The quiet revolution coursing through our education system


10:40 am - April 21st 2012

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contribution by Dr Ornette D Clennon

We are in the midst of a quiet revolution in Education.

The latest call for the Reformation of A Levels in the image of the top twenty Russell group universities is the latest in a long line of steps in this whispering revolution in our education system.

Those who call for changes accuse the education sector of dumbing down because apparently too many people are successfully being educated.

So their solution to this dumbing down “epidemic” is to remove the Education Maintainance Allowance (EMA) and replace it with smaller funds. This means less students from disadvantaged backgrounds can afford to stay on at college to get the grades they need to access Higher Education.

They introduce Free schools, that in reality can only be set up by those parents with enough time and “push” to make them work.

They award Academy status to successful schools, rather than to failing schools as was originally intended, meaning that failing schools who most need flexibility in the curriculum to improve their standards and to fully deliver the new A Levels are denied that opportunity (funding).

They increase university tuition fees to 9K, creating a psychological debt-averse barrier to participation.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2010, reported a rise of +6 per cent of young participation (18 or 19 yrs) in the mid 1990s to +36 per cent by the late 2000’s making young people more than 20 per cent more likely to go onto HE than in the mid 1990s.

Since the introduction of the EMA in 2004, The IFS found that not only did the EMA increase participation rates among young adults who were eligible, it actually increased their A Level grades by around 4 points on average.

The proportion of young people living in the most disadvantaged areas (and eligible for EMA) and entered HE increased by around 30% over the past five years, and by 50% over the past 15 years.

If we sit back and let this elitist revolution overtake us, we will find ourselves in a social powder keg of even greater social division than we are experiencing now.

Do we really need further graphic illustrations of the consequences of “Knowledge is Power” working its way onto our streets through sheer desperation and frustration borne out of a lack of Power?


Dr Ornette D Clennon is a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

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Reader comments


Good article. A well educated mass population has always been a threat to the Tories and their big business friends.

Just one correction however.

“They introduce Free schools, that in reality can only be set up by those parents with enough time and “push” to make them work.”

in fact a minority of “free” schools are set up by parents. Most are set up by private companies, with an eye to making a profit in the future, or by religious zealots.

I think you need to be careful about equating successful schools with fragmentation of the school system. The opposite is the case in countries like South Korea and Finland, and they are the countries with the highest educational standards.

Those who call for changes accuse the education sector of dumbing down because apparently too many people are successfully being educated.

I can’t speak for all subjects on the curriculum but it can be readily and objectively demonstrated that certain subjects, particularly the natural sciences, have been ‘dumbed down’.

Physics has been stripped of its mathematical rigour at GCSE, so much so the my son’s physics teacher freely admitted that he would have had to complete the first year of the A level curriculum just to cover the same course content, to the same standard, that I had to cover to pass an ‘O’ level back in the early 1980’s.

This may not be true of other subjects, but an overarching policy of seeking to educate young people as consumers of science, rather than as producers of science, over the last 25 years, has had a debilating effect on standards in the natural sciences and that does need to be addressed.

Science is unashamedly elitist in the sense that the best ideas, research and evidence rises to the top, and that is exactly how it should be – no more, and no less – and this does need to be reflected in the examination system.

It’s too early to say which groups the hike in HE tuition fees will affect most. There are a lot of assumptions here about who is ‘debt averse’. Application figures published by UCAS show the drop off is affecting the higher social groups (slightly) more than disadvantaged groups http://www.ucas.ac.uk/about_us/media_enquiries/media_releases/2012/20120130a

Quote from Mary Curnock Cook: ‘Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in HE funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by these data’.

“Reformation”

No capitalisation there: reformation.

“means less students”

means fewer students

“The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2010, reported a rise of +6 per cent of young participation (18 or 19 yrs) in the mid 1990s to +36 per cent by the late 2000?s making young people more than 20 per cent more likely to go onto HE than in the mid 1990s.”

A rise from 6% to 36% is not a rise of 20%. And the rise in HE hasn’t been 20% either. Twenty percentage points perhaps, but that ain’t 20% either.

“and entered HE”

Either, and entering HE or and who entered HE

“Dr Ornette D Clennon is a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University”

And would you believe that there are people out there claiming that education has been dumbed down. Preposterous, obviously.

‘It’s too early to say which groups the hike in HE tuition fees will affect most. There are a lot of assumptions here about who is ‘debt averse’. Application figures published by UCAS show the drop off is affecting the higher social groups (slightly) more than disadvantaged groups’

Thats an interesting point, and worth seeing if it pans out that way. If higher fees end up putting off the posh but somewhat dim, then that would be a good thing.

6. So Much For Subtlety

2. Unity

This may not be true of other subjects, but an overarching policy of seeking to educate young people as consumers of science, rather than as producers of science, over the last 25 years, has had a debilating effect on standards in the natural sciences and that does need to be addressed.

It is certainly true of modern languages. You can do a three or four year degree in a modern language and come out utterly unable to speak or read your chosen language at any British university today – except perhaps Oxbridge. This should not be difficult – you can test the understanding of a language. It is a technical skill after all. Understanding their literature perhaps less so. But either you are able to have a conversation about last night’s village fete or you’re not. Yet marks get ever higher.

It is worse for ancient languages because they are now dead outside Oxbridge. Dead in both senses. They are no longer actively taught even by people claiming to be actively teaching them.

I have taught secondary for the last 12 years and have no problem acknowledging that subjects have been dumbed down, ‘easy’ courses have been introduced, multiple resits etc. Science has been dumbed down alarmingly. This has also manifested itself in the quality of young teachers entering the profession. Try finding a young physics teacher who knows what they’re doing. Even our headteacher didn’t know where to put an apostrophe.

8. Ken Livingstone

“Those who call for changes accuse the education sector of dumbing down because apparently too many people are successfully being educated.”

#FAIL

It’s precisely because we’re simply pretending that everyone who gets an ‘A’ is “successfully educated” that the system needs reform. If the Government simply slapped a gold star on everyone automatically at the age of 16, it doesn’t mean 100% of 16-year-olds are “successfully educated”, does it?

9. the a&e charge nurse

Whatever we might think is wrong with education, and whatever we think should be done to remedy it – it goes WAY beyond physics or language standards compared to 50 years ago.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

I mean how on earth are schools meant to compete with i-phones, computers, or even good old telly when it comes to stimulating children – if it’s not on ‘youtube’ it is probably not worth knowing about?

10. Margin4error

We already have a very elite-focused higher education system because we have a very elite focused culture – which is a big problem for our economy and our standards of living.

a decade ago no one thought we had too many graduates. We had the third highest level of graduation in the world (below Finland and New Zealand) and now we are 15th in the world.

Worst of all – while rising proportions of young people are graduating across almost all developed countries, we are bucking that trend (in 2000 it was 37% now we are down to just 35% of young people getting a degree).

This is not surprising – we have a lot of social hang-ups that cause us to look down on students – and thus we spend a lot less on university education than most nations (average according to OECD is 1% of GDP – the UK is shamefully a little over half that level) while also dissaproving of students – which is a sickening outlook towards people seeking to better their lives and the lives of the families the one day hope to have.

The UK has a lot to be worried about – but along with our terrible infrastructure (28th in the world in World Economic Forum studies) – our bizarre unwillingness to remain one of the best educated economies in the world is genuinely devestating to our economic prospects.

Or at least it would be if we couldn’t rely on mass-immigration to solve out problems for us again. ;)

11. Margin4error

So Much for Subtlety

You must have studied languages at some pretty awful schools. I have a great many freinds who have worked in offices abroad on the back of a mere A-Level in the language (Italian, Spanish, Germand and French) and done pretty well for themselves. So while they largely went to bog-standard comprehensive schools, I’m sorry for you that you have experience of such weak education.

12. organic cheeseboard

They introduce Free schools, that in reality can only be set up by those parents with enough time and “push” to make them work.

as someone above said, this isn’t really what ‘free cshools’ are for – they’re for organisations, be they profitmaking or religious, to run schools. The whole toby young thing is a smokescreen – the vast majority of free schools as it stands are fith schools and that’s likely to remain the same until Gove manages to force through the ability for people to make profits from education.

The standard of ‘A’ levels was reduced when they introduce ‘A/S’ levels: in order to release time for taking (and more significantly revising and taking practice papers for) the ‘A/S’ level. My elder son complained to me that the ‘A/S’ level and new ‘A’ level textbooks were jointly only two-thirds of the size of the old ‘A’ level textbook. Some of the mathematics that my younger son is doing, as part of his degree course, I was doing at 15.
I know that GCSE standards are lower than ‘O’ level because I sat a GCSE exam under New Labour and got an ‘A’ grade for a performance which, although respectable, would not have got a ‘B’ grade when I was at school.
I do NOT “accuse the education sector of dumbing down because apparently too many people are successfully being educated” – I accuse it of dumbing down because it HAS dumbed down and too many people are being UNsuccessfully educated (or in a few cases not educated at all).

“apparently too many people are successfully being educated”? Ha ha…

15. scandalousbill

John77,

You say,

“I do NOT “accuse the education sector of dumbing down because apparently too many people are successfully being educated” – I accuse it of dumbing down because it HAS dumbed down and too many people are being UNsuccessfully educated (or in a few cases not educated at all).”

And this “dumbed down” comment clearly qualifies you for the latt, i.e. the not educated at all group.

16. Albert Spangler

I’m going to be even more boring than usual and claim ‘it’s a bit of both’.

Overall, our intelligence as a country, and humanity in general, has been steadily rising, with each generation being more intelligent than the previous.

What this intelligence manifests itself as is an entirely different matter. For instance – reading texbooks from 50 years ago is a horrific experience. The dull, tiny writing, huge blocks of unintuitive, academic obfuscation with little way to find relevant topics fill me with dread when I know I have to read them. People who used them often and managed to glean understanding from them must have been brilliant. So now, if I go to a recently published textbook, if it is well sourced and well written, I find it not only clear and informative, but enjoyable to read as well. Does this make me less educated, in that I am less used to approaching a topic in this manner? Or have increased understanding of how the human brain takes in information and clarity in communication allowed me to take it in better?

For someone used to the old system, current textbooks must look ridiculously easy.

The problem for me is that, in learning to read hideous old textbooks, I’m not just learning about the subject I’m reading, but I’m learning ‘how’ to read those kinds of books as well. I am forced to learn to take in large volumes of information and focus my attention enough to make the links which allow me to understand. To learn physics in this way, I don’t just learn physics (I never learned physics by the way, just using an example), I learn mathematics, imagination, problem solving and memory. So I’ve essentially missed out on all those opportunities to learn different skills. But at the same time, I may never have learned anything at all if the barrier to understand was too great.

So I think that, what has happened is we have made knowledge more general and accessible to more people, meaning more people have learned. But it means that the depth of knowledge has lessened, and learning the ‘how’ of learning (sorry) has taken a back seat. Information is broken down into more accessible chunks, but in the process our ability to break down information ourselves is lessened.

I would still rather more people had access to education than have only a few elites being brilliant, and using the easiness of education nowadays to somehow deny people’s need for information and a chance to develop critical thinking is a massive cop out. If I wanted to be hyperbolic I could say you would be holding back the progress of humanity. People need to learn, it’s imperative that as many people have access to education as possible, for our society, economy and growth as a species. A new standard of qualification which adapts these new methods of learning to work towards university level could potentially be very useful. The rungs on the ladder have been lowered, increasing access but we now need more rungs so people can continue to climb.

@ 15
And your comment shows that, firstly, you have either failed to read or failed to understand my first paragraph and secondly, you have forgotten the contents of the original post at the top of the page.

18. the a&e charge nurse

[16] isn’t there a difference between the accumulation of knowledge within a subject, or sphere and claims for a general rise in individual intelligence?

Since brains cannot evolve in such a short space of time, I don’t think individuals are any more or less intelligent than 300 years ago – we’ve certainly not had any literary, or musical figures that surpass Shakespeare, or Wolfgang Amadeus?

Then we have characters like Christopher Michael Langan (born c. 1952) described by Wiki as “an American autodidact whose IQ was reported by 20/20 and other media sources to have been measured at between 195 and 210. Billed by some media sources as “the smartest man in America”, he rose to prominence in 1999 while working as a bouncer on Long Island”.
Langan was smart but not because of higher education – he virtually taught himself “advanced math, physics, philosophy, Latin and Greek”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Langan

19. gastro george

@cheeseboard – “… the vast majority of free schools as it stands are fith schools …”

Is that a typo of faith or filth?

@19:

‘sith’

:-)

21. Man on Clapham Omnibus

In many respects one could interpret these and other changes in the light of Gideon’s ‘Titanic Budget’ whereupon those in third class are locked in and allowed to drown. It goes by another name of course – selectivity. What holed the intrepid Albion was of course originally down to Thatcher in 1979, demolishing controls on the movement of money compounded with the flittering away North Sea Oil revenue. The spiral of decline, once set in motion,is now probably unstopable.

Personnally, if I was one of those chaps who was once accustomed to ‘imbibing Bolli with Boris at the Bulli’ I would be looking not so much as plugging holes or indeed anything so proletarian as bailling out, but much more like moving the women and children aside for the lifeboat of international marketablity.

Ok, some of those free schools might be delusional enough to promote the highly relevant Ancient Greece and Latin but I suspect most will adopt curricula that will dovetail nicely with the elite Unversities to the exclusion of all else.

Thus those that can grab the liferaft of private education and private services in general will undoubtely do so. The rest will swim for a bit ,some may hold onto the jetsam of accountancy and dentistry but most will ultimately drown in the poverty that is the low/no wage economy.

Anyone wanting a sure fire career without the tedium of reading and writing will be well advised to join, probably by then, the only growth industry in town namley, security .

Sadly priorities in the education system have in my mind have always been inverted. More money in Primaries is what was required. If half the kids hit Secondary without reading and writing and numeracy skills then threst is a done deal. But that in my mind was a long time ago…

22. Charlieman

@OP Ornette Clennon: “Those who call for changes accuse the education sector of dumbing down because apparently too many people are successfully being educated.

So their solution to this dumbing down “epidemic” is to remove the Education Maintainance Allowance (EMA)…”

The logical fallacy in this post develops when removal of EMA, introduction of Free Schools, expansion of Academy Schools, change of tuition fee structure et al are conjoined with “dumbing down”.

The quality of pre-university teaching and examinations is an entirely separate concern from those other factors. There will be a significant number of readers who will have a good go at the current government about those, but who also question whether quality has improved or declined. You can be a friend or a foe of Free Schools, and still wonder about dumbing down.

@OP: “If we sit back and let this elitist revolution overtake us, we will find ourselves in a social powder keg of even greater social division than we are experiencing now.”

One of the most horrible deceptions that can be conducted in a school is to teach children for a qualification that will not meet their needs. And if you want dissatisfied young graduates (or failed students), pack teenagers off to university without enough knowledge to follow a rigorous course.

If the Russell Group universities are asking for higher A Level standards, perhaps they have a point. What do the RG universities have to gain from this? They can pick and choose their intake from the brightest applicants, whatever the perceived quality of A Level teaching. It is true that harder A Levels would simplify the selection process on academic ability, but all universities are looking for potential (not just current results) and for well rounded students. So what do they get out of it?

More rigorous A Levels may mean that they are not appropriate for all post-16 years students. That is an argument for promoting other qualifications to students, employers and the world in general.

23. Albert Spangler

@18 “isn’t there a difference between the accumulation of knowledge within a subject, or sphere and claims for a general rise in individual intelligence?”

Oh yes, but I think it’s a matter of encoding information. On computers, better compression technology on computers can make files of the same information on the same hardware fit into smaller areas. By allowing information to be easier to access for more people, a rise in the ability of people’s ‘software’ to retain information means more people can take advantage of their ‘hardware’, their brain’s ability to adapt to certain modes of thinking.

“Since brains cannot evolve in such a short space of time, I don’t think individuals are any more or less intelligent than 300 years ago – we’ve certainly not had any literary, or musical figures that surpass Shakespeare, or Wolfgang Amadeus?”

I would say that was a matter of cultural preference to be honest, although I don’t really have any 16th century playwrights to compare to Shakespeare. I have no way of objectively analysing how a piece of music by Amadeus might be better or worse on an than some current musical trends. There are certainly many, many complex pieces of music produced, however these tend to be on the fringe music as a whole. From what I understand, those musical techniques weren’t created by him on a whim, they were the culmination of thousands and thousands of years of socially evolved musical trends. In that sense, our intelligence is social, as we build on each generation before us. Someone at some time hitting rocks on logs got passed along to eventually influence his work in some way.

With regards to the brain, it may not evolve quickly, but it’s fantastically adaptable. We can build our neural connections into an insane array of networks, meaning that although our brains capacity to change is limited in a short period of time, they can take advantage of the cultural shifts which allow our intelligence to be what it is.

For the example of Christopher Michael Langan, I would say that is much more an innate ability to pick up an area. Usain Bolt would be another example, many people training for many years were left behind by a relatively untrained amatuer who left them in the dust. That’s why barriers to entry into education make it seem like education would give better results, because ‘naturally’ academically (or theoretically) gifted people will have a much easier time breaking it down than those who don’t. It’s the difference between seeing a cliff and seeing a series of handholds.

I see instances of this often in how different people interpret different things. I have a friend who is quite dyslexic and gets his left and right mixed up, yet can create and build a bewildering array of computer code which I understand the logic behind but find generally baffling. The brain tends to build up its expertise in an area that it finds rewarding (at least I suspect so). That’s my understanding of autism, since the brain is so geared into understanding social situations, if that understanding is not as focused, there are other things for it to focus on. I don’t believe in stupid people, but I do believe in stupid methods of thinking. I’ve done it enough myself to recognise it. Education allows us to chip away at the stupid ways of thinking, the prejudices and assumptions which hold us back.

More accessible education needn’t make the best and brightest worst, and usually the work of the best and brightest lead the way for the rest of us to understand things. I’d never be able to create a computer, but at the very least I can use one well, as can many millions of others, on top of every day life. We have a tool to access knowledge quicker. Whether through tireless hard work on an area, or through natural expertise, both are useful and both should be encouraged.

Again, I do wonder if being able to access information easily makes us (or at least myself) stupider. There is evidence that we’re getting better at remembering how to find information and getting worse at remembering the information itself.

24. Charlieman

@18. the a&e charge nurse: “Since brains cannot evolve in such a short space of time, I don’t think individuals are any more or less intelligent than 300 years ago.”

Good evening. In the last 300 years nutritional standards, community health etc have changed significantly. The brain may not have evolved much but we are developing it in healthier bodies. Average intelligence will go up owing to fewer people who are impaired by poverty or childhood illness. At the same time it will go down because more sick people live into adulthood. On balance, though, intelligence should go up.

25. Charlieman

@23. Albert Spangler

I have scarcely digested one contribution when another arrives… Therefore I may pick off points in random order, respecting your comment ‘it’s a bit of both’. I have enjoyed your contributions so far, BTW, even when I disagree.

“Again, I do wonder if being able to access information easily makes us (or at least myself) stupider. There is evidence that we’re getting better at remembering how to find information and getting worse at remembering the information itself.”

I remember a comment from a maths teacher back in the days when the internet primarily comprised Usenet and email. A student had protested “why do I have to learn calculus?” The simple answer is that nobody has to learn calculus in order to live. But if you intend studying any discipline that uses Physics, you have to *know* calculus and to be able to apply it almost instinctively. It is insufficient to know *about* calculus.

Calculus is a bit of an exception. Nobody is expected to learn steam or trig tables, but you may need to know how to use them.

@16: “I would still rather more people had access to education than have only a few elites being brilliant, and using the easiness of education nowadays to somehow deny people’s need for information and a chance to develop critical thinking is a massive cop out.”

We have to get away from the obsession with 16 to 18-year education and the conclusion that those who do not immediately enter university are “failures”. Post 16-year education is the start of real learning and everyone should have the chance to dip in and out.

@16: “For someone used to the old system, current textbooks must look ridiculously easy.”

Occasionally in my job, I pop over to the Physics department for meetings. In the teaching areas there are undergraduate textbooks for reference and I almost always enamoured by the books. The content is accessible and refreshes things that I studied 30 years ago.

One of my sisters worked on the studies to evaluate whether current A Level maths papers are less rigorous than in the past. Consequently, I had the chance to test myself against a very early paper in pure maths and a modern equivalent. I struggled to do either. The wording of questions was almost identical (eg level of hints about methodology). The challenge of the questions seemed equal to me.

What a load of cobblers.

A-levels are a load of tosh. They are simplistic and down right easy. Change everyone to IB. Oh that’s right, we can’t. Too many people would fail to tick the box requiring straight A’s

27. Paul Newman

http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6789298/why-education-needs-to-change.thtml

The OECD marked the miserable failure of which the writer is so proud and it failed ,badly.

These smug self interested bastards who defend their slackers easy ride make me furious. Why don`t they like academies? It is because brings competition and behind that will be teachers having to earn their absurdly high remuneration and gold plated pensions. On tution fees yes I see a case but you don`

28. Charlieman

@27. Paul Newman:

“These smug self interested bastards who defend their slackers easy ride make me furious.”

You didn’t use the F-word but your post is fucking obnoxious. Your comments treat teachers AND pupils with contempt.

I am taking lots of fucking deep breath.

“Why don`t they like academies?”

Every child deserves a decent education. In the UK, parents and children do not have a lot of choice about secondary education. Some people think that parents and children should have one choice. I would ask for more choice than “the academy” or the “secondary modern”. Continuing education?

“It is because brings competition and behind that will be teachers having to earn their absurdly high remuneration and gold plated pensions.”

I am unable to respond politely.

29. Mr A James

This Tory Led Coalition is really creating/causing a fragmented and broken Britain.

The BIG society will be all about repairing what this coalition has broken/destroyed and that will only happen once this Tory Led Coalition of evil is banished.

@ 18 the A&E charge nurse
There is reason to expect the improvements in general health and particularly the reduction in smoking and drinking by pregnant women to have had a beneficial effect on the intelligence of their children, rather more so than the improved nutrition to which Charlieman refers.
Its impact on the average IQ will, however, be offset by the higher survival rate of sickly babies and a disproportionate number of babies with brain damage are sickly. So the astounding improvement REPORTED for academic performance cannot be accounted for by a marginal improvement in average IQ.
@ Charlieman
The Maths ‘A’ level syllabus has changed in the last thirty years, so the current paper includes questions on topics that you didn’t study at school. So if you found the two papers equally difficult then the modern paper is much easier for someone who did study those topics instead of Euclidean geometry. Try to imagine how you would cope with an ‘O’ level French paper where one in four questions was in Romanian instead of French! Secondly, when I was at school we had to use log tables rather than an electronic calculator – anyone taking a 50-year-old paper with moderrn technology should finish well within the time limit, or find it easier because he has much more time to think about each question. Although Mathematics is one of the subjects about whose debasement there is least complaint your evidence supports the case for the prosecution rather than the defence.

31. So Much For Subtlety

11. Margin4error

You must have studied languages at some pretty awful schools. I have a great many freinds who have worked in offices abroad on the back of a mere A-Level in the language (Italian, Spanish, Germand and French) and done pretty well for themselves. So while they largely went to bog-standard comprehensive schools, I’m sorry for you that you have experience of such weak education.

A good thing other countries teach English well. Your comment is irrelevant. The fact that some people may have learned a language on their own, or more likely that they work entirely in English, means nothing or at least nothing to do with anything I said. Especially as some of your friends did not even go to University to not learn a language. I am sure that people who go to France often pick up some French. That does not mean I am wrong to say that most of those doing an A Level in French will acquire no French worth mentioning.

There are several worrying features of Britain’s system of schooling in addition to the results of the OECD’s PISA surveys which show England to be slipping down the international skills attainment league.

“Just one in six pupils in England has achieved the new English Baccalaureate introduced by the government, England’s league tables show. The new measure is of how many pupils in a secondary school achieve good GCSE grades in what the government says is a vital core of subjects.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12163929

While a few local education authorities stay at or near the top of the LEA league table based on average candidate attainment in the GCSE exams at 16 year after year, a few others stay resolutely at the bottom year after year.

Educational attainemt at 16: “Combining gender and ethnic group, 19% of White British boys eligible for free school meals do not obtain 5 or more GCSEs. This is a much higher proportion than that for any other combination of gender, ethnic group and eligibility for free school meals.”

Can you name the Education Secretary who closed so many grammar schools that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled? I’ll give you a clue: she was the Prime Minister when GCSEs replaced O-levels. Why are you so supportive of pure Thatcherism?

Michael Gove should note that over half of people now reading for degrees do not have A-levels. And why not? A-levels were never supposed to be, and did not used to be, entrance exams for universities. A-levels were qualifications in their own right. So they should be again. Universities could set their own entrance exams, as they used to. Again, why not?

I thoroughly enjoyed my A-levels and, not “but”, I did not read English, French or History at university. Knowing about the decline of the Liberal Party (as I recall, I was the only member of my A-level class not to do a personal study on either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union) is its own reward, as is simply adoring The Winter’s Tale, and as is being able to read, both Zola in the original, and the French papers when there is a Presidential Election coming up.

There is no relationship, and I really do mean absolutely none whatever, between A-level results and classes of degree. Why should there be? Universities have admitted on A-level grades only because they have given up setting their own entrance exams, to the detriment both of the A-level system and of the universities themselves.

Now we need to restore O-levels for the most academic pupils. And above all, we need to restore grammar schools, but on the German Gymnasium model, thereby avoiding the crudity of the 11-plus. The Gymnasien were restored by popular demand as soon as the Wall came down in what is still the very left-wing former East Germany, and they were recently saved by popular demand in the Social Democratic heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Alongside the grammar schools would be the technical schools, of which there were never anything like as many as there should have been; the special schools, horrendously Beechingised by that ridiculous Warnock woman; and the Secondary Modern schools, delivering exactly as much academic and technical education as most people really need and can take in, and vastly, vastly better than that which has so very often replaced them.

@ 4 Tim Worstallt [sic]

“A rise from 6% to 36% is not a rise of 20%. And the rise in HE hasn’t been 20% either. Twenty percentage points perhaps, but that ain’t 20% either.”

Dr Coleman never claimed either that there had been “a rise from 6% to 36%”, or that there had been a 20% “rise in HE” (whatever that means). What he said was:

‘“The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2010, reported a rise of +6 per cent of young participation (18 or 19 yrs) in the mid 1990s to +36 per cent by the late 2000?s making young people more than 20 per cent more likely to go onto HE than in the mid 1990s.”

The central claim here is that there was a rise in participation *of* 6% – from a mid-90s starting point of 30% to a late-00s level of 36% – not a rise *from* 6% to 36%. The likelihood of a young person entering HE has therefore increased by 20%, from 30 in 100 to 36 in 100. See?

Oh, and it might be a good idea to start spelling your own name correctly before drawing attention to other contributors’ minor slip-ups.

35. Margin4error

@31 So Much For Subtlety

wow – what an obnoxious combination of arrogance and ignorance.

Assuming a lot of nonsense rather than accept a counter-point is very internet-age of you. I’ll grant you, perhaps in that regard, learning has been replaced in modern discourse by battling – but that hardly seems an issue of schools failing pupils.

Just to be clear – my various freinds and former colleagues are fluent enough to work in their foreign languages in offices that speak those foreign languages. Quite why you imagine all office abroad work in English is beyond me – other than that such idiocy helps maintain your “arguement” (isn’t it sad that the internet has hastened the transition from people having opinions, which change according to evidence, to having arguments they feel they must lie to themselves in order to maintain the integrity of).

My friends contrast with me and my gcse in french. I can get by perfectly well when I’m in Brussels with a combination of basic french and local people’s willingness to meet me more than halfway in English. But I tend to be there for a rare trip. I would never dream of pretending I could work in a french speaking city on the back of that, and so don’t pretend that people who are skilled enough to do so are some-how cheating. They are just better educated than me – and presumably you, given your experience in education.

To pretend otherwise is rather pathetic.

@ 33 David Lindsay
Try telling that threadbare lie to someone who will believe in it. Anthony Crosland was neither female nor a Prime Minister and Shirley Williams never became Prime Minister. It used to be so widespread that my wife believed her grammar school was closed by Mrs Thatcher until I asked the date of its closure.
Twelling lies will win you friends on this blog

37. Charlieman

@30. John77: “The Maths ‘A’ level syllabus has changed in the last thirty years, so the current paper includes questions on topics that you didn’t study at school. So if you found the two papers equally difficult then the modern paper is much easier for someone who did study those topics instead of Euclidean geometry.”

Funnily enough, John, I did study Euclidean geometry at A Level. But as part of my degree, I endured a high intensity course in maths that delivered the fundamentals of maths and stats which are not common to all A Levels. In the intervening years, I have forgotten a lot of A Level type maths.

I argue that A Level maths is a good measure for dumbing down. Maths of the type that is taught at A Level or as a foundation for engineering and physics has not changed.

I believe that it is more challenging to compare A Level quality for other subjects. Teaching of geography or English literature is different because humanity has changed.

38. Charlieman

@33. David Lindsay: “Michael Gove should note that over half of people now reading for degrees do not have A-levels. And why not? A-levels were never supposed to be, and did not used to be, entrance exams for universities.”

Have you not heard of the Joint Matriculation Board? Its creation was about setting exam standards that could commonly used by universities to judge applicants.

It is probably true that more than half of under graduate students in the UK did not study A Levels. Funnily enough, Greek and Chinese schools don’t do A Levels.

What am I doing arguing in favour of A Levels, I have to ask myself. I have consistently argued for years that A Levels are one form of qualification for university but that others have equal value. Education does not stop at age 16, 18 or 21 years and any debate that focusses on young people misses the point.

FWIW:

There is widespread agreement among universities that student arrive with deficient maths skills. Hence, most technically demanding subjects will require students to sit m modules that aim to bring them up to a common standard. I have heard, for example, of physics programmes that spend a good part of the first year teaching the students maths.

The problem from the point of view of the colleges is that so much emphasis is placed on testing the students, on constantly increasing pass rates and the issue of the “audit culture” in general (take a bow School Effectiveness / School Improvement), that there is no time to do anything but teach the students how to pass the exams. Thus, understanding takes a back seat. And so it is typical at entrance to university for students to have a superficial knowledge of maths, i.e., they are competent from a procedural point of view, but do not understand how these procedures relate to one another and where they come from.

40. Merrymaker

I can add some (entirely) personal comment to the debate about A levels. I took Joint Matriculation Board A levels in Pure Maths and Applied Maths (two separate papers) in 1957, My eldest son took A level Maths (one paper) in 1985, my grandson is about to take A level maths this year. First thing to note is that the content has got wider and shallower over that period. My course content, in both pure and applied, would have been very familiar to a 19th century undergraduate. It was essentially advanced calculus and related matters like infinite series and algebraic geometry. All techniques and formulae had to be memorised. I never did a calculation involving actual numbers. My son faced a course that included new topics like statistics and probability he also encountered set theory and elementary discrete mathematics. He did some calculations using logs (calculators were not allowed in the examination). He was given various formulae sheets to take into the exam room. My grandson is doing some traditional calculus, stats etc, venn diagrams and set theory, matrices, financial mathematics. As far as I can make out, he can use whatever aids are approprate for the task in hand – and that applies to the exam also. So more things are covered but with less demands on the student, is that dumbing down?

41. Margin4error

merrymaker

some people would claim that it is dumbing down – though I tend to think that is born of a degree of resentment among an older generation when their ingrained bias to believe youngsters are terrible these days turn out to be better in education than them.

Better to explain away the progress rather than re-assess one’s world view. After all, it’s not like the Greek philosophers wrote with insight that it is a strange phenomenon that every generation knows the next generation is a deterioration on themselves, and yet despite this generational deterioration in the quality of people, the extent and range of human endeavour expands dramatically with every new generation.

42. Charlieman

@40. Merrymaker: Thanks for that contribution.

In 1981, when I took the JMB Maths A Level, it was two papers (Pure and Applied) without stats or probability. The Applied paper was evil so it sorted out “players” from potential engineers and scientists, at that age and on that criterium.

“First thing to note is that the content has got wider and shallower over that period.”

“So more things are covered but with less demands on the student, is that dumbing down?”

Dunno, tell me. What I do know is that the basics of engineering and physics are constant. Mohr’s circle does not change.

43. Chaise Guevara

@ Margin4Error

Kids can’t win: if they do well at exams they’ve been dumbed-down, if they do badly they must be stupid. Same problem for teachers, of course.

I’m not sure how much dumbing-down there really is (if you could even measure it). Much of the perception of it is probably down to resentfulness and bigotry, as you say. I’ve also been handed anecdotal evidence by people saying they’re shocked at how ignorant apparently qualified school/college/uni-leavers are. Even assuming a lack of confirmation bias on the part of the person saying this, I wonder whether it’s just that kids are knowledgable about different things than they were thirty years ago. So the older person notices the “gaps” in a young person’s knowlege, but is unaware of the “gaps” in their own.

On the other hand, it does sound as if some subjects (esp. maths and the sciences) are easier as GSCEs than they were as A-levels, quite possibly for very good reasons. So my suspicion is that there is some dumbing-down going on, but not as much as you’d be led to believe by people driven by demographic snobbery / superiority complexes / a general enjoyment of whinging.

44. Charlieman

@41. Margin4error: “After all, it’s not like the Greek philosophers wrote with insight that it is a strange phenomenon that every generation knows the next generation is a deterioration on themselves, and yet despite this generational deterioration in the quality of people, the extent and range of human endeavour expands dramatically with every new generation.”

Yeah, it took me a while to appreciate hip hop too.

Look at it from a different perspective. If your job is teaching in higher education, you can only do it if the students understand what you are talking about. There must be a foundation of knowledge on which to build. Traditionally, that foundation has been presumed to be A Levels.

There other perspectives. A Levels at 18 years old are not the only way to get into university, or more importantly, to get an education. A Levels are crap qualifications for those who do not go to university.

@Sunny: Shift your bum and find a post about continuing education. :-)

45. Margin4error

Chaise

With the dumbing down – it is remarkable just how badly everyone has failed to provide any quantifiable evidence of such a widely reported trend. There have been studies done on the information you have to cover from different decades in the same subject – and while some aspects change, no study has found any reduction in the extent to which the subject is covered by the course or the exams.

I should though, confess to my own bias here.

My dad had no qualifications at all. His generation of Briton were not really educated – just held at school until they were old enough (about 15 typically) to go off to work. I, on the other hand, was the first kid in my (bog-standard comprehensive) school to score 100% in an a-level maths exam, and went off to uni (first in my family) .

My bias is derived from knowing that I’m no smarter than my dad. Better educated. Not smarter. And I know it. He’s a very clever guy, just not one who was deemed worth educating (what with him being working class).

Nowadays the extent to which we encourage education across the population – it is not surprising that standards have risen. After all – a system designed over a hundred years ago to demonstrate the elite nature of the wealthy few in the form of studies for the careers their parents already did – is now being used to test the learning of an entire population – massively widening the pool of talent and (as always happens with a larger and more competitive sample), generating higher standards.

Thing is, the system was grown in an era of demonstrating superiority of a few – And now it is demonstrating the complete reverse. That us inferiors are actually as capable and more so than those who held (and still hold) the learned careers.

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in schooling – a complete overhaul that eliminates the prestige and ideal of an elite – and focuses instead on generating the best level of learning across the population.

Until we do that we will continue to our descent from among the most educated nations on earth to a middling nation and eventually lower.

46. Charlieman

@43. Chaise Guevara: “Kids can’t win: if they do well at exams they’ve been dumbed-down, if they do badly they must be stupid. Same problem for teachers, of course.”

I will dig back through previous comments. I find it @22: “One of the most horrible deceptions that can be conducted in a school is to teach children for a qualification that will not meet their needs.”

47. Charlieman

@45. Margin4error: “My dad had no qualifications at all.”

Mine too. My Dad carried a pocket dictionary until the day he was buried. In order to read the posh papers.

“Perhaps what we need is a revolution in schooling – a complete overhaul that eliminates the prestige and ideal of an elite – and focuses instead on generating the best level of learning across the population.”

Continuing education? Let’s get on with it.

48. Margin4error

Charlieman

I hadn’t thought of A-Levels in quite that light – but perhaps that’s fair. They prepare kids for university – nothing else. They prepared me for university. Well, they gave me the basic educational needs I faced in going to uni. Culturally I was utterly unsuited to university. I was working class, was averse to interaction with authority, and saw tutors as teachers rather than some one with whom any relationship would be valuable.

Perhaps we need a “university a-level” that might help working class kids understand the middle-class culture that universities tend to have carried forward from past generations, and that we have to change to be like if we want to get by.

@ Margin4error
“With the dumbing down – it is remarkable just how badly everyone has failed to provide any quantifiable evidence of such a widely reported trend”
May I refer you to my first post (#13)? Reducing the Physics syllabus by one-third is quantifiable!!
I know that I am less smart than my Dad was, but that doesn’t make any difference to the standard of the exams we took (which were pretty similar up to 17).
What *did* make a big difference was when in the ’60s and ’70s the examination boards were told to maintain an average pas rate while the number of children taking ‘A’ and ‘O’ levels, then GCSEs multiplied. Some of this was due to a welcome change in expectations of what use education could be to girls but most was because all children had to stay at school an extra year and they wrre pushed into taking ‘O’ levels/GCSE whereas previously only those expected to pass ‘O’ levels were strongly encouraged to stay until 16. A very large proportion of those extra examinees were the intellectual equivalents of kids who chose to leave at 15 because they didn’t expect to pass any ‘O’ levels but the pass rate had to stay the same – the only way to do this was to lower the pass mark or the standard of the examinations.

@ 40 Merrymaker
When I took Maths ‘A’ level it was four three-hour papers.
“So more things are covered but with less demands on the student, is that dumbing down?” A lot of people would say that “dumbing down” *means* the exam makes less demands on the student.
@ Chaise
I’m not whinging – I am genuinely concerned that spending all this time taking tests to enable their schools to tick boxes means that the kids get less education instead of more, which they should with the technological advances enabled by computers, language laboratories, whiteboards and screens instead of blackboards, artificial turf etc which we didn’t have when I was at school. Dumbing down exams is a way of hiding the failures in the system.

51. Charlieman

@48. Margin4error: Thank you for the kind words.

“They prepare kids for university – nothing else. They prepared me for university. Well, they gave me the basic educational needs I faced in going to uni. Culturally I was utterly unsuited to university.”

If you found it bloody hard academically, that was a good result. When it was hard, you grew.

“I was working class, was averse to interaction with authority, and saw tutors as teachers rather than some one with whom any relationship would be valuable.”

Have you been looking at my notes about life?

I was a family youngster, by definition, when the headmaster asked whether I had considered Oxford or Cambridge. At that time, my grandfather was the school cleaner.

I knew little about the world. I understood that Oxbridge would not suit me.


The challenge therefore is to get smart grubby urchins into Oxbridge.

52. Chaise Guevara

@ 50 John77

“I’m not whinging – I am genuinely concerned that spending all this time taking tests to enable their schools to tick boxes means that the kids get less education instead of more”

Wasn’t targeted at you, or at anyone else who has put actual thought into their position. I’m not saying that this isn’t a problem, I’m saying that there exist idiots who will whinge regardless because that’s what they like to do. Anyone who uses the phrase “going to the dogs” with a straight face, basically.

53. So Much For Subtlety

35. Margin4error

wow – what an obnoxious combination of arrogance and ignorance.

How would you know? You show no signs whatsoever of having even read my argument. You’re just blathering about irrelevant issues and assuming that is a response. Did you finish High School post-1974?

Assuming a lot of nonsense rather than accept a counter-point is very internet-age of you. I’ll grant you, perhaps in that regard, learning has been replaced in modern discourse by battling – but that hardly seems an issue of schools failing pupils.

Your point was not a counter-point. It was an irrelevant diversion. As is this. But I will bite – how can you possibly claim that schools rejecting learning in favour of whatever it is you think I am doing, is not schools failing students?

Just to be clear – my various freinds and former colleagues are fluent enough to work in their foreign languages in offices that speak those foreign languages.

Which is nice but as they don’t seem to have learnt their language in a British university, nor is there any evidence they arrived sufficiently fluent from their high school experience, it is irrelevant to what I said. If someone tells you these peaches are unripe, it makes no sense to say those peaches over there are ripe and thus the peaches here must be ripe too.

Quite why you imagine all office abroad work in English is beyond me – other than that such idiocy helps maintain your “arguement” (isn’t it sad that the internet has hastened the transition from people having opinions, which change according to evidence, to having arguments they feel they must lie to themselves in order to maintain the integrity of).

Because quite a lot of offices do. By the way, why do you choose to write argument in that way – apart from what looks like a childish ad hom? Which is rapidly followed by another ad hom which adds even less to the conversation? All of which makes your point pleasantly ironic.

My friends contrast with me and my gcse in french. I can get by perfectly well when I’m in Brussels with a combination of basic french and local people’s willingness to meet me more than halfway in English.

So basically you were not taught enough French to get by. Interesting as far as it goes. This is still irrelevant to my point because you only have a GCSE in French. Why you think blathering on about some other people is in any way a response to what I said is beyond me.

But I tend to be there for a rare trip. I would never dream of pretending I could work in a french speaking city on the back of that, and so don’t pretend that people who are skilled enough to do so are some-how cheating. They are just better educated than me – and presumably you, given your experience in education.

I don’t think they are cheating. I think there are many roads to acquiring a modern language. And if your friends have acquired some French that is nice but unless they acquired it through the sole mechanism of studying at a British university with no overseas residency, your comment is irrelevant.

To pretend otherwise is rather pathetic.

What is pathetic is to insist on replying to an argument you do not understand.

@ Charlieman & margin4error
As far as I could see the working-class students at my college (which was not ChristChurch, in case anyone doubts) had no problems fitting in. Possibly because we were a fairly small group which wasn’t big enough to have exclusive cliques (I, as an undersized mathematician, used to lunch with the rugby-playing lawyers on the one day a week that I ate a normal lunch because we had a mutual friend), but more probably because we didn’t care about class. In my first year I could understand the lad in the next room to me but a southerner would have struggled – within the year he was comprehensible in Oxford but also when he went home: the last I heard of him he was a professor. Smart grubby urchins have been going to Oxford for over 1200 years. Some think Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England is an example
However, being “averse to interaction with authority” does put the tutors at a massive disadvantage if you refuse to listen to them. I have always been quite capable of disagreeing with authority (in fact I have had a reputation for it since I was 7) but I *do* listen first.

In the 1950s, less than 5pc of the young catchment age group went into higher education. One of the consequences is that precious few in the present population aged c. 70 are graduates. Sad to say, that shows.

The first big expansion in higher education came as the result of the Robbins Report published in 1963. Believe me, there were many academics and others at the time who were saying: More means worse. By the end of the 1980s, about 18pc of the young catchment age group were going into higher education.

@ 37 Charlieman
Well, of course you did Euclidean Geometry: my comment assumed everyone in my era and adjacent eras did Euclidean Geometry but the current generation do not. The EG content of ‘A’ level was a preparation for the Mathematical Logic content of an undergraduate maths degree.
I was not aware, however, that you had subsequently done some statistics which reduces the effect that I had assumed.
My point remains valid but the magnitude is reduced.
“I believe that it is more challenging to compare A Level quality for other subjects.” That is almost certainly true, and most people are more worried about that but my ‘A’ level knowledge is limited to Maths as I took double Maths and Physics and my elder son took double Maths and Chemistry (my father took single Maths Physics and Chemistry, my mother took Maths, English and French).

57. margin4error

#49 John

I’m not sure an anecdote about the size of text books is quite the rigorous study of course requirements I had in mind. It might they used a smaller font.

Obviously that’s a slightly flippant response to that particular piece of evidence, but I still have this nagging suspicion that the reason no one has issued a study demonstrating dumbing down in a genuinely rigorous way – is because it isn’t really happening. Were some one to offer good rigorous evidence, I would be more than happy to change my mind as I tend to support a desire for reform of our exam system – I just struggle to get on side with this particular cause.

Oh – and I should add – that there is little evidence to suggest that the widening of education/exam system to include the working classes and women led to a reduction in the average talent of the exam populace. I say this because the random natue of selection before that. For long periods our education system didn’t select those to be educated and examined on the basis of ability. It did so on the basis of wealth. That is entirely unrelated to intellectual capacity in almost every regard (few people of any era before the most recent generations got rich through intellect – the vast majority got rich by birth or marriage). There’s a cultural aspect of course. Those who pay through the nose for education presumably think education is worth something, so perhaps tried harder to pass exams than the new education populace with little history of education in their family. But that is largely irrelevent at A-Level and degree because people can leave school before those exams, and can take alternatives to them if they are not inclined towards academic activity.

I say this, of course, as a rather bright person who in those past generations would not have been educated as I was poor. So I’m naturally disinclined to consider my childhood peers to be relatively uneducatable compared to a bunch of very wealthy people selected on no other basis than wealth.

58. margin4error

charlieman

Intellectually university was a challenge. And as you say, so it should be. The bigger challenge though, was the culture. On a very basic level, it was tough not having some one I trusted to ask questions to, because I didn’t know anyone who had been to university before.

John

I should stress – it wasn’t the other students I had trouble with as such. I started my university career by opening the door to my room, wedging it with a table, and putting a bottle of Smirnoff on it. That made me a good and diverse group of freinds quickly and was a lot cheaper than freshers week (which I’d never heard of until I arrived at uni and a bunch of posters for ‘organised fun’ were everywhere – and I decided there and then to avoid).

It was more the culture of the institution. I turned up at uni basically expecting four more years of school. I listened to tutors in so much as they had stuff to teach me, but I didn’t have conversations with them because, well, who has conversations with teachers? You just avoid teachers most of the time and hope they leave you alone. Or at least that was my experience of school. That’s a very simplistic illustration of four years of alienation. But hopefully it gets across that I’m not talking about some horribl snobbery or something like that.

59. margin4error

smfs

your point seemed to be some sort of anecdote that language learning at university isn’t good enough and youngsters today who learn a language at uni are not able to speak it sufficiently well.

I suggested that I know a number of people who have a rather different experience to you in this regard – people who have only done a-levels but are then sufficiently fluent to go out and work in countries that speak the language they learned – which would suggest that if a university doesn’t actively undo learning, our academic teaching is somewhat better than your experience suggests. (that is of course the problem with anecdotal evidence, it is prone to exageration and can be warped because of anomalous experiences)

But rather than accept this alternative evidence as evidence – you didn’t even ask questions to try to find fault with it (which a good internet warrior/troll would do). You arrogantly and ignorantly made up mitigations such as pretending that the offices they worked in must thus speak english – or that they learned by some other means and so on.

My own experience of languages is that, as a dyslexic child, language was not my talent and despite trying hard, French GCSE was about as far as I was ever going to get. I show willing when I’m abroad, but I accept my limitations in this regard. That’s not an academic thing though. And I highlighted it only to emphasise that my anecdote was about people a lot better at language than I am.

In future – try harder to engage in discussion. Or better still, try less hard to fight a corner instead of having a conversation.

Or just give up. You’ve added nothing to my understanding of this debate so I perhaps wouldn’t feel I’ve lost out if you stopped posting on LC.

@ 57 margin4error
My comment in #49 was similarly flippant, but #13 including my personal experience of ‘O’ level and GCSE was not.
The likelihood of anyone getting an honest answer from more than 2% of teachers and education bureaucrats when conducting a survey on “dumbing down” is similar to the likelihood of my beating Usain Bolt, given that my PB of 14 seconds for 100 yards was achieved more than 50 years ago. THAT is why “no one has issued a study demonstrating dumbing down in a genuinely rigorous way”. See also my comment in #49 on maintaining pass rates.
“For long periods our education system didn’t select those to be educated and examined on the basis of ability. It did so on the basis of wealth. That is entirely unrelated to intellectual capacity in almost every regard (few people of any era before the most recent generations got rich through intellect – the vast majority got rich by birth or marriage).”
I beg to differ. All the older public schools (and most of the pre-Columbus Oxford colleges) were created as charities to educate poor children: the pupils/students were selected by nomination, usually by the local vicar or squire who noticed they were bright. My parents, in the intra-war era, both had their education funded by scholarships. I have to say your claim that few people got rich by intellect is marxist tripe, which you seem to have swallowed – for instance, every Lord Mayor of London had to work his way up his livery company, having started as an apprentice, and of the big UK corporate names only Rothschild and Warburg started off with money. None of my ancestors were *rich* but more of them worked their way up through intellect to comfortable middle class from nothing/virtually nothing than started there and none got there by marriage. [In case you think this can't be so: I am the youngest child of a younger son of a younger son of a younger son of a younger son... we can't trace it back any farther]
In my youth, selection for grammar schools may have been imperfect but it was far from random. Selection was based on competence in examinations of the two core skills in English and Mathematics plus a test designed to measure “IQ”. This was far from perfect because some kids got exam nerves (one of my friends had exam nerves so he failed the second half of 11+, the scholarship half of the exam for an intellectual, rather than posh, public school and the scholarship half of the exam to Balliol, then thought to be the most intellectual Oxford college – I *still* think he is more intelligent, albeit less clever than myself) and it took no account of dyslexia or “artistic” talent, so I *do* and always have accepted that it was not perfect but it was far, far better than the comprehensive system that selects pupils for a good school like Holland Park, the favourite of Labour politicians, on any grounds *except aptitude and ability*. In my home town when I was young nearly all the boys at grammar school were working class because you could count the middle-class boys in each academic year on your fingers and toes (some years you didn’t need to take your shoes off). So I am NOT talking about “the widening of education/exam system to include the working classes and women” that happened a generation or two (or three) earlier. What *I* said “led to a reduction in the average talent of the exam populace.” was the inclusion of those whom the teachers did previously try to encourage to stay on to 16 because they did not expect them to pass any ‘O’ levels or CSEs. I asked one of my friends why she wasn’t going to stay the extra year to get some CSEs and she said there wasn’t any point as she wouldn’t pass any. These days she would be pressurised to try to get 5 GCSEs because she wasn’t stupid, just not academic. Your assumption is that the kids who left at 15 had, on average, the same intellectual capacity as those who stayed on to take ‘O’ levels or CSEs. Think about it: ‘O’ levels would help them get a better job (fitter instead of unskilled labourer or bank clerk instead of shop assistant) so how intelligent were those who chose not to take ‘O’ levels if they could pass them? Those who could get an ‘A’ level in Maths but weren’t bright enough to go to university could train to become accountants .
I was not suggesting, certainly not intending to suggest, snobbery – just that tutors can’t help if you don’t want them to help; if I had had better inter-personal skills I should have received more benefit from my senior tutor.

61. Margin4error

John

Thing is – I’m not asking for a study of teachers’ opinions on dumbing down. That would be largely worthless. But since exams are by nature rather testable things – it seems odd that no one has done a study showing that a Maths A-level now, requires a student to be less adept at understanding maths, than a Maths A-level 50 years ago (and I got my 100% somewhere in between those two base points).

That shouldn’t be hard if maths is easier to get a good grade in now than it was when I got my A-Level in maths. After all, exams are by nature rather quantifiable things.

I will largely gloss over the marxist stuff though – as I’m quite drunk (as us alcoholics tend to be) and it reads as relatively agressive opinion rather than anything I can rationally comment on until I’ve sobered up.

62. So Much For Subtlety

59. margin4error

your point seemed to be some sort of anecdote that language learning at university isn’t good enough and youngsters today who learn a language at uni are not able to speak it sufficiently well.

Well apart from the misuse of the word anecdote – perhaps you do not yet understand what it means? – I welcome the progress you are making. Reading what I said makes for a much better quality discussion don’t you think?

I suggested that I know a number of people who have a rather different experience to you in this regard – people who have only done a-levels but are then sufficiently fluent to go out and work in countries that speak the language they learned

That is, your comment was irrelevant. You are also misrepresenting it. You said they worked overseas and can speak those languages now. You did not, as far as I can recall, say that they could speak those languages immediately after their A Levels.

– which would suggest that if a university doesn’t actively undo learning, our academic teaching is somewhat better than your experience suggests. (that is of course the problem with anecdotal evidence, it is prone to exageration and can be warped because of anomalous experiences)

Or any number of other explanations – the main one being the obvious one: some people learn a language in-country after they have arrived and their formal schooling has nothing to do with it. I do love the fact that you think the word anecdotal applies to what I said, containing as it did, no anecdotes at all, but not to your heart-warming little story which was and is pure anecdote.

But rather than accept this alternative evidence as evidence – you didn’t even ask questions to try to find fault with it (which a good internet warrior/troll would do). You arrogantly and ignorantly made up mitigations such as pretending that the offices they worked in must thus speak english – or that they learned by some other means and so on.

Why would I bother to ask questions? Anecdote is not evidence. Nor did I make anything up. I suggested reasons why your comments were not relevant. As they were not.

My own experience of languages is that, as a dyslexic child, language was not my talent and despite trying hard, French GCSE was about as far as I was ever going to get.

Dyslexia hurts language learning? But not your spelling it seems.

In future – try harder to engage in discussion. Or better still, try less hard to fight a corner instead of having a conversation.

You know, I think I prefer it when you post drunk. Your rudeness and ignorance remain about the same, maybe a little bit more, but you post with a lot less self righteous moral posturing.

Or just give up. You’ve added nothing to my understanding of this debate so I perhaps wouldn’t feel I’ve lost out if you stopped posting on LC.

I will bear it in mind. However I feel I have an obligation to make up for the education you clearly did not get. Don’t rush to thank me. I see it as my civic duty.

@ 61 Margin4error
I have no good answer for “But since exams are by nature rather testable things – it seems odd that no one has done a study showing that a Maths A-level now, requires a student to be less adept at understanding maths, than a Maths A-level 50 years ago” but it now seems that for some less easily comparable exams OfQual has done a study vindicating my son’s complaints –
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/exams-are-easier-now-report-finds-7704278.html
One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to note that the study started after the change of government nor (though it helps) that Dr Clennon launched her pre-emptive strike ten days before the OfQual report was published.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. BevR

    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system http://t.co/hxGTTabU

  2. DPAC

    RT @libcon The quiet revolution coursing through our education system http://t.co/NrtJBoTe

  3. BevR

    RT @libcon The quiet revolution coursing through our education system http://t.co/NrtJBoTe

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    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system | Liberal … http://t.co/94eYihKV

  5. Martin McQuillan

    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system http://t.co/hxGTTabU

  6. Revelation Kollektiv

    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/qXuxMnTV via @libcon

  7. Revelation Kollektiv

    RT @libcon: The quiet revolution coursing through our education system http://t.co/6VtumaH9

  8. Alex Braithwaite

    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/GX7auerb via @libcon

  9. seuss [ sue]

    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/GX7auerb via @libcon

  10. BevR

    The quiet revolution coursing through our education system | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/PdssOaa4 via @libcon

  11. Revelation Kollektiv

    @mattpearson @sunny_hundal Read my piece. If free schools are denied those who need them there will be consequences http://t.co/Zv2Tn7hr





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