Whither Education?

I have always been proud of our education system and very grateful for the opportunities it gave me. Now, I know that as a ’50s baby, I was lucky to have the advantage of the best of the post-war changes. In particular, the grant system and low fees allowed me to go to university, something that no-one in my family had done before me – and which we certainly wouldn’t have been able to manage under the current system of high fees and loans.

Two articles caught my eye this weekend that emphasised how things have changed and made me wonder what future generations of children are going to feel about their education – and what sort of adults they are going to become.

There are so many blogs out there in the ether, it’s difficult to know which ones to read. But one I always look out for is that of novelist Carol Hedges. She has a wonderful curmudgeonly approach to the world which she shares with us in a blog subtitled ‘I write. I sleep. I try to resist cake.’ This week’s piece was entitled ‘Those Who Can’t Teach, Criticize Teachers’  in which she recounts moving from euphoria to despair in two short years after training as a teacher in her 40s. 

One phrase really hit home: “What drove me out of the classroom was the constant pressure from assessments, target setting and paperwork. The thing I’d gone into teaching for became secondary. The pupils were backgrounded in favour of bureaucracy and league tables.”

I couldn’t agree more with Carol’s views. My husband, Michael, qualified in 1977, trained and taught in some very tough London schools and had a great time teaching chemistry. Exams were not a problem; they were at the end of the process and didn’t drive it. Having moved into adult education in the 1980s, he returned to teaching twenty years later to find the National Curriculum, OFSTED and exams dictating what was taught. He finally took early retirement, driven out by poor behaviour and the feeling the dumbed-down exams driving the curriculum were leading nowhere.

All parents should worry about their children’s education and be prepared to argue with the system on their behalf. Anyone who tells you everything is fine should answer the question: why do so many pupils now need private exam tuition in addition to normal schooling?

The other article that caught my eye was the publication of the HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) survey of students’ attitudes towards free speech. Apparently 76{ca225c2aedd0a3230fdf18169b52e0cd27b098bc7f89404059909f89450e2217} would ban speakers who had views that offended them and women are more willing than men to accept censorship. Really? Isn’t education about hearing all sides of an argument and learning to think for oneself? Isn’t open debate one of the pillars of a democratic society? Apparently not any longer; but it certainly should be.

By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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