What is wrong with UK education. And how to fix it

PISA 650

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.

Economist degree graph 650

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)

Debate 650



  1. You make many points here that I have long agreed with. Teachers moving straight from school to uni to school can never be good, unfortunately due to the ever increasing demand for teachers due to the population boom and infrastructure shortage caused by mass-immigration of the last 10 years there is no real option but to churn out “teachers” as quick as possible, rather than as prepared as possible.

    The placing ex-military in schools is a possible option, I’ve also recently thought about encouraging citizens of 50+ as excellent options. The amount of bored pensioners out there is colossal and I’m sure many would jump at the chance to impart their life’s knowledge to a new generation!

    The idea that degrees have lost their credibility due to too many individuals achieving them, too many under-par institutions and definitely too many soft subject areas is 100% on the money. It is also entirely Tony Blair’s fault with his “50% of the population going to university” mantra! Employers now face the impossible task of trying to suss out which institutions are credible, and even which subjects within that institution are credible. For example what individual is more qualified, one with a 2:1 in politics from Edinburgh or one with a 1st in maths from a former polytechnic? The only way to fix this is to physically close down plenty of these institutions entirely, only there’s not a chance any lefty politician will advocate this.

    I also do not understand why so many are against Grammar schools, I went to one which acted as you described (streamed by subject). This meant that I was mixed with different people per subject which enables you to create more friendship circles. Everyone knew they were in a class of similar ability, you also aren’t told what level you are (although we could usually work it out). What makes this important as it allows the best to achieve their full potential which is something that mixed ability sets can never do as you described. But what my school did was it gave the best teachers to the lower sets, for example I went from a D to an A in French in my GCSE year as my set had one of the better teachers. Finally something that people seem to forget about mixed ability sets is that the teacher has to create 5 lesson plans, mark 5 sets of homework, explain and monitor 5 different exercises in the classroom which all detracts from actually focusing on the children. I lived with three teachers and when I told them about how I was taught they said they would chew their leg off to be able to do that as they could really focus their attentions on the most needy kids. Most of them actually said that with the extra time they would probably try and run extra classes for those falling behind!

    All of this summarises that this mixed ability idea although it saves hurting a child’s feelings about not being as good, is totally detrimental to the improvement of the child. What’s better for a child, to grow up never having their feelings hurt? Or never learning to count properly?

    Your best (although most controversial) idea is keeping kids back a year, or enforced summer school. If I had a quid for the amount of times I’ve heard “but kids all develop at different rates” I’d be loaded! And I agree with that statement, they do mentally age at different rates, but we all need everyone to leave school with a minimum skill set. Thinking logically about this leaves only a couple of options: 1) All kids leave school at the same age, regardless of the level of maturity or knowledge they have received. 2) Keep kids within a certain bracket until they have understood the minimum knowledge level of that bracket to enable them to try and learn the next stage, regardless of what age that is achieved.
    I can already see the outrage bus lining up to say “it will be demoralising and inhumane to hold a child back as it will hurt their feelings, etc, etc.” But that is just trying to have it both ways, as that child will then grow up to have no skills and have the 10 years of delayed pain thrust upon them at once when they discover that they are completely unemployable and the only way to become so is go back to school!


    1. Andy, how exactly do you propose ‘keeping kids back a year’? If you want to create frustrated, angry and potentially violent young people – that morally bankrupt idea of yours is a good contender.

      You bemoan ‘mass immigration’ (originality clearly isn’t one of your strenghts), yet, you you know not, that throughout the 1990s students of Indian and Chinese origin outperformed others. Young women of Pakistani origin have now joined that group.
      Indeed, it was Enoch Powell (someone you admire, I assume?) who actively encouraged mass immigration from Commonwealth nations to rebuild the UK.


  2. May I ask two questions, for the purpose of clarification? When you mention Liberal Arts are you including history, politics and English Literature under this umbrella? Also, how would your new system deal with the endemic socio-economic problems that young people face?


  3. You clearly know nothing at all about education beyond your own experience (When I went to Grammar school. ..). The biggest problem with OECD data is using it at all, since the data itself is myopic in what it regards to be important. The problem is not leftie teachers but constant tinkering by politicians with no understanding of pedagogy or how children learn.
    How do you justify your arguments when considering countries like Finland, which leave teachers to do their jobs with minimum interference?
    This article is so right wing and filled with wrong assumptions it could qualify for aDaily Mail article.


  4. I have no words for you utter morons!


    1. Scott, I really hope that you aren’t a teacher, because you are right at the bottom of the pyramid of intellect:


  5. Please, I pray to God, (I love a bit of irony) you never choose to enter teaching as a “second career”. I don’t think I have ever read anything more maniacal and dogmatic since Mein Kampf, and we all know where dear old Adolf’s politics lay..on the wrong side of the right. However, as I only have a degree in a ‘soft’ subject like History I suppose I don’t count. Not to mention the fact I went straight from school to university to become a teacher, because I had this hair brained idea I wanted to work with children and help them learn new knowledge and skills. Oh, I had a dose of the ‘real world’ every holiday working in manufacturing whilst at university (of Birmingham, not a polytechnic)…but I guess that doesn’t count either does it? I suppose the fact I got a 2:1 degree is the only thing you’d think I had going for me? The sad fact is I come from a working class, less than privileged background. I am incredibly thankful my bog standard secondary state education saw me able to study subjects I loved and I got to the opportunity to go to university. The first ever in my family. Why shouldn’t people like me have had the chance? I have now had a successful career in teaching for 17 years. Children I have taught in very socio-economic deprived areas have gone on to become lawyers and teachers themselves. What right do you have to say only those who go to grammar schools should? What tosh.

    I thought I had no words for you, turns out I did. Your opinion is backed up only by very dicey data, which means absolutely nothing in the ‘real world’ you are so apparently fond of. If you had any ounce of intelligence you would know data is open to all sorts of interpretation. The fact China is only represented by areas such as Shanghai and Hong Kong speaks volumes. But I guess anyone can twist data to suit their own agenda. I should know, the teaching profession have had to become experts at it.

    I’m not saying there isn’t an awful lot wrong with our education system. I could write reams on the subject. However, making this a left wing/right wing argument is at best naive. Successive governments, both left and right wing, both here and in other Western societies such as the USA and Australia have lost their way completely as far as education is concerned. Unfortunately, the fact that children are at the heart of education seems to have been lost. You, sir seems to have no understanding of how children operate or of what they need, so to me your opinions here (despite being presented as fact) are an utter nonsense. I suspect that you, as with most people who wish to denigrate teachers and schools, haven’t stepped inside a school since you left one after 16.

    But thanks for a good laugh at any rate.


    1. Joanne,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to help to prove me right. I could deconstruct your entire rant, however I will satisfy myself with this: “Children I have taught in very socio-economic deprived areas have gone on to become lawyers and teachers themselves. What right do you have to say only those who go to grammar schools should? What tosh.” This is pure fiction, I say no such thing. You really do need to brush up on your comprehension skills.

      I would add that the article finishes with the pyramid of intellect. You seem to have ignored this entirely and placed yourself firmly near the bottom:


  6. There are several problems as I see it. I am a teacher that went to uni from school and back into school, I don’t believe this is the issue. The main problems I see are getting rid of teachers that are not teaching to a good standard as they often just get moved onto another school. The biggest problem I see is the lack of support from parents, it used to be the teacher telling the parents they need to do more now it is the other way around. I have never seen teachers work as hard as they do now always just to be slated by people not in the profession.


  7. Oh Bruce, I think you have a wonderful grasp on the problems of education. I sincerely hope you can be persuaded to give up your valuable work in marketing computer games to offer your insights in the classroom as you suggest people of experience should do. I’m sure you would be able to engage up to 35 children and hold their attention while you ranted at them and dinned your 1950s ‘ideas’ into their dear little ears. I’m certain you’d be bright, cheery and supportive towards young people who often have very complicated life while working at least 60 hours a week.
    On a side note, have you been into a school inthe last 30 years? Have you seen the quality of work produced by children? Have you seen the hard work done by the teachers? Have you asked a teacher about their workload and the constantly changing expectations of government? If the answers are ‘no’ it might be a good idea to rectify the situation before you make yourself look ignorant.


  8. how to fix education system in UK?

    Do we teach mathematics the wrong way?

    new innovation in teaching mathematics.

    Actually, we had succeeded to develop new curriculum for teaching mathematics and increasing a child’s IQ. Our new curriculum can help all children in the world to learn mathematics so easily. We argue that, for children, learning mathematics is more efficient when it relies, more on the visual-spatial system rather than on an immature formal language system in the brain. In fact, relying heavily on the formal language system can cause mathematics anxiety when learning mathematics, which in turn, decrease a student’s ability to learn mathematics effectively.
    The problem is most mathematics curricula teach the subject matter using mostly formal language, making the process inversely beneficial for children training to learn mathematics at such a young age, when their formal language systems have yet to mature.

    How can we teach children mathematics so easily?
    1- Because visual-spatial capabilities are well-developed and mature at a young age, a math curriculum in the form of tables conveying the concepts allows the child an opportunity to easily learn mathematical concepts.
    2- We use the visual-spatial x y z system with first grade students.
    3- Explaining tables and mathematical concepts to the students should be conducted by using informal language and visual-spatial methods students more readily understand.
    4- Any formal language vocabulary used should be kept to a minimum, and should be easy to understand.
    5- We are using brain training programs, to build strong mathematics processing networks and processes in the student’s brain.

    The Authors
    Margery J. Doyle Margery is a founder or at Cognitive System Architects and Engineer Research Consultant and serves at AFRL WPAFB, OH as a Cognitive Systems Research Scientist and Engineer with L3 Communications Link Simulation and Training supporting the Air Force Research Lab 711 HPW/RHA Warfighter Readiness Research Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH. Margery leads the Not-So-Grand-Challenge to support integration, validation, and use of cognitive, behavior, and computationally based models/agents within a modular architecture for use in Live Virtual Constructive Distributed Mission Operations training environments.
    Dr. Ahmed A. Moustafa, PhD.

    Ahmed is currently a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience at Marcs Institute for Brain and Behavior and the School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney. Ahmed graduated from Cairo University in Egypt with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science. After that, Ahmed received his PhD from the Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Louisiana-Lafayette. His PhD work consisted of building computational models of brain functions and disorders. Ahmed then took a postdoctoral research position at University of Arizona. Following that, Ahmed served as a Research Scientist for the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University where he worked on computational and neuropsychological studies of schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, and Depression.


  9. Hey Bruce,
    I hope you can see this comment. I´m currently writing a report on the Conservatives Green Paper involving the lift of bans to open new Grammar´s. I would like to agree with what you have written about the effect of abolishing Grammar Schools on education overall and although personally you have already convinced me, the thesis isn´t essay proof without any backup. I understand that much of what you have written is based on personal experience, but I would welcome if you could help me out finding some relevant sources, seeing your already an expert on the topic.

    Cheers in advance


  10. I am training to be a teacher and from this point I want to agree with some of the points made by Bruce. Hard a pill it might be to swallow, the system of just moving children along without them really learning is not doing anybody any good. A class of 23 16 -19 year olds that I teach on my training are a testimonial that the system is gone wrong. You wonder sometimes at what they learnt in early education. Children don’t all learn at the same pace and at the same level so they should not be taught at the same pace and at the same level. What is wrong with aiming to have an educational system continuum with excel exceedingly to excel as the to extremes. It’s about everyone excelling at there own pace and level. Really a lot of teachers need to do more.


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