Thursday, January 04, 2007


Ignoring the fact that 76% of the UK population probably believe in fairies, I'm completely in favour of schools selecting children by academic ability. I went to a Comprehensive and sat between Ashley and Einstein. Einstein got a 'C' when he could have got an 'A' in a better school and Ashley was made to read French when he could barely read English. If there had been someone to teach him car mechanics, building skills or plumbing, then maybe he wouldn't have dropped out to sniff glue.

If we look at both ends of the spectrum, we see that the Comprehensive System cannot cope.

In 1970 a bright but poor kid could pass the 11+ and had a higher chance than they do nowadays of achieving the Holy Grail of Learning- a place at Oxford or Cambridge University. In fact both institutions recently admitted that virtually all their State intake is now from just 165 schools (mainly Grammars) that can teach to the standard required.

At the other end of the scale, the completely non academic pupil is bored senseless by five years of stuff that is totally incomprehensible to them and which they will never, ever need. Funnily enough, they constantly misbehave and we breathe a sigh of relief when they leave at sixteen, unable to read, write or do simple sums.

So we ruin the chances of both the top and bottom of the academic ability range, even though they take up most of our time; to the detriment of those in the middle who just keep quiet and struggle on.

There are four types of teacher.

1) The very academic who could teach ‘A’ Level (and the old ‘S’ Level) without any difficulty.

2) The less academic who are very good with the naughty kids.

3) Those who can do (1) and (2) (rare, valuable but unrewarded)

4) Those who can do neither and should be sacked.(2% my estimate)

Just as we can hardly expect to find many of (2) or (4) teaching at Eton, neither can we expect to find many of (1) at your Inner City Hellhole Comprehensive, which is a bit of a blow if you happen to be the poor but exceptionally bright kid who needs them most.

We should admit that the present system has been a disaster and go back to selecting kids at 11 by academic ability. Use an exam or trust what their teachers think. That way every child could get the education that is best for them, rather than the 'one size fits all' mess that we have now.

No wonder everyone who can afford it (along with many who probably can't) pays for their kids to go to Private School.


El Tel said...

We live in a county which still has Grammars and evry day I thank my luck stars that my daughter passed the 11+ and is getting a decent education.

The alternative school that she would have attended had she failed, sends a shudder down my spine.

I absolutely agree with selection but it should be law though that the schools where the non academic kids go should be properly funded so that they can get the resources to teach them useful stuff and recruit the people with the ability to teach it.

alanorei said...

Back in 1959 when I started attending secondary school in Sydney, Aust. (the land of Test Cricket), we had streaming where more academically inclined pupils (including myself, based on exam results) did a course called

'2 Language General.'

The languages were French and Latin, the 'general' consisted of English, History, Maths and Science.

Other pupils did a course called 'Non Language Technical.'

Here the emphasis was on Woodwork, Metalwork and introductory Engineering Drawing, with drawing boards, T-squares, set squares and drawing instruments.

I thought there should have been separate schools, because in my 12-year old opinion most of the NLT types were yobs, in today's parlance.

However, the ethos was right.

Our lads did well at secondary school but that was largely because we are fortunate enough to live in a good area - and their teachers were highly dedicated and commendably professional.

However, although it obviously had sets, I don't think that the comprehensive system our lads went through was necessarily better than what I experienced in 1959.

That older system would certainly have been better for the pupils Mr Chalk describes in his latest contribution.

Tom Welsh said...

I see the government has today copied your idea, and is urging specially-tailored "personal education" for each and every individual pupil at state schools.

In other news today, the government will be providing every citizen with a personal trainer, a mansion in Hampstead, a private beach, a jet plane, several non-polluting cars, and a million-a-year guaranteed pension.

al said...

One of Mr. Chalk's best posts yet - whether you agree with him or not, at least this post proposes a solution (within the context of describing the problem) as opposed to just highlighting the problem.

I moved from the UK to the US a few years ago. One British trait that has become more obvious with the perspective of distance is the tendency to spend 80% of one's energy bemoaning the problem and only 20% trying to identify a workable solution.

When only 20% of energy is spent on the solution, the result tends to be "armchair expertise" and soundbite solutions (a little like the US "Monday Morning Quarterback").

Conversley (and again, generalizing wildly) in the US, 80% of energy seems to go on the solution, with 20% on diagnosis of the problem - resulting in wonderful solutions to poorly diagnosed problems or mis-perceived issues.

We could get a lot more traction on some of these critical but challenging issues with bit more balance - both in general and in Mr. Chalk's posts. We might even bridge the gap between those with the first-hand experience of the issue e.g. Mr. Chalk and those with the ability to implement change on a broad scale, the policy makers / civil servants / policiticians.

David said...

But when we get so called educational experts saying a VOLUNTARY return to school uniform equals a return to the Nazi wonder when she and the other experts last set foot in a classroom last period on a Friday or first thing Monday with S4!

James said...

There's a lot of truth here, not to mention a refreshing lack of the utter contempt with which you usually seem to hold the greater percentage of your students in.
But 'el tel' raises an important issue; the 'pass/fail' concept, which in theory was supposed to be untrue. Of course, in practice secondary moderns were treated as dumping grounds for the less intelligent, given inadequate funds and generally gave two thirds of a generation a shitty deal; so much for 'parity of esteem'. The demise of a reasonably good apprenticeship system and a cheapest-bidder philosophy at most levels of government for the remainder of the century and beyond didn't help much either.

Anonymous said...

Spot on analysis, Mr Chalk.

I think that our education system is in its current state because thirty+ years ago, it was turning out independent, creative young people who had the potential to challenge the ruling elite. Successive governments (possibly unwitting pawns to the Whitehall mandarins) have put in place poicies that have nothing to do with improving the real educational standards achieved by our children, but which cleverly apppear to show improvement. Maybe more pupils leave school with 5 GCSEs now, but if those GCSEs are in pointless areas (what use is GCSE Dance?), or if the results are down to the teachers cheating with coursework, or if an IT course can result in the equivalent of 4 GCESs, then the pupils are not receiving a useful education. This is exactly what the ruling elite want, because they don't want a return to a situation where the working classes behave independently and creatively.

Dave said...

My wife was a teacher and said that kids with "special educational needs" got loads of resources thrown at them and everyone else was left to their own devices.

For all the extra resources the improvement in the "special educational needs" kids would be marginal at best.

My wife often wondered what would happen if the same amount of resources was targetted at the very able pupils.

Mal said...

Absolutely right. Streaming kids in a crap school isn't enough. They simply don't have the teachers capable of teaching to a high enough standard.

I'm Head of Science and we can't even recruit a teacher with a Physics degree. I reckon less than a third of my department could teach 'A' Level.

It's never going to happen though, nobody dares face up to unpleasant realities and teachers are just as much to blame.

A Bergus said...

I am an engineer, an wish to point out that many of the skills you wish to teach "Ashley" will be to advanced for them vocational skills are better suited to those with a vocation. Otherwise we will end up with a rash of badly built houses and death trap cars. Rather than give power tools to slower youngsters which they will still struggle with it would be better to just keep pushing basic maths and English until it was learnt by heart. I myself would have benefited by being held back in English until I had a grasp of the basics spell checkers can normally correct most things but reliance on these does me no favours in my adult life.