Tag Archives: gcse

School days, school days, end of the golden rule days

As of this lunchtime I no longer have a child in school. After 15 years of book bags and reading practice and PE kit and lunch money and parents’ evenings and INSET days and school reports and grumbling about the price of uniforms, suddenly it’s all over.  One is off to university this autumn, the other will be heading for sixth form college, unburdened by the need to put his hands on his school tie  ever again.

They’ve changed a lot, of course, in the past 15 years.  Possibly not as much as the school system has. Beneficiaries of New Labour’s “education, education, education” largesse  they went to an excellent local primary school, and have kept one step ahead of the  reformers ever since.

The youngest enjoyed all the sports the local primary sports coordinator introduced him to –  shortly before the school sports partnerships which made it possible were abolished.  They went to an outstanding secondary school which was in the very last group of schools to be refurbished under the generous old Building Schools for the Future programme.  The oldest completed her AS levels in the year before AS’s were changed.  The youngest has just done the last year of old-style GCSEs before syllabuses, course work and the grading system itself are all reformed. They leave the school system while uncertainties about possible forced Academisation swirl around.  I have occasionally pictured their ride through the school system like a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark:  we are, collectively playing the part of  Indiana Jones running just ahead of the granite ball representing the Department for Education – or maybe we’re  Bart, they’re Homer:

They’ve done fine, of course, thanks to a series of hard-working, professional,  and downright wonderful teachers  who cajoled, inspired, and enlightened them all the way and who genuinely seemed to care about what happened to them. And not everything has changed since my day.  I asked my son how he felt about leaving.  “Now it’s over I can look back on it and say it was great” he said (remember, he left school about two hours ago) “But at the time, when you’re there and you’re a teenager and you hate everything, it makes you feel like banging your head on the desk.”  I doubt there’s anyone who went to any school, anywhere, who doesn’t know exactly how that feels.

Michael Gove and facts, facts, facts

According to this morning’s Guardian, Michael Gove is to make a speech claiming that rote learning is the key to success in education:

Competitive, difficult exams for which pupils must prepare by memorising large amounts of facts and concepts will promote motivation, solidify knowledge and guarantee standards.

Now, you could reach for the Dickens and quote Gradgrind to discuss this.  Or you can go a bit further back in time and let William Hazlitt debunk it for you:

William Hazlitt self portrait 1802

“The things which a boy is set to learn at school and on which his success depends are things which do not require the exercise either of the highest or the most useful faculties of mind.  Memory … is the faculty chiefly called into play, in conning over and over repeated lessons by rote… A lad with a sickly constitution and no very active mind who can just retain what is pointed out to him will generally be at the head of the form. ” (From  On the Ignorance of the Learned, 1820-ish)

And given the subject of the feature article in G2 on Eton and the old boy network, it’s worth remembering that Hazlitt also pointed this out – almost 200 years ago:

 It should not be forgotten that the least respectable character among modern politicians was the cleverest boy at Eton