Britain’s awful education system

Scene from Goodbye Mr Chips movie

Britain is the land of Eton and Harrow of Oxford and Cambridge of Professor Stephen Hawking, Sir James Dyson, Stephen Fry and Sir Richard Branson so what could be wrong?

Well the simple historic fact is that Britain has a two tier education system designed to service an Empire and the two sorts of people it produces are the officer class, who are well educated and the cannon fodder, who need very little education at all. This transferred well to industry where we needed managers and factory workers. So we stuck with the system.

The result of this is that Britain’s education system is totally unsuited to the post industrial world we supposedly inhabit, the world of knowledge based industries, of services, of portfolio careers and of incredibly rapid change. So we have an adult population which has a 20% functionally illiteracy rate and we have a million NEETs (youths not in education, employment or training). Utter, utter educational failure.

Amazingly the Labour party, with their “us” and “them” political philosophy have made things far worse by entrenching the two tier system. The one great route that a member of the great unwashed masses could follow to elevate themselves to officer class was the Grammar School. These fantastic institutions enabled social mobility on a huge scale as people rose to the top on merit instead of parentage. So Labour got rid of them.

The worst thing about our education system, quite obviously, are the teachers. They are self evidently failing at their job and the wonders of public service mean that the good ones and the bad ones get rewarded the same, also it is nearly impossible to get rid of the really bad ones.

Our teachers go from school to university then back to school as teachers. So they have zero experience of the real world. No wonder that our education system is a hotbed of misguided socialism. Compare and contrast with Baby Boomers who were fortunate to be taught by teachers who had fought through a World War and who had experienced the world, no wonder it was the most successful generation in history.

The answer to this problem is simple, make teaching a second career for people who are 40+ and who have seen a bit of the world and who have some idea how it works. They would command far more respect from their pupils and they would prepare them far better for their lives after education. So maybe we would end up with more school leavers better suited to take their place in society instead of the current situation where so many are just fodder for the benefits system.

One new policy that will make education work a lot better is the £9,000 tuition fee, even though the repayment terms are incredibly soft. The debt involved will focus minds, so the school pupils will tend to shun soft subjects and focus more on gaining knowledge that is of use in the real world. As ever the power of the market will work where throwing services at people for “free” has failed.

One thing is for sure, we absolutely must improve and we must improve fast, or we will end up as the poor men of the world. The education systems in the BRIC countries are churning out huge numbers of very well educated students with exactly the right skills to prosper in the world of today and tomorrow. People worry about the way these countries are beating us at manufacturing when the real problem for us is the way that they are beating us at education.


  1. Some great points as usual Bruce. I feel it needs pointing out that even kids who missed out on a grammar school education were literate and numerate and had an excellent knowledge of their country’s history as recently as (most of) the eighties.


  2. Four in five parents who work as teachers say they will be unable to afford university tuition fees for their children when the cap rises to £9,000 next year.


  3. Only 17 per cent of teachers were confident they could fund course fees compared with 62 per cent of lawyers, according to research by finance specialist Wesleyan for Teachers.


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