Then and now

Further to James post here on education, there was an article in the MSM about the declining standards of today’s school leaving kids.
Over the last 40 or so years, the state has steadily intruded on all aspects of our life, gradually taking over from the responsibilities of parents and adults along the way by removing various rights and responsibilities. Nowhere has this been more evident than in education, where the dumbing down of exams to achieve ever increasing pass rates has eventually devalued the status given to GCSE’s to where one achieved 40 years ago in the equivalent of an O level is worth far more than the same GCSE achieved in the same subject today. An all must be winners doctrine coupled with the filling of the curriculum with useless subjects such as climate change and gender/sex studies has left most pupils woefully unequipped to cope with the real world and what businesses actually want.


The importance of GCSEs may need to be downgraded because tens of thousands of school-leavers haven’t mastered the three Rs, business leaders have warned.
The CBI said the system failed to equip teens with the skills demanded by employers and urged the Government to shift the emphasis to tests at 18.
Bosses are running remedial classes because youngsters are no longer secure in the basics, the CBI claimed.
An ‘obsession’ with exams at 16 could be fuelling the problem by creating a culture of ‘teaching to the test’, where youngsters fail to gain a deeper understanding.
GCSEs may now be at risk as the nation moves towards a school leaving age of 18 in 2015. The CBI, Britain’s biggest business lobby, is developing proposals to drive economic growth through education.
The project – due in November – is expected to call for reforms of exams at age 16 and school targets.
Under Labour reforms accepted by the Coalition, the compulsory education leaving age will rise to 17 from 2013 and 18 from 2015. Teens will be expected to stay in school or college or do workplace training.

When I left school, it was very, very unusual for any of us to be unable to read or write, granted some were not as good as others, but literacy levels were in the high 90%. We also knew that you’d be damned lucky to get any kind of job if you couldn’t demonstrate to a potential employer that you could do the basics. After that it was up to them to train you for your job, in most cases a 4 year apprenticeship. The brightest and best of course went onto university, but only the top 10% of any year, if you were in a bright year, then you might miss out, but we knew that, sometimes you won, sometimes you’d lose, trick was always to do your best. We also took exams at 16 and 18 if you stayed on at school. Yes there was pressure, but kids coped, discipline was tougher too, you didn’t dare insult a teacher, you’d be expelled as soon as they’d given you a good hiding in return, respect I suppose you’d call it.

The curriculum was limited too, English (Lit and Lang) Maths, History, Geography, French/German, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, one or all depending on how good you were. Then the peripheral subject, religion, art, metalwork/woodwork and home economics. No we didn’t do all of them, but we were far more limited as to what we could take. Anything else, we had libraries for.

In the end, what went wrong for education in this country was politics, particularly the politics of the left. Instead of getting the basics right, choice was allowed to run out of control, standards slipped and the whole business became based on a lie, because no-one would admit to failure.

3 comments for “Then and now

  1. May 24, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Slight correction, QM – that was JD’s post from an email sent to him. But the point stands.

  2. Jack Savage
    May 24, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I am a bit wary about the harking back to a Golden Age of education. It sounds like I had the same experience as the Quiet Man but with the addition of Latin. I think that being taught Latin enhances my appreciation of language and history…..but was it sensible to devote as much time to it as we did? Greek had been phased out in my school some years before.
    The point of education? A) Suit you to your likely employment challenges B) Stretch your intellectual capacity and curiosity C) Equip you with the depth of knowledge and logic required to make informed decisions about your own life and the lives of others.
    Whilst my education could be easily criticised…it certainly fulfilled these criteria much better that the State Education now for the most part provides.
    Education has to change to meet changing circumstances and should not be set in stone…but the nature of the recent changes are to the bad.
    However, as ever, the matter is complex. The whole principle of sending your children off to be educated by the State ought to be highly controversial, in my view. But it is accepted by almost everyone as a given. Why?

  3. May 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

    This reminds me of a surprisingly mature comment I once heard from a sixth-former.

    He told me he had no worries about his forthcoming A-levels because his year-group had been the first to sit the new GCSE exams.

    “We have to be seen to do well”, he told me, “or it will make their new system look bad. It’s political.”

    Add to that Blair’s ‘50% to university’ and exam boards competing for custom by offering higher success rates and you have a recipe for disaster even before the good teachers started leaving the state sector in droves.

    I have just been talking to a girl who dropped out of sixth form after one term because she found the work too difficult; she has found a route that lets her, via a trendy urban college, qualify as a primary teacher – potentially in charge of the spelling and grammar of the next generation of 11-year-olds.

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