Education: A Radical Rethink
By Richard Barnbrook. at http://bnpideas.com/
Just imagine for a moment, what it would be like if you could neither read nor write. The letters on this page that you are now subconsciously deciphering, would be incomprehensible!
You would also have difficulty in understanding sign posts, instructions leaflets, warning notices, correspondence, advertisements, newspapers, not to mention novels, articles, events programmes and the internet. A whole area of modern life would be to you literally, a closed book.
And yet this is the terrible impediment experienced to a greater or lesser extent by some 30,000 (about one in 20) children leaving school in Britain today. And as many as one in ten of 16 year olds (some 60,000) left school in 2005 did not pass GCSE English or Maths.
‘Education, education, education’ was a central slogan in the mantra of Tony Blair’s Nu-Labour. And yet despite throwing millions into the schools and education budget, the fact that so many children habitually under-achieve, has to be one of the most scandalous travesties of modern times.
And simply chucking good money after bad into propping up an inefficient system that is fundamentally flawed, is not the answer.
Indeed, like most of the problems which British society now has to reckon with, the rot set in largely in the 1960s.
The levelling down ‘one size fits all’ emphasis was on Comprehensive education, with large unwieldy and unruly schools in which, because of their size, individuals are just faces in the crowd. Corporal punishment in schools was abolished in Britain in 1967, and so discipline became and continues to be nothing more than a joke to bored and disruptive pupils intent on causing trouble.
But to add to this, the syllabus itself has become so prescriptive, over-burdened and progressive, that those whose learning rate is slower and who take longer to grasp the basics of a subject in the early years have virtually no hope of ever catching up.
Think what it must be like to have to sit through lessons in geometry when you haven’t grasped the concept of simple addition. Or, to broaden the analogy, classes in how to make a wedding cake when you can’t follow how to make a victoria sandwich?
I’m sure you can think of similar analogies from any field of expertise. The whole experience becomes meaningless, boring and humiliating, when one is being taught a subject at a level beyond ones comprehension. And yet this is the regular, monotonous and pointless routine for thousands of our school children, day after day and year on year.
The current school leaving age is 16, and I think that it should remain as such. Each and every child is therefore entitled to receive full time education from the age of 5- eleven years in all.
But my innovative proposition would alter the automatic progression from year to year up the school; promotion to the next class would depend wholly on whether an adequate standard is attained at the end of year assessment.
So until the child is thoroughly familiar with the standard of that year, there would be no promotion to the higher year group. For some, this would inevitably mean that their eleven years in the state education system never takes them much beyond primary school. But at least then, every child would have had every possible opportunity to enable him/her to be able to read and write fluently!
Although this proposal could be considered radical, it would as I see it, completely alter and improve the level of achievement and motivation of our children. The major milestone for all children, other than the end of year tests, would be the ‘primary examination,’ which would be at the end of what is now Key Stage 2, at age 11.
At this level, the child/young person would be able to demonstrate a comprehensive all round ability in literacy and the spoken word, numeracy, and elementary science. But in keeping with the rules of this suggested model, pupils who were not up to standard would have to resit the assessment the following year and thereafter until they attain the satisfactory standard.
Although in this day and age when so much emphasis is placed on the need to have a degree, a child that has been thoroughly taught emerges from primary school equipped with sufficient skills to make his or her way in the world.
Those who have achieved a good level at Key Stage 2 SATS can read and write fluently and are already basically numerate. In addition, they have should also covered some history (albeit there is insufficient emphasis on English History on the current syllabus) and some geography and grasped basic concepts in science.
Fluency in literacy is of course the key to education as a whole and once this has been achieved, the sky is the limit- a young person then has the option of developing his or her own skills and following his/ her own leanings in career choice, or indeed of going back into education at a later date. But a child who has not mastered the basic three Rs is in no way suited to yet more education at a higher level. No wonder there are so many disaffected truants in secondary school! For them, the experience of learning has become an agonising pain, rather than the fulfilling pleasure that it ought to be.
The implementation of such a change would cost relatively little in terms of extra money, although with mixed age ranges, more supervision would be required. But this would amount next to nothing in the grand scheme of the education budget. And it would make such a positive difference to the lives of thousands.
There are other alterations which I would advocate that would make a huge improvement to our educational achievements. Modern syllabi have become grossly unwieldy; far less ground should be covered, but it should covered more thoroughly. The vast amount of paperwork that teachers have to produce simply to prove that they are doing the job of teaching, ought to be abolished.
More emphasis should be given to learning by rote to reinforce basic principles and inculcate ‘gems of learning.’ English history should be taught as a core subject in order to instil a sense of pride and national identity. Corporal punishment should be re-introduced immediately, in order to reinstate discipline and respect for authority.
Of course, this is a universal blue-print, designed to ensure that all our children have the best chance of achieving full literacy and numeracy. However, those more able, who passed the new end of year tests, would proceed steadily up the year progression ladders as at present. The other improvements suggested above, -would apply across the board in order to improve the system as a whole.
In my view, teachers are highly undervalued. The teaching profession could be said to be perhaps the most responsible and valuable profession, second only to that of medicine. It is teachers who have the task of instructing and civilising the next generation and thereby of safeguarding this country’s future. We are happy as a society to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in salaries to lawyers, and, as we have seen recently, to bankers and financial speculators, with little or no overall gain to the common good. But the teaching profession has been blighted because of low pay, coupled with the inability to impose discipline, both of which has resulted in a lack of respect. Consequently, it is not always easy to attract recruits of the very highest calibre.
So I would advocate raising teachers’ salaries to a basic of say £50,000 for a primary school class teacher, rising to double this for a head of department in at secondary level. We need to attract teachers of the very best ability, moral fibre and dedication and make entry into the profession as competitive and as selective as it is for law and medicine.
This strategy could be partially funded with money currently wasted on ‘nothing courses’ in colleges of further education and universities. But a country that has money to burn on pointless foreign wars surely can find the resources to properly educate its young.
We need to get back to basics and common sense in education, before another generation of non-attainers is condemned to the scrap-heap of illiteracy, disillusion and recidivism. A good thorough, basic and enabling education is a ‘pearl of great price’ and it needs to be seen and valued as such. But for many, learning is not something that one just picks up- it needs to be inculcated.
And in my view, these proposals would enable the highest standards of literacy and attainment to become the norm.