Wednesday, 29 January 2014

What's Wrong with Education?

Move over Michael Gove.

I know what's wrong with education.

It's not the curriculum, nor the teaching, nor your strange belief in grade inflation. Neither is it your friend Paul Kirby's barmy plan to lengthen the school day and cut holidays.

It is this.

There are too many people doing it.

In the wake of the recent announcement that the UK's children lag behind the likes of Thailand and a host of other countries and hot on the heels of almost weekly disagreements between one educational or political faction and another about who should teach what and how and whether they should be praised or blamed for doing so, I think I might be able to help.

My solution would save money too. Here it is:

Make fewer people do it. 

Now I know why you're thinking. You're thinking I've finally flipped, that I'm showing my true colours, that I'm still demob happy after my own time away from the classroom. Well, maybe. But before you rush to any hasty judgements allow me to explain. 

It, first. By 'it' I mean the institutionalised version of education - the we-know-what's-best state-owned paradigm of one school, then another school, followed by a college then maybe and then uni. Well, no 'maybe'. Almost everybody goes to 'uni' now. But they don't have to.

For a start, 'they' don't know best. But of course they've got a vested interest in telling us they do and then in pushing everyone they can through the state-sponsored education sausage factory. And I mean everyone: there's are serious moves afoot to undermine a parent's right to educate his or her children at home should they wish. And as I've said, everyone has to aspire to go to 'uni' these days and start their careers (if they're lucky to get jobs) with huge amounts of debt. 

But here's a thought, children. Don't go! Don't do it! Don't even go to school if you can convince the authorities you're getting a good enough education elsewhere. 

Because that's the thing. Education is everywhere. But the target-driving, standard-raising, political meddling education system with its inspections and curriculums (I know I know, that should be curricula) is bidding for a total takeover. A system that blames teachers for every ill from literacy to teenage pregnancy and gives six-year-old children piles and piles of time-wasting, demoralising homework - a system that seems to value only ever-increasing numbers choosing (or being corralled) into what for many is the wrong school-college-uni path regardless of whether there are 'uni' jobs at the end for them or whether their degrees, their expensive, hard-won right to wear a funny hat have actually educated them in any significant way - a system that  demands ever more frequent, hostile inspections and pays hundreds and thousands of academics and administrators to keep the monolith moving, a system that self-evidently isn't working.

I've recently read the wonderful book about the life of war veteran Harry Patch, The Last Fighting Tommy. Actually, very little of it is about the war because Patch survived and lived a long and successful life and so his time in the trenches became a smaller and smaller proportion of his life as a whole. But in the book he describes a wonderful old way of getting specialist career training, learning a trade and becoming a useful, relatively well-paid citizen. It's called an apprenticeship (not to be confused with the educational establishment's paper-driven initiative of the same name). In it, you learned on the job at a relatively young age from someone who knew how to do it. Simple really. And if you needed to know more there was always night school. Just take the class you want, do your exam. And get on. And do it yourself, take responsibility for it yourself and (as they like to say these days - 'own' the process).

That's what I mean when I say there are too many people doing it. There are too many people doing what the educational establishment defines (and increasingly proscribes) as 'it' and there's not enough people taking their own initiative and doing any alternative. And that's because in many cases, there is no alternative. The politicians and educational establishment have got the whole thing stitched up, from age four to eighteen and beyond.

There are loads and loads of us doing the wrong thing. And that's what's wrong with education.

Actually I know what's wrong with a lot of other things too. Like politics, democracy and children's television.

But that's another story. Several of them, maybe.

So watch this space. And tell all your friends. Shoot me down in flames by all means.

But let's at least have a debate.

And let's take a bit more control of things ourselves.


  1. You know what? I couldn't agree more. I'm just looking at flexi schooling for my two young kids because I feel exactly the same. They're wasted at school. They should be flourishing...

  2. you have to come to a decision the particular cooking Healthy Food Delivery of getting, one example is, should you be desiring some sort of streak and then there is absolutely no place with contacting upward for people who focus on Thai cuisines.

  3. Hi Tim. Cracking article. And I couldn't agree more with large parts of your article. I was fortunate enough to go to a private school, on an assisted place, so can only speak from that view point. During school, I was given exam after exam to take, I did well, I went to university, but at no point did I actually know what I was working towards. If I didn't want to be a lawyer, banker, doctor etc, there simply was no guidance or suggestion that there might be an alternative to these sorts of professions. In all honesty, that led to me leaving university with no idea of what I was going to do and 7 years of scratching around for ideas. I've enjoyed trying different things, but it's taken a while for me to settle, largely because when I was younger the idea that I wouldn't take up one of the pre-determined professions was simply not discussed as a concept. Making children think about their lives and encouraging them to follow their curiosity is a far better use of time than making them study for exams, tests and churn out utterly useless reams of homework.


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