Forget record achievement in A-Levels, the real problem with education resides in contentby Jacob Reynolds / August 25, 2010 / Leave a comment
Another year, another set of record results, and another set of angry columnists, this time focusing their anger on the new A* grade. Exams are, according to the press, “too easy,” “grade-inflated,” or “too stressful.”
Yet there is silence on the real scandal, which is the content of courses and their teaching. (See also Judith Judd’s “Primary cause for concern” in this month’s Prospect). Nostalgic appeals to the “good old days” will of course get us nowhere. However, a genuinely beneficial education demands time for reflective thought, a breadth and depth of knowledge, and the opportunity to discuss and debate both on paper and out loud. Sadly, these skills are increasingly being given only to those who have the money for the private sector, or who can move to the areas with the few good state schools. My experience, and that of my peers, is that too many teachers are worried about hitting attainment targets and lesson objectives and thus do not teach concepts to the depth that is needed, but rather concentrate on simply training pupils, like prize dogs, how to navigate the assault course of exams. The result is predictably depressing. Students gain an A* in history A-level yet have no opinion of whether Stalin or Hitler was the real villain of the 20th century. Students of Paradise Lost have no idea why Satan is far more appealing than God, yet all have written it in their English A grade paper simply because they are told to do so.
Yet another tragedy is that the state school system fails to impart another key feature of education: intellectual confidence. Too often are the (regrettably few) intellectual debates among young people won by the private school kid, not because he has more knowledge, but simply because his well-schooled arrogance either flattens his opponent, or allows him to get away with made up facts and statistics.
The infiltration of new Labour’s instrumentalist agenda of environmentalist and multiculturalist politics into education has been yet another fatal turn. Instead of broadening intellectual horizons, teachers are bogged down by the demands of useless citizenship education and the need to meet “inclusivity targets” in case minorities (which…