I was somewhat surprised after writing my article ‘There’s No Way Out’, to discover that I appear to be a socialist. But when I start to think about education I see that I am a ‘grey area’, a floating voter, a dinosaur. Is that a bad thing?
As my two children are both at very different stages in the state school system I have an interest in education. Actually I still remember my own secondary education and measure that of Horace against it, not altogether favourably.
The present system attempts to give all young people the same opportunities. It insists that they all take GCSE’s regardless of their ability.
The Government has also tried to raise standards in schools by allowing them to become Centres of Excellence in specialist areas such as Sport, The Arts or Science. However, when applying for schools, certainly in my area, priority is given to the school geographically closest to the child’s home. In Byron Cavendish there are a number of secondary schools, each has a different speciality but, presumably because of some directive to reduce the use of the motor car, the authority gives priority to children applying to go to their local school. If you apply for a school which has the speciality your child needs, say, science and that school is not the nearest to your address then the chances are your child will not get in. Worse still, they will probably not get into their local school either because every attempt is made to give families their first choice of school but preference is given to the nearest ones. The upshot of this is that you may well end up with the school nobody wants.
In Duckchester where Horace goes to school, an enormous amount of energy was put in to two or more applications for it to become a Centre for Art and Drama. This, in my opinion, distracted the school from its main task, that of educating my child. I did not particularly want my child to go to a Drama and Art school but, hey ho, that’s where she now is.
I have usually thought of myself as a Conservative and I can’t understand why the Tories have not proposed a return to selective education. Not as it was when I was at school but a fairer and more targeted system. In Magicbhunkshire, where I live, we still have selective education but the Grammar Schools take the top 25% of ability, let’s make that 10%. In most counties Grammar Schools have been phased out, let’s bring them back.
For the majority of students this leaves what we used to call Secondary Moderns. I don’t like the name. Secondary suggests less important. Let’s call them Upper Schools. These schools would cater for the main stream student, not the most able nor the least. Our future bank clerks, shop keepers, chefs, hairdressers, politicians, no, stop it, be good! They would teach basic GCSE Subjects: English, Maths, History, Geography, Science, optional languages and the rest. They would also offer vocational subjects such as child care, mechanics, technical drawing, cookery etc. their aim would be to equip the students for work at age 17. Students would not be obliged to take GCSEs in subjects they were not likely to pass but would be required to have lessons in the 3 R’s and expected to reach a basic standard. They could still move on to take A levels if they wished but may have to do so at a Grammar School or College.
Young people judged unable to achieve basic standards in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic would be sent to a Skills School. These schools would help ensure students did not leave school unable to read and write or to do simple maths. They would be taught some of the skills needed to cope with every day life. They would learn how to use their leisure time constructively, to develop hobbies and interests as well as marketable skills.
You may think that I am demeaning the less academic in society, that is not my intention. Everyone in our country deserves an education that builds on their strengths. Children who are not good at Maths, English etc are not necessarily unintelligent, they have other skills which we, as a society, need. At the moment these children feel failures because they are forced through a system which leads them to failure. I think this causes them to resent authority and may contribute to anti-social behaviour.
For examinations I should like to see the pass grades being set at a percentage of overall attainment rather than the individual examination marks. If the top, say, 5% of marks gained an A, 5 – 10% a B and so on then employers and universities would know the academic ability of the young people applying to them. Vocational subjects could be subject to Commendations, Special Mentions etc to give extra recognition to high achievers. This would stop the situation where huge numbers of children achieve A grades, thus devaluing the grade.
I am advocating sending more young people into the work place at the age of 16 or 17. I can see the political implications of this are considerable. On the one hand unemployment figures could rise, on the other our education system, our teachers and our schools would be relieved of an enormous burden. Locally we may need more school buildings or a transport system to get youngsters to specialist schools. In fact there are probably far more implications than I can think of.
In the work place, qualifications for jobs such as bank clerks would no longer require a degree. This would be good, what university graduate wants to end up behind a till selling financial services? The job of training would fall to the employer, who, having invested in the young person would be more likely to see him as an asset rather than an expendable number.
Come on Tories, pick this one up and run with it. Give me something to vote for.