multiply, divide and subtract without using a calculator. Restrict the pre-11 (and 11+) syllabus to English, mathematics, basic history, a smattering of science, a painting class and/or a woodwork/shop class or two a week and a good deal of healthy open-air play free of all those noisome Health & Safety regulations which deem it unsafe for children to even play with conkers or run in a playground. Teach them good manners, discipline and logic: how to argue from cause to effect, rather than dealing with the after-effects of lamentable decisions, such as to spend £1 trillion of taxpayer money, for the next two or three generations. Above all, keep technology out of the classroom and preferably out of schools altogether. Recent studies have demonstrated that exposing a four-year-old child's mind to IT can actually damage its ability to develop relationships and even moral centres. Young children simply don't need to be exposed to a barrage of podcasting, webchat and twittering: they're far better off interacting with one another. Insist on a school uniform that is as plain and unadorned as possible, ban political correctness and put the teachers in charge. Above all, ban sex education pre-11+. This government's 'if you can't be good, be careful' stance has done nothing to stop our children dabbling, often disastrously, in sexual experimentation. Allow them to be children: why presexualise them?
At the age of 11, children should be able to take 2 exams: one academic, one more hands-on and technical, which will demonstrate in what area their talents lie. Those academically gifted may go to grammar schools, try for scholarships at private schools or enter as fee-paying students if their parents are able. Those more technically-adept go on to polytechnics, the former state schools, from which they have the ability to a) leave at 14 and go on to apprenticeships b) learn other languages if they have the ability and desire to do so, to increase their job-market potential c) go on to skilled technical academies in which they can perfect their skills, develop new industries and teach and train others. For both groups, there is an opportunity for further academic/technical aptitude testing at the age of 14 so, if a child who, for example, has not performed well academically at his/her 11+, they may be 'streamed' into grammar/private school education and vice versa: children develop at different rates. The test at 14 will comprise English and Mathematics and every child must be able to read to a basic level, write clearly and demonstrate the ability to do standard sums: in other words, it must be able to go out in the world and be able to understand legal contracts and do its own household accounts.
After 14, those staying in education may carry on to 'O' Level - 5-6 subjects, with English and Mathematics a mandatory requirement and A-Level, if they so choose. University entrance must be dependent solely upon academic excellence and each student demonstrably possess the level of aptitude each institution requires. At 16, children may combine academic or technical study with Army training, either as a cadet, at military academies or in signing up post-education. Those with a long 'rap sheet' might be offered the option of wiping said sheet clean if they join the Armed Forces and learn discipline, comradeship and a trade. Around 25% of the population is expected to enter academic institutions and approximately 15-20% to technical institutions.
Just a few ideas off the top of my head about what a rounded education 'should' entail. Any thoughts/opinions, however radical, will be gratefully received!


  1. I heard of a "plan" to put ex-squaddies in as teachers.1.The army is anti-thetical to schools.You do as told.In bluny language.2.Role models.Dads can thump you."Sir" cannot.

  2. I agree with much of what you have written, particularly about allowing children to have a childhood. I should like to comment on just a couple of specific points, if I may; otherwise I shall ramble on for pages.

    Children today are (at least) two years behind their 1960s selves. Which children? Certainly not all children.

    Revert to a 1950s-style grammar school education. No. The grammar school system as it existed in the 1950s was not successful for large numbers of children for the following reasons.

    (i) Some regions had a greater number of grammar schools, so your chances of getting into a grammar school depended on the part of the country in which you lived.

    (ii) Girls were discriminated against because they “developed intellectually earlier than boys”.

    (iii) Secondary Modern schools were hopelessly underfunded, as were the Technical Schools (which were soon priced out of existence.)

    The tripartite system could have worked had the problems outlined above been dealt with. But then again, the comprehensive system could have worked had it not been cobbled together on the cheap. Where there were purpose-built, well-funded comprehensives (such as the three in Anglesey, built in the early 1950s) they were very successful.

    What to do about it, given the mess we’re in? For a start, lower the school-leaving age to 12 and give everyone a voucher for six more years of free education, to be redeemed at any time in a person’s life. It will never happen, of course; people would be too frightened by the possibility of gangs of teenagers roaming the streets. But unless we make education something that has to be strived for, a large proportion of young people will not take it seriously and teachers will just remain child-minders.

  3. Genetic Covariance Structure of Reading, Intelligence and Memory in Children

    van Leeuwen M, van den Berg SM, Peper JS, Hulshoff Pol HE, Boomsma DI.

    This study investigates the genetic relationship among reading performance, IQ, verbal and visuospatial working memory (WM) and short-term memory (STM) in a sample of 112, 9-year-old twin pairs and their older siblings. The relationship between reading performance and the other traits was explained by a common genetic factor for reading performance, IQ, WM and STM and a genetic factor that only influenced reading performance and verbal memory. Genetic variation explained 83% of the variation in reading performance; most of this genetic variance was explained by variation in IQ and memory performance. We hypothesize, based on these results, that children with reading problems possibly can be divided into three groups: (1) children low in IQ and with reading problems; (2) children with average IQ but a STM deficit and with reading problems; (3) children with low IQ and STM deficits; this group may experience more reading problems than the other two.

  4. Don't be silly, Mara, this is much too sensible. Polly would have a fit!

    The practical problem is how would you eradicate thirty years of politicised teacher training?

  5. Interesting points. I realise it may have sounded as if I were saying that all children are behind their 1960s contemporaries; I'm not. Just that the standard O-level tests of the time have been shown to stump children of similar ages and abilities today. If we did remove those points of contention - discrimination, funding (I may be a libertarian, but I think a nation has a better chance of success, development, progress, harmony and innovation if it is a well-educated one so that some provision for state education should be made), conversion of some existent state schools to grammar schools in order that there is an equal number per county etc. And it is possible to teach the majority - not all, but a majority; many more than the present day, in any case - to at least read and write their own name. It's high time that we thinned out the curriculum to its bare bones for the under-11s and concentrated on the basic three Rs, without which all these other subjects (many of which to my mind are utterly ridiculous anyway: citizenship? PSHE? Come on! The former should be for immigrants and the latter a matter of common sense; who does the government think it is to dictate what a 'healthy relationship' should be? How totalitarian!) are redundant.
    As for politicisation: easy. If a teacher tries to indoctrinate children with his/her political/social views, fire them. If they try to do anything other than teach the subject they're hired to teach and insist on basic manners, discipline and etiquette in the classroom, fire them. If the NUT tries to yank the strings, tell them to go to hell. Basically, they won't get a pay increase until they can actually prove that the children in their care have learned something.


Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat -Ralph Ellison