Over the past twenty five years GCSE and A level results have improved year on year. Surely proof the education of the nation’s children is safe in the politicians’ hands?
Tragically nothing could be further from the truth.
I would like to state that I am not seeking to undermine any child’s efforts nor ability. I have always stressed that children are no more or less capable today, than they have ever been, but what has changed is the driving force of political self-interest and ideological dogma imposed by central governments.
In the mid-80s Margaret Thatcher’s government took the first disastrous step i.e. the abandonment of the bell curve to set grade boundaries. For years this had guaranteed that standards were maintained and was based on the sound logic that no year of students, nationally, is any brighter than any other. This system set grade boundaries after the results were known, which had the duel function of not only neutralising any of the effects ofÂ question standard anomolies, but also that the percentage of people achieving each grade was the same each year and so resulting in qualifications that could be trusted as standard. What the Thatcher government did was to remove this secure system and replace it with one that set grade boundaries before the exams were taken i.e. grade-boundary set by committee and not by results. In effect this was the first real step into allowing politicians to use education as their own personal path to glory, by allowing the grades achieved nationally to inch up just a little year on year, so they could bask in the glory.
The next disastrous step came in 1987 with the introduction of the National Curriculum. Another policy steeped in ideology, but not this time for personal gain, but rather economic i.e. cost cutting to relieve the tax burden. Now cutting the tax burden sounds like a good idea, but you don’t get anything for free and this was just another nail in the coffin of standards. The National Curriculum was simply a cynical exercise in cost-cutting which enabled the Westminster bean-counters to look at the numbers in a school and say more accurately how much that school should receive. Again at first glance this might sound reasonable however, as with most tax cutting agendas, it was far too simplistic. What the National Curriculum effectively introduced was the notion that all pupils should do all the same subjects. In effect it paid no account of whether a pupil was more academically or more practically inclined. The result was fewer practical classes, such as woodwork and motor mechanics for the practically inclined and more pupils in German and Physics lessons they hated. There was only ever going to be one outcome: a disastrous decline in behaviour brought on by frustration. Channel 4 ran an excellent short series of programmes where they put pupils (who had recently left school) into school environments 40 years ago. One programme placed a bunch of kids who had failed all their exams and had constantly caused problems in school into a Secondary Modern setting from the 1960s. They were taught practical lessons as they would have been taught them and at first they all rebelled as usual, but gradually over the two week period every one of them began to settle into the tasks set and all achieved things they never thought they could. I will never forget one chap who had built a wall and he was so proud when his Dad came to see it. It still chokes me when I think of him saying ‘that is the first thing I have ever achieved in my life’. Just think about how many people like that lad the politicians have let down? Purely for their own personal selfish ambitions and ideological dogma.
Now you may think that I would be for the re-introduction of the Grammar School system, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am passionately opposed to a system that labels anyone a failure for life at the age of 11 and after just one single chance to get it right. I was fortunate enough to be at school before the National Curriculum damaged the Comprehensive system and saw first hand how it was supposed to operate with ‘education all under one roof’. But the one size fits all dogma of the National Curriculum put an end to all that.
By the early 90s and after all these changes and constantly rising numbers of people achieving good grades the government had a problem i.e. what to do with these extra ‘achievers’? The universities and polytechnics were still only allowing the same percentage of people through their doors, but if more people were ‘succeeding’ at A level why shouldn’t degree place numbers rise accordingly? Now no one in academia was fooled by the rising numbers of A level passes and simply telling then HE institutions to increase ‘bums on seats’ just wasn’t going to cut it. So the government did the only thing they knew how to in situations likes this: they bribed the universities and polytechnics. They promised them more income through the introduction of the market into the system and they also promised that any institutions awarding their own degrees could call themselves a university.
In 1992 the Major Government de-regulated the university system and polytechnics and many FE colleges became universities, and almost across the board university places doubled in each institution overnight. The weasely compromise to selling out standards that came from the traditional universities was the creation of the self-aggrandising Russell Group, which basically wanted to set itself apart from the new universities (as they did with the polytechnics) but to keep the new money-spinning policies. – Go To Page 2