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21 August 2008
How can we repair the damage to Britain's education system?
Summer is almost over and it is at this time of year when photographers compete with one another to grab shots of pretty teenage girls as they bounce up and down, almost jumping out of their panties with joy. Yes, it's GCSE and A-Level results time again, folks.

Everyone and his brother is complaining that these examinations have become easier over the years, to the point where they have no academic meaning any more. This year we have the added bonus that the examinations boards are cheerfully messing up the final marks, and parents are going insane as they work the 'phones to try and ensure that their offspring get what they deserve.

The idea that examinations have become easier to pass comes with a pretty heavy load of empirical evidence. When this writer had the misfortune to read for a Certificate in Further Education in the late 1980s, the lecturers at Garnett College were over the moon that O-Levels were on the way out, and that GCSEs were on their way in. When it was pointed out to them that O-Levels led to A-Levels which led on to degrees, and that the GCSE did not have that relationship, this was cheerfully agreed to be the case. The solution put forward was to alter A-Levels. When it was pointed out that there would be a knock-on effect on degrees, the reply was that they would have to alter as well.

Well, it has come to pass, hasn't it? The only thing that wasn't foretold twenty years ago were the changes that would come to the higher education sector, as polytechnics and colleges of higher education received permission in 1992 to degrade the name university.

What is the rationale behind all this nonsense? The right will claim that it has to do with leftist egalitarianism. Now that is pure bollocks, but it won't stop the claim being made. Actually it has nothing to do with left-right politics and everything to do with the middle class parents of thick kids wanting to ensure that their sprogs get a degree - even if it has been so degraded that all they can do with it is become a social worker.

The game was given away by Andrew Adonis and Stephen Pollard in A Class Act, when they interviewed former members of the John Major cabinet and were told, off the record, that it was middle class pressure that forced the government to allow the polytechnics to become "universities".

Go back still further and your friendly old Exile cannot remember any working class demands to abolish the 11-Plus examination. Unions did not strike, demonstrations were not mounted, mothers did not protest, for an end to that 11-Plus. The reason for that is that contrary to myths and their makers, working class parents do not particularly give a stuff about school education. Sure they want their kids minded, but that is not the same. That is not to say that we as a class are anti-education, but it is to say, as was argued here, that we recognise school education as being little more that a con to provide jobs for the lower middle class.

The pressure that led to the abolition of the 11-Plus came from the same type of chancers who pressured the government in the 1990s to increase the number of universities: the middle class parents of thick kids. It wasn't that those parents objected to working class children going to grammar schools; their fear was that their children would fail to make the grade and would end up in a secondary modern.

So, what is your friendly old Exile's modest solution to the problem that the British middle class has created? Here we go. . .

1. Reduce the School leaving age to 14, as this blog has long advocated, on condition that the little shits pass a secondary school examination that covers English, maths and basic information technology.

2. Restore the 11-Plus and divide the secondary schools into two streams. If that is too radical, then a series of examinations can be run by the primary schools, but the end result should be the same: grammar schools and secondary moderns.

3. Abolish GCSE and A-Level examinations and replace them with the International Baccalaureate Diploma. The IB system is run by the Swiss, and schools have to be licensed by them to offer it. In other words Tory politicians, cannot pander to the suburban scrote vote by messing around with the system. Grammar schools can offer the IB middle years programme and all junior schools the IB Primary.

4. Cease funding "universities" and start fund the universities properly. In England and Wales that means Oxbridge, London, Durham, the redbricks and the glassplates. If you are too fucking thick to get into even Lancaster or East Anglia then you really have no claim on a university place.

5. Restore the system of student grants and payment of students' fees.

The charge of elitism will be levied at these simple polices, and the writer pleads guilty. However, their adoption would not alter by one iota the two basic socialist principles of economic collectivisation and equality of outcome. In other words, an educational system such as this would lead to higher standards, but not necessarily to greater economic inequality.

The reverse could actually be true. Think of the tens of thousands of middle class jobsworths who could be made redundant and think of the resources that could then be put into re-industrialising Britain. All those 14 year olds are going to want unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. Others will want an apprenticeship, whilst the ten percent or so who go to university will form the professional caste's next generation. Not all of them , of course, because some will be quite happy to treat work as a necessary evil and be contented by the fact that their time at university has helped to make both them and their country a slightly more civilised place in which to live.

As we said, a fairly modest set of proposals that should be implemented immediately.



So that's why the 11 plus ended.

Thick middle class kids.

21 August 2008 at 07:30  

Pretty much, yeah.

To be fair, folk like Ellen Wilkinson in Attlee's time were all about introducing comprehensives as part of an equality of outcome drive, but the main proponents were the Tories under Heath.

21 August 2008 at 08:06  

This comment has been removed by the author.

21 August 2008 at 14:46  

Sorry, I pressed the wrong button! To repeat--excellent post. I agree with you in general

Don't forget the Open University though (which a good few men and women who'd missed out on education when they were young proceeded through).

Public libraries and the workers' educational association were also part and parcel of working communities; indeed, the WEA boasted a voluntary faculty that was better than most universities as I recall.

21 August 2008 at 14:49  

I am a great fan of the OU, it's one of the great achievements of the Wilson years.

As I understand it quite a few students who in years gone by would have gone to a bricks and mortar university are now enrolling in the OU as it is so much cheaper to do a degree with it.

I commented on the WEA recently and moaned about the fact that when I took courses with it there were problems finding students.

21 August 2008 at 20:08  

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