I’m all for it.
I extol the virtues of getting an education. I keep telling people to get one. Well... some of the time. I’m not at all sure that all kids should be going to university. I’m certainly not sure a lot of kids should put their lives into financial hock to get second rate degrees in second rate subjects at, frankly, third rate universities. I wonder if many of them wouldn’t be better off getting jobs and working their way up through the ranks of their chosen careers.
I was talking to a young graduate only the other day. She finished university last summer and got a first in accountancy and management. She can’t get a position in a big city accountancy firm to qualify as an accountant, because she doesn’t have good enough A’level grades... I know! Shocking isn’t it? She has a first in an undergraduate degree in accountancy and management, and accountancy firms are checking out her A’level grades!
This, believe it or not, is common practice. Screw up at school and there’s no making good at university any more.
I was reading recently that one of the Labour Party’s latest initiatives is to extend learning in schools so that all students will be required to study English and Maths until they leave school at eighteen.
My first reaction was that this has got to be a good thing.
Then I stopped in my tracks, because I had the most awful thought. What if... Oh My God... What if the idea actually means that all those kids who used to be required to learn a certain amount of Maths and English by the time they threw in the towel at sixteen now get two extra years to learn the same amount of stuff?
Is that simply a waste of time?
Is that simply a cop out?
And, perhaps worst of all... Is it just totally, utterly demoralising? For the teachers and for the kids?
I just think it might be better to get kids through this stuff fast. It’s a bloody slog for those who hate the academic stuff, and it’s a bloody awful slog for the teachers who have to teach it while spending a huge percentage of their time just trying to keep some discipline in the classroom. Can we make the case that concentrating on this stuff, on the basics, and really getting it done, brutally, in short, sharp, bearable chunks, at least once a day, and possibly even twice a day, might be better than spreading the whole unendurable mess over an extra two years?
What is the drop out rate going to be like? I can’t believe it won’t be higher among the sixteen to eighteen year olds than it already is among the fourteen to sixteen year olds.
The sixth form has always been where kids get to take their electives, stretch themselves in the areas where they at least have some interests, and maybe even find their feet a little bit, both academically and socially. Isn’t this where we at least try to prepare them for something a little nearer to the real world they might end up living in?
Of course it’s useful to be able to budget earnings, and everyone should be able to read, but, beyond that, the bottom third of most classes in most schools isn’t going to have a great deal of use for the more esoteric stuff they are expected to learn in their English and Maths classes.
Why torture them?
Why torture their teachers?
Isn’t it all hard enough?
If I’m completely wrong and the Labour Party believes that all school kids require a greater understanding of English and Maths than the last three generations of British school kids had by the time they finished their compulsory round of those subjects at sixteen then I’d like to know why.
As it happens, I studied both of these subjects to A’level and, while I certainly enjoyed my English classes, and went on to study the subject at university, the Maths was a washout for me.
Who needs calculus or advanced trigonometry, apart from mathematicians and scientists? No kid in school in the twenty-first century... That’s who. The same goes for English, no matter my preference for the subject.
Kids need boundaries and routines, and they need discipline and good teaching. They don’t need to be ‘handled’ and they certainly don’t need this sort of initiative.
Work will always expand to fill the time allotted to it. Please, for goodness sake, can we not waste any more of these kids’ or their teachers’ time... It’s far too precious!