Sunday, August 10, 2008

Equipped for life

Well, it's that time of year when exam results are announced and—yes, comrades!—tractor production will be up. No doubt there will be thousands of government ministers wheeled out to announce that these A Level results are the best ever, and that the GCSE results have exceeded Ed Balls' wildest expectations.

The thing is, we all know that it is a massive pile of horseshit; amongst other things, and as I have said many times, the fact that we need to have an A* grade shows how hopelessly debased our education system is.

And every year, to accompany those reports about how wonderfully our children are doing when taught for the ever-increasingly easy test, we get articles giving a dose of the real world.
THE literacy and numeracy of new employees have tumbled over the past decade despite Labour’s £28 billion increase in education spending, according to research by a leading employers’ organisation.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) found 71% of its members believed the writing abilities of new employees had worsened, while 60% believed numeracy had also declined; 52% reported a worsening of the basic ability to communicate.

With the exam results season under way, more than 60% of directors now think GCSEs and A-levels are less demanding than a decade ago. Overall, only 27% believe schools have got better.

The wonder is, of course, that anyone believes that schools have got better. Still, no doubt John Bangs will pop up and tell the Institute of Directors that they are wrong and they shouldn't "denigrate the high quality of education in England's schools".
A-level results to be released this Thursday are expected to show the number of passes going above 97% and the proportion of A grades rising slightly from last year’s 25.3%, the 11th successive annual rise.

Truly, our education system is impressive, is it not? Wow, all those passes, all those As, all worth less than fuck-all. And it's cost us a lot too.
According to the IoD report, to be published this week, the results of Labour’s education policies fall far short of what might be expected, given the surge in school spending. In 1997-8, £48 billion was devoted to education, rising to £76.3 billion in the current year, an increase of nearly 60% when adjusted for inflation.

When will people realise that how the money is spent is far more important than how much is spent and, frankly, the state is a shit provider of services. And, as I have said before, when you fuck up someone's education, you fuck up their entire life.

Privatise the schools, allow anyone to start one, introduce vouchers and let parents choose which school their children go to. Because whilst schools are in the gift of the government, whilst education is tailored to fit the state's prejudices, education will always be used as a political football; and whilst education is used as a political football, the big losers are the young people whose lives are ruined.

UPDATE: this excellent comment is worth taking note of too.
I had a student at my university a couple of years ago who had attended a very prestigious girls' boarding school and had come away with a clutch of A and A* grades. Now, my university generally has seven applicants for each place and is a member of the Russell Group. Taken together - the high quality of the university and the expensive education - you could be forgiven for expecting her to be a high attainer.

Sadly, in fact, she was borderline illiterate - she could barely spell, had no understanding of punctuation and simply did not understand grammar as a concept. I was later to discover through conversations with colleagues that this was not unusual - the school she had attended had some time ago abandoned real teaching in favour of exam preparation with the result that many of their students (whose parents had put forth a considerable investment) were simply not capable of reading or writing, let alone thinking, at an adult level while, simultaneously, winning spectacular passes at the A Level.

This is one example but it is coming to be the rule more than the exception. The emphasis of the A Level and the Higher is on box-ticking and regurgitation while, at the same, markers are instructed to ignore spelling and gramamtical problems. We have reached the point where, in answer to an A Level History essay question, you could pass simply by making a list of factoids. Then these students are passed up to universities where they have one of two experiences: either they attend a worthless institution where their shortcomings are ignored, which has the result that their expensive degree has the same worth as their secondary school education (i.e., none); or they attend a decent university where they are marked fairly in accordance with ability (inc. their ability to spell) and find themselves struggling even to pass.

In all of this, the greatest victims are the pupils themselves who have been given a second-rate education. Their parents, though, are also victims having laid out money (either through fees or taxation) for an education that their child has not received. And the country as a whole is also a victim because our cultural and intellectual life degrades as suddenly, and for the first time in centuries, we have an entire generation of children whom we have deliberately trained to be test-passing morons illiterate and barely capable of logical thought.

It is beyond me how anyone in academia or, indeed, in education generally can look at Labour's record and not want to pull a Seung-Hui Cho at the Dept. of Edumucation. And, as I typed that, I realised just how Orwellian the tag is - a Department of Education whose whole purpose is to make children stupider.

For what it is worth, by the time that I left Eton, a more box-ticking mentality had also entered the consciousness; not entirely coincidentally this came about when the league tables also came in.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had a student at my university a couple of years ago who had attended a very prestigious girls' boarding school and had come away with a clutch of A and A* grades. Now, my university generally has seven applicants for each place and is a member of the Russell Group. Taken together - the high quality of the university and the expensive education - you could be forgiven for expecting her to be a high attainer.

Sadly, in fact, she was borderline illiterate - she could barely spell, had no understanding of punctuation and simply did not understand grammar as a concept. I was later to discover through conversations with colleagues that this was not unusual - the school she had attended had some time ago abandoned real teaching in favour of exam preparation with the result that many of their students (whose parents had put forth a considerable investment) were simply not capable of reading or writing, let alone thinking, at an adult level while, simultaneously, winning spectacular passes at the A Level.

This is one example but it is coming to be the rule more than the exception. The emphasis of the A Level and the Higher is on box-ticking and regurgitation while, at the same, markers are instructed to ignore spelling and gramamtical problems. We have reached the point where, in answer to an A Level History essay question, you could pass simply by making a list of factoids. Then these students are passed up to universities where they have one of two experiences: either they attend a worthless institution where their shortcomings are ignored, which has the result that their expensive degree has the same worth as their secondary school education (i.e., none); or they attend a decent university where they are marked fairly in accordance with ability (inc. their ability to spell) and find themselves struggling even to pass.

In all of this, the greatest victims are the pupils themselves who have been given a second-rate education. Their parents, though, are also victims having laid out money (either through fees or taxation) for an education that their child has not received. And the country as a whole is also a victim because our cultural and intellectual life degrades as suddenly, and for the first time in centuries, we have an entire generation of children whom we have deliberately trained to be test-passing morons illiterate and barely capable of logical thought.

It is beyond me how anyone in academia or, indeed, in education generally can look at Labour's record and not want to pull a Seung-Hui Cho at the Dept. of Edumucation. And, as I typed that, I realised just how Orwellian the tag is - a Department of Education whose whole purpose is to make children stupider.

knirirr said...

When did you leave Eton?
I don't recall any overt box-ticking mentality by the time I left school (Oundle) but I am old enough to have been able to do O-levels so perhaps I just missed it.

Oxbridge Prat said...

Anonymous 12:43 is absolutely correct. I regularly meet applicants predicted grade A at A level maths (and who have achieved A at AS and A* at GCSE) who are functionally innumerate.

This is one of the reasons the better universities do not see the A level A* grade as solving their admissions problems: the A* will just be an indicator of a higher level of pointless box ticking. Instead we are steadily introducing our own entrance tests, which require genuine knowledge and thought - though even these are terrifyingly easy compared with the old oxbridge entrance exams.

jaymason said...

Any one who employs people below the age of 20 can see what nu-labs education policy has done, it has screwed everyones education as you have to re-educate the little buggers before they're capable of carrying out even the most basic of tasks

wonkotsane said...

Most, if not all, schools in Telford are sending their SATS papers back for remarking. Looks like the tractor production figures are still officially provisional. :D

Marius Ostrowski said...

Unfortunately, Knirirr, DK is right about the all-pervasiveness of the box-ticking mentality nowadays. I only left Eton in 2007, and even over the course of my 5 years there the syllabus, or rather the way we approached it, was changed noticeably with an obvious eye on the league tables (scrapping GCSE's, doing more AS's earlier, iGCSE's and all that). This also coincided with a purge of the older, more eccentric and traditional teaching staff, to be replaced with fresh-faced Oxbridge grads whose main commandment was to drill the stuff into our heads as effectively as possible.

Of course, I appreciate that the situation at Eton is nowhere near as dire as in the state sector, for instance (I mean, we're all literate for a start), but the trend towards hoop-jumping, as our teachers cynically called it, is palpable nonetheless.

SACKERSON said...

What is education for?

Anonymous said...

@sackerson

Charles Clarke attempted to answer your question. He came up with the eminently left-wing idea that it was intended to turn human beings into economic units properly equipped to serve the economic directions of the state.

The point of education ought to be to equip young people with skills in critical reasoning and in logic which will not only equip them for the practical realities of life but also ensure that they retain healthy scepticism towards authority and a commitment to objectivity and the importance of evidence. Beyond that, they need to be educated in basic ethics and trained in the social skills and considerations necessary for the proper functioning of a civilised society. Beyond that, young people must be provided with training in sets of specific skills which they have chosen (and which, in many cases, they are paying for) in order to allow them to pursue the career and life goals that they have chosen in the way that they have chosen.

The idea that education in the arts or humanities is somehow less valuable than an education in physics must be resisted. What matters is that the individual is taught to think critically, objectively and sceptically - things that can be achieved through the medium of most traditional disciplines, whether science- or humanity-based.

Ideas of Civilisation said...

It's surely a bit simplistic to blame it on the 'state' or 'left-wing politics' if a trend is evident across the entire sector - public and private.

The question above of what education is for is a good one and the suggested answer from Anonymous is a good shot at it.

The problem is that this type of purpose cannot easily be measured. And whilst the state can take some blame for creating a measurement culture it goes much more widely than this.

For example consider the outrage we would see in the media tomorrow if the Education Secretary announced that all league tables and other such measurements were being completely scrapped. The idea that the government were hiding what had happened to children would be the top story for days.

I couldn't agree more about the need for basic standards to be met before we think about teaching anything else. But there is still a question of how we try and measure which schools achieve more than others (even taking social background into account).

I didn't agree with it all but Matthew Parris had a decent article on this on Friday:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article4488476.ece

Oh and we have to remember that no matter what measurement we use to assess educational achievement every generation will alway think they had a much harder time.

knirirr said...

Marius,
I left school in 1989, by which time I don't think that the sort of mentality being discussed here was prevalent (at least not in the public schools). As far as I am aware DK is a few years younger than I am and so if he's seen a decline in standards it must have been shortly after this time.

Devil's Kitchen said...

I left the Old Coll in summer 1995...

DK

Anonymous said...

>It's surely a bit simplistic to blame it on the 'state' or 'left-wing politics' if a trend is evident across the entire sector - public and private.<

This is a facepalm.jpg moment. Your brain is exceedingly tiny, isn't it, you stupid stupid bastard?

Who sets the exams? Who sets the curriculum? Who provides the funding for almost all tertiary education in this country? That's right, fucktard! It's the state!

If the private sector didn't teach to the exams, their pupils would be unable to gain entry to university. The state has a stranglehold on all qualifications - which isn't a problem until the state starts playing games with those qualifications in order to gain short-term political advantage.

Fuck off, you worthless piece of faeces-stained sputum dripping from the anus of an AIDS-infected crack whore, and stop shitting up this blog with your Fail.

Tomrat said...

Anon 5:49,

"Charles Clarke [left wing concept of education breakdown]

[extensive over-complicated prose about the broad ranging needs of education...yawn...]


Good grief can't it be both?

The idea that education in the arts or humanities is somehow less valuable than an education in physics must be resisted.

Um no - the amount of money shows that an education in physics/medicine/whatever is worth more than arts or humanities; if you want to judge things on that level.

"What matters is that the individual is taught to think critically, objectively and sceptically - things that can be achieved through the medium of most traditional disciplines, whether science- or humanity-based.

On that we can agree; problem is I'd hazard the majority of sociology students/art history/politics students tend to be left leaning, union working fascolists and therefore more likely to espouse ideologies that aren't too interested in critical analysis of their ideas.

Oxbridge Prat said...

Having looked at exam papers over the last fifty years or so, it seems fairly clear the standards rose steadily post-war and then peaked in the mid to late seventies. By the time I left school in the mid eighties there was a clear decline in progress, which has continued ever since then.

Anonymous said...

Whats a Fascolist Tomrat?

And to Anonymous (8:50), Personally I'd prefer you stopped 'shitting up this blog' with your unoriginal copied nonsense about dripping sputem and just replied to the actual posts. For a lesson in proportionate sweary ranting see a great blog called Devils Kitchen. Oh but you have so that makes you a Twat.

Ideas of Civilisation said...

Well done Anonymous (8.50). Did your mum help you write that?

One of the arguments of the post is the basic standards such as literacy and numeracy are falling across the board, including in the private sector.

That alone is surely not the fault of the state, rather the schools that are providing the education?

Oh and by the way, if you're going to write "stupid stupid" it requires a comma inbetween them. But given your superior education I imagine you already knew that.

Rob said...

The debasement in education standards has been a disaster for children and the country as a whole, but a bonanza for the Education establishment. As the Education establishment runs State education, this outcome is hardly a surprise.

Pogo said...

"Ideas of Civilisation": "That alone is surely not the fault of the state, rather the schools that are providing the education?"

No. I think that you're wrong... The state sets the ground rules and controls how the exam results are to be interpreted. The obsession with measuring everything leads inevitably to schools adapting their methods to produce the best scores, but not necessarily the best education. This *has* to apply to private as well as state schools as they are all competing in the same "pool".

Ideas of Civilisation said...

Fair play Pogo - at least yours is a sensible comment, even if I don't agree!

As I noted initially there is a debate to be had about what is worth measuring to measure success, and there's probably a good case the balance is wrong just now, althohg it's not entirely clear what should replace this.

But I can't agree on the issue of literacy and numeracy standards mainly because the comments above indicate that this isn't an exam issue - it's the real life experience employers are finding.

In my experience this is a problem which often comes right through the primary system. Therefore it's not just about the requirements to pass exams, etc rather the lack of time which is initially spent on this, and of course new phenomona such as texting, etc.

Old Holborn said...

School taught me nothing I didn't already know.

For that, I thank my parents.

TheFatBigot said...

The tragedy of tractor-statistics education is that it fails to give the children what they need.

I would suggest that the purpose of education is to bring the best out of every child. Those whose greatest possible achievement is to be basically literate and numerate must be just that when they leave school. Anything less is a failure of the education system. Those who have the extraordinary ability to achieve a scholarship at Oxford must become scholars, anything less is a failure of the system.

Any system based around securing exam passes at a particular grade necessarily concentrates on the average pupils. Pushing up the very few at the bottom takes a disproportionate amount of teacher hours, for statistical purposes it is better to target resources on pushing Ds to Cs than on anything else.

And then there is the wider aspect of education, adverted to by others in these comments, the broadening of the mind and the development of critical skills which are not necessary for exams but are of huge benefit in later life.

There has to be a measure of exam results, the problem comes when that is seen as THE measure of education.

This leads to those at the bottom of the pile being discarded, exam results being seen as an end in themselves, development of non-examinable skills being downgraded and the standard required to achieve each examination grade being lowered to allow ministers to brag. A very sorry state of affairs.

Serf said...

I was lucky. Education at a bog standrad Comp and a red brick Uni, wetted my curiosity. Now many moons later, I am still enjoying learning new things.

My exam results were never what they should have been, but I benefited as I should have from my years in school.

I pity the tractors coming off the production line. Even those whose grades are good.

Chalcedon said...

One solution is: only give grade A to the top 5% of marks, grade B to the next 10%, grade C to the next 20% Grade D to the next 20% Grade E to the next 20% and fail the bottom 25%.

The pupils (and universities) would all know where they stand.

OMG, this is what they used to do!!!! And course work, open to cheating, wasn't included either.

And the exam boards should be run by the universities. OMG, that what we used to have. And it worked too.

Which idiot fixed something that wasn't broken?

Little Black Sambo said...

One striking thing is, how little one has to show for all those years in full-time education (or how little I have to show, anyway). When you need to learn a language, you can accomplish in a few weeks what you couldn't do in years at school. We must keep children at school - because what else should we do with them? - but it's largely a waste of time.

Hungry Horace said...

Exactly! School IS largely a waste of time and the example of foreign languages is a good one.
I think the biggest problem is the assumption that you can force people to learn things. You can't.
We'd be better off ending compulsory education at the age of 14, with the proviso that people are free to re-enter the education system at any time the fancy takes them. Better yet (literate) people could just buy a book.
Anyway, surely there must be some limit on the number of jobs which require a high level of academic education? We can't all be rocket scientists, right?