Just how bad is education now?


Presumably you’ve all seen Longrider’s post on teaching English?

Steve Hayes has posted the one about the talking head sitting in front of the map of South America and commenting on the world cup.  Steve wrote:

I knew that many Americans had a poor knowledge of geography — perhaps they don’t teach it in school — but I didn’t realise it was this bad.

I replied:

Knowledge of geography is but one manifestation of the educational malaise in western nations now and through ignorance arise the preconditions for wage slavery.

Take your pick of articles on the educational malaise – here, here or here, for starters.  Let’s avoid the trap this time round of ascribing the malaise to certain political moves from long ago and let’s concentrate on whether there is actually a malaise.

The link in those posts to articles on the dumbing down of GCSE and the commentary on the As levels indicates that there is indeed widespread ignorance but there is also much anecdotal evidence.

You might question, about Steve’s quote, why lack of knowledge of geography constitutes ignorance, when children are quite knowledgeable these days about Elfansafetee, rights of women, sex, David Beckham, Eastenders and other choice new disciplines.  You might question the need to read and write in today’s information technology world but then you get this:

A child’s report card

Yesterday I saw a reception class child’s report card and please remember my former role as a head teacher who used to look over the reports of teachers and countersign them.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a farrago of poor syntax, misuse of terms, substitutions, reversals and sheer misspellings, such lazy, sloppy English, masquerading as a teacher’s report.

I was shocked, seriously shocked that this is how far it’s gone.  You do see it all, don’t you?  This teacher is either passing on – or failing to – her level of English usage but she herself was accepted by that school and before that, her teacher training institution passed her for her diploma, let alone the accreditation by the educational watchdog and whatever happened to Ofsted?

When I was in teacher training a thousand years ago, we were made to write a series of responses to questions on the blackboard and absolutely everything from the grammar to the slope of the line on the board was assessed and picked apart.  Many of us, including me, had to redo it.  In other words, our assessors were sharp and knowledgeable in literacy and numeracy – they were part of the old school, the hard taskmasters.

A woman like the writer of this child’s report would never have been granted a diploma.


It does come back to my comment at the top from Steve’s site.  If the liberal arts go by the board, if children are directed away from aspects of the nation’s heritage and also denied the language and numeracy tools to be able to critically evaluate what is read, then there is a serious malaise.  Take the GCSE paper in Social Sciences: History [until 2010] and the marking guide.

Fair’s fair and History is not specifically English language testing and yet it is still eyebrow-raising to read, from the marking guide:


… and:


Now this is quite open to interpretation – an error should not prejudice you.  Teachers would interpret that to mean “any” error and as, in the second quote, spelling, punctuation and grammar have now been downgraded, then it matters not, as in Russia, how sloppy the layout, with no heading, margins, paragraphs or correctness of language but only how politically well-argued are the points the candidate makes.

Teachers are therefore to attempt to glean, through the virtually illiterate mass of text on the answer sheet, some form of “meaning” and if it accords with the prejudices – follow the question paper link above – of the setter of the paper, then full marks may be awarded.

That is the state of affairs, using one specific example.  How many more would you like?  Take your pick.

Identifying the guilty

Initially, QCA is the body, in this country, which determines what goes in and what does not but as they state, they work in with schools and thus there is a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing between the two.  Either way, the CD people determine which people are in the teacher training institutions and people from the TTIs go into curriculum research.

This then determines which teachers are approved or not.  Long term tenure breeds institutionalization of the new ideas as if they are ancient wisdom, now imparted to naive would-be teachers.

In short, there is an incestuous thing going on, over a period of generations, where only people of a certain mindset and an ever so slight but constant decreasing level of language skills and numeracy – see a Cambridge book “Knockout” for an example – get the nod.  Only “our type of person” gets to be included and only after demonstrating an affinity for and a willingness to promote a current mindset, under the guise of “being up to date on latest developments”.

I think you see how it goes.

Couple this with the economic climate and the fear of all teachers about their tenure and when they’re told to jump, they ask, “How high?”  There is not the climate for independent and original thinking, for arguing a counter-case.

The result is the child who had the report done on her.  Lovely kid but not one who is receiving a challenging education in the right areas and according to the right priorities.

Political implications

Now having produced the first entirely dumbed-down generation – Gen X was still only halfway there – there is perfect fodder for businesses to select their next crop of employees.  Instead of literate, numerate free-thinkers, there are concentric, pseudo-literate and pseudo-numerate “how high” graduates who will do anything the company tells them to.

If you are the former, then you are on the scrapheap, surplus to requirements.  You might as well work in a charity shop and do some good there because the old values are not needed in the new EU regions [fomer UK].

The government acts

To be fair again, this time to the current government, they do wish for this situation to be reversed; at least they say they do.  However, just as teachers who have no concept of “disciplining” children are now suddenly given a mandate by the government to discipline the budding ASBOs –  something the ASBOs are really going to take lying down, aren’t they – so it would be by sudden permission to upgrade educational standards.

Frankly, there is a mass of dead wood of teachers and teacher-trainers in place, having been indoctrinated all their working lives so far to place ideology over substance and they are suddenly being invited to abandon all that and do the right thing.  For a start, so many would question that they’re even doing the wrong thing, feeling that they are personally under attack for what the system has taught them.

For example, it’s taken years for the more forward thinking to understand the limits of Piaget, once the god of educational psychology and it will take another generation of teacher-trainers to reverse the damage.

Meanwhile, we have the malaise we do.

7 comments for “Just how bad is education now?

  1. Jim
    July 10, 2010 at 09:29

    A couple of personal anecdotes:

    I did the last year of O levels, in 1987. The next school year did GCSEs. At my school (admittedly a private one) the pass rate rose dramatically. To my untutored eye that means the exams got easier, by some fairly large factor.

    I also did A levels at the same school. During one lesson, while being taught a particular aspect of chemistry, our teacher mentioned that if we had to re-take our exams this subject was being dropped from the curriculum after that academic year. Oh, we said, what’s replacing it? Nothing he replied, the syllabus is just being made smaller.

    Not really surprising the pass rate has gone from about 75% when I took A levels in 1989 to over 97% nowadays. A grades from 11% to over 25%.

    All shall have prizes!

  2. July 10, 2010 at 10:28

    Yes, Jim, this is very much part of the malaise. As a [former] educator, it is galling, dismaying to watch.

  3. July 10, 2010 at 13:12

    Understanding the failings of our education system allows one to understand why the mass of ‘the great unwashed’ continue to support the traditional political establishment, and think they enjoy and are informed by the rubbish spewed out by the media.

    That notwithstanding, those who would remedy the defects face the same essential problem as reformers who would inculcate a sense of parental responsibility in those who have not benefited from the care of responsible parents: the objects of their intentions have absolutely no idea what is required.

    The system cannot be reformed. It must either collapse or be destroyed and we are nowhere near that stage yet, sadly.

  4. July 10, 2010 at 18:07

    Don’t get me started. Except, don’t blame the teachers.

  5. July 10, 2010 at 18:29

    Ta for the link. As you can tell, this is something I feel strongly about. 😉

  6. The Underdoug
    July 11, 2010 at 05:35

    I had exactly the same experience as Jim – last year of ‘O’ levels (1987) and was told by my Chemistry ‘A’ level teacher that effectively one third of the syllabus had been shaved (more like chopped) off for the 1990 ‘A’ level season.

    At work, I get to meet young apprentices who clearly have intelligence, but neither ability nor desire to use it. Not only does the education system entrench mediocrity but positively encourages it – not only are the young ignorant, but have no idea how ignorant they are. At least my generation do know how ignorant we are.

  7. July 11, 2010 at 12:25

    Here is precisely the type of person who should not be allowed anywhere near a school and yet she heads Ofted. Who appointed her?


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