Time after time there have been measures taken of school leavers and of UK adults showing adult functional illiteracy as high as 20% of the population and functional innumeracy as high as 40%. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measure the academic achievement of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science and reading has the UK at an abysmal 26th in the world, but this is buoyed up by our excellent private education system, without which we would be performing even worse in the ratings. Basically our education system is not fit for purpose, is dragging back the country and is a national disaster. We have slipped steadily down all the global rankings. We have a real crisis on our hands.
The British education system is designed for Empire. With a very good private education producing officers for the army and navy whilst a poor public (state) education gave the other ranks all the education they needed. The same applies in industry where the managers had good private education whilst the workers learned the minimum in public education. Trades and crafts were learned after leaving school in on the job apprenticeships. This is pretty much the system we have today.
Ironically once it was much better. In the 1950s and 1960s public education became totally egalitarian and meritocratic. Children were tested and streamed on merit and aptitude, not on wealth. The academic cream went to Grammar Schools, those with other skills went to Technical Modern Schools. The private education system withered away because it could not compete. We had global excellence. Many fantastic teachers, often with Oxbridge degrees, had fought a war and knew how the world worked, so they were able to prepare students for a lifetime in the real economy.
And then the left took over. They brought in political correctness. So selection on merit was “wrong”. Actually learning anything was also wrong as “progressive” education was introduced. The teachers unions wielded power, yet they are the biggest enemy of education and of children. The destruction they wrought was so massive that the middle classes removed their children from the state system and private education exploded. The lefties achieved the exact opposite of what they were trying to achieve, an us and them society. With the public system indoctrinating their pupils in socialist ideology such as multiculturalism and thought crime. Whilst the private system taught their students how to succeed in the real world.
Nowadays it is also considered politically incorrect for anyone to be deprived from having a degree. So the polytechnics became universities and useless degrees are now handed out like confetti. Most of these degrees end up conferring no advantage to the individual or to the economy. Practical disciplines, like nursing, became academic subjects and went downhill. A Bachelor’s degree now is worth less than A levels were in 1960. Only a 2.1 or above from a Russell Group university has any credibility. Many polytechnic university graduates are close to functional illiteracy and innumeracy. That more than a third of sex workers are graduates tells you all you need to know about the quality of degrees.
Also the subjects taught are all wrong. In 1960 education was all about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, which are of real value to the student and to the economy. These have been largely replaced by the soft subjects of the liberal arts, which really are just glorified hobbies. These are academically far easier. They are also mostly totally useless for the student and society. An immense and incredibly expensive waste.
There is a lot to be fixed and the current government has done a lot. But they are held back by rabid left wing unions, ingrained political correctness and a defeatist acceptance of our awful system throughout much of society. So how do we fix it?
The first thing is to get rid of bad teachers. There are a lot of them because for decades it has been nearly impossible to get rid of them. Yet just one bad teacher, over a career, will blight the lives of thousand of children. So the system and the trade unions enforcing their retention is utterly immoral. We need a rigorous teacher evaluation system and the worst must go immediately. Then over successive years the bar can be raised, with re-education of teachers where applicable, dismissal otherwise, so we get to having an excellent teaching profession. An elite who we need to ensure that our population are properly educated.
Next we need a system of thorough pupil testing, evaluation and streaming. A class can only be taught at the rate of the least able pupil, so either everyone else is held back or that pupil is ignored. So not streaming is utterly immoral, unfair for the bright as well as for the less able. The Grammar School (already the top academic stream) that I went to streamed internally into two arts streams and two science streams with maths streamed separately into five groups. So in classes you were surrounded by those of like ability, which made both teaching and learning a lot easier and the results a lot better. In the top arts stream I was able to study all the sciences and in the top maths stream I was able to take and pass my O level a year early.
Children who fail academically at the end of a school year should have remedial teaching instead of a summer holiday. Those who still cannot get up to standard should be held back a year. Any child who has been held back twice and who fails a third time should go into special needs, instead of holding back all the other students.
Then we must look at what is taught and how. School leavers MUST have 100% literacy and numeracy. There is no excuse for anything otherwise. After that STEM subjects must take absolute priority. Liberal arts should be relegated back to hobby status, were they belong. Progressive teaching should be thrown out of the window. Intellectual rigour is needed so that students actually learn their subject and can prove this in an exam.
In Britain we have an excellent private school system and a mediocre public school system. This is morally wrong. For the rich people, who pay twice for their child’s education, once in tax and once in school fees. And for the poor, whose children have no access to the best teachers and the best schools. The answer is an educational voucher system which can be spent at any school. Existing state schools would need no additional payment. Private schools could work with additional top up payments from parents. But in reality the bursaries and grants needed to take on poor but academically gifted students would be so small that private schools would be highly incentivised to select on merit. Overnight a voucher system, allied to rigorous selection, would make our schools vastly more meritocratic. Equality of opportunity, banished by the socialists, would return to our society.
Religion must be thrown out of schools. Believing in a special friend who lives in the sky and who has magic powers is ridiculous and indoctrinating it in a rational education system is absurd. Especially as religion is responsible for most of the tensions within our society. Schools must be oases of secularism. Any school teaching creationism or intelligent design should be shut down immediately and the teachers involved barred from ever teaching again.
One huge problem we have is that most of our teachers have never left school. They have zero experience of the real world that they are preparing students for. This is one reason why many teachers are deluded into thinking that lefty dogma works and into thinking it is OK to indoctrinate it into students. Teaching should become a vocation for mature people, as a second career. This would be especially useful for people leaving the military. Becoming a teacher without several years of valid real world experience should be illegal.
Now to universities. There must be rigorous external audit of their standards. A degree must start to mean something again. Funding must be moved, on a very large scale, from liberal arts to STEM subjects, with a big focus on applying skills to jobs. The number of people attending university needs to be radically reduced. There are many far better ways of learning a vocation. Going straight from a Bachelor’s degree to a Master’s degree should be stopped. Once again real world experience is needed in between. Likewise between Master’s and Doctorship. Right now there are very many people with PhDs who think they are knowledgeable, when they are not. Yet these are the people who end up teaching, in a vicious spiral of ignorance.
Throughout education dogma must be thrown out, whether this is the existence of global warming, the arguments about wealth redistribution or the merits of Margaret Thatcher. Instead we need proper intellectual rigour. Students need to be able to see and understand issues from all viewpoints. They need to be taught to think about the opposite of their prejudices and preconceptions. Because that is what real education is. And currently far too few students are getting it.
Modern Britain was built by the golden, meritocratic, grammar school generation. It provided all our Prime Ministers between Douglas-Home leaving in 1964 and Blair arriving in 1997. Now we have a population with a large, unemployable, dysfunctional pool of people created by the application of socialist dogma. Employers cannot find educated people in this country and are forced to recruit from abroad. Many companies have now been forced to put recruits through internal basic education courses before they are even fit to start job training. The application of socialist dogma to educating children has been an unmitigated disaster which has impaired the life quality of many millions of people. Applying the measures in the article above is an urgent fix that our nation desperately needs. We need an education system that prepares people for real jobs in our real economy.
Further analysis of why our awful education system fails so badly here. (click the highlight)