A Postcard from Broadstairs

On Monday evening I found myself in Broadstairs.  A free ice-cream for everyone who knows where Broadstairs is, but for those who don’t, it’s about as close as you can get to Moscow while still in the county of Kent, and without getting your feet wet.

I don’t think I had ever been before, and I was immediately reminded of Lyme Regis in Dorset, which I have visited a number of times on holiday (quick plug for holidays in Britain here).  A delightful seaside town, with a lot of Georgian architecture and old-world charm.  I stayed in the Royal Albion Hotel, which kindly gave me a room with a bay window overlooking the harbour.  Well worth a visit.

The occasion was a UKIP public meeting in the Broadstairs Pavilion.  It was remarkably well-attended — I estimate about three hundred — and most came from the local area, which had been leafleted by the local UKIP branch.  On a show of hands most seemed to be general public rather than UKIP members — though a number joined up on the night.  I very much doubt that any other political party could get such an audience in a small town, but UKIP seems to have the knack.  I recall the similar meeting in St. Ives, Huntingdon, in March. 

Of course Nigel Farage was the big attraction, but I got to do a short piece as warm-up-man.  Leaving the big issue of the EU to Nigel, I concentrated on my specialist area of energy and climate change, and why we’re not fans of wind-farms.  Broadstairs in blighted by a couple of off-shore wind farms which signally fail to improve the views from the cliffs, and have infuriated many local residents.  The local area has also suffered from the closure of the nearby Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, a victim of the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive.

The audience was generally very on-side, and applauded a number of UKIP policies.  But at the end there were one or two challenging questions (one from a greenie who had somehow strayed in and insisted that I was wrong on global warming — but he seemed to fail to catch the mood of the meeting).

One, however, was a teacher, and I was frankly astonished by his question.  He started by quoting from a UKIP leaflet which stated that standards had fallen in schools and that exams had been dumbed-down.  What evidence did we have for this, he asked?

Where to start?  There’s a story in the Express today as I write (April 4th), “Warning on soft-touch test culture”  saying that academics are losing faith in the ability of new students, who have a “shallower knowledge than in the past”, quoting research by Ofqual.  We read of modular tests that allow pupils to mug up on a small area of the subject, gain a pass on test papers using multiple-choice questions, and then to re-sit failed modules.  That’s a far cry from the sort of exams we used to do, covering the whole course in a single sitting, and posing open-ended questions requiring a real understanding of the subject.

Twenty years ago the UK was mostly in the top five countries for comparative academic performance in our schools.  Now we’re often languishing in double figures, eclipsed by countries like Korea, which we used to think of as “developing”.  Now they exceed our performance not only in academic attainment, but in broad-band availability too.  Maybe the two are not unrelated.

Then we read that 20% of our school leavers are functionally illiterate, and that employers and universities are complaining that school leavers are not ready for the work-place or for tertiary studies.

The evidence that we are losing touch with leading nations is overwhelming.  I am surprised that the teacher in the audience dared to pose the question.

I hate to describe a problem without offering some pointers to a solution.  I believe we need more traditional teaching methods and more rigorous examinations.  We need fewer modules and multiple-choice questions.  We need to teach the three Rs (and if necessary — and it’s more and more necessary — ensure that all pupils speak English).  We must engage children with the written word as a joy and a leisure activity — not a chore — and get them away from their computer games.  Especially we need to convince them that success in life comes from hard work, and that any individual child is really rather unlikely to become a reality TV star, or a pop star, or a famous film-star or footballer.

And in my view (and UKIP’s view) we need to bring back grammar schools.  We allowed selection to become a dirty word — yet it enabled education to be tailored to academic or vocational needs, and provided a route to achievement for bright children from poor families.  It is bizarre that the “free schools” concept allows parents or other groups to set up any type of school they want — except a grammar school.  So well done Kent County Council for planning to set up new grammar schools under the “second campus” loophole.

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15 Responses to A Postcard from Broadstairs

  1. Good to see the growth of UKIP on the ground

  2. Captain says:

    Thank you. Good read. Good news.

  3. Sandy Jamieson says:

    I know its hard to blame the town, but is this not the place where the loathesome Ted Heath was born and educated? But then again, to mention it might be intruding on the town’s personal grief

  4. rfhmep says:

    ‘Fraid so.

  5. Julia Gasper says:

    Roger – you are absolutely right that standards in schools have been dumbed down. They have been allowed to slide and slide. The present GCSE English does not represent anything like the standard of literacy that used to be demanded by the old O-level, And the widespeard use of coursewark instead of exams means that cheating is easier than ever.
    I have been an examiner and I know what I am taking about.

  6. Julia Gasper says:

    You are right about grammar schools too! Call them what you like, selective schools give all pupils a chance to learn at the rate they can manage. It is fairer and it gets better results.

  7. Anton York says:

    I, like most people I know, don’t know what you mean by ‘Grammar Schools’. Do you mean that you want to separate the seemingly bright at 11 kids from the not so obviously coached by 11 kids?
    Or do you mean, as it was when I became a GOAT in 1956, spend lots more money on the influential people’s well coached kids education by over-endowing their school and robbing the others. (classes of 40+ as I remember) by neglect and teaching them misleading lies or teaching to the slowest. Most of the boys I knew who ‘passed’ actually ‘failed’ when they left. They wasted it all. Just like ‘us lot’.
    I agree with most of what you write Roger but on this one you have double glazed pink specks my friend. (If you are a product of the old system, count up what happened to all your contemporaries).
    One last point; if it’s done fairly (?) well over 80% of Grammar school pupils will be girls. Even more fiddling will be required.
    How far are you prepared to go with this delusion?

    • Julia Gasper says:

      No I’m sorry Anton but you are totally wrong here. Just because you were not selected fro a grammar school you have a resentment towards them. Let me tell you about two brothers whom I know very well. Both are now retired. The younger one passed the 11-plus, went to a grammar school , was very proficient in languages and got into Oxford. He then went into the teaching profession for thirty-five years or more. The elder one failed the 11-plus and went to a technical school. He left it at 14 (yes!) to take an apprenticeship in tool-making. From there he got into industry and became an engineer in a nuclear power plant. He has always earned more money than his brother – approx twice as much in fact. He owns a nice detached house in England and a holiday house in Cyprus near the coast and lets his younger brother (who only owns a flat in England) stay there from time to time. He has also gone on reading and studying all his life and is very happy with his level of education. When the younger brother visits him there is no resentment and no feeling of a gap between them. The elder one usually explains some of the finer points of computer skills to the younger one, who is not technically minded. They still support the same football club. There is no gulf between them and no resentment.
      Let me also tell you about my aunt, who went to a secondary modern school, got O-levels, then did a secretarial course. She has always had comfortable office jobs with the civil service and she regards herself as vaguely middle-classish in an unsnobbish way.
      As for your suggestion tht more gilrs would pass the 11-plus, well good for them. That would be a reason for the boys to sit up and do some bloody work for a change. Modern teenage boys are very lazy. If you compare exam results rather than course work boys are nearly as good as girls.
      Selective schooling is not a “delusion” – it is a UKIP policy that I (as a teacher) am very happy with.

    • Julia Gasper says:

      PS And by the way there were 33 in my class at the grammar school.

  8. Julia Gasper says:

    Actually I think there were 34 – enough for three hockey teams and one reserve.

  9. Julia Gasper says:

    PS. It’s a myth that most children who pass the 11-plus are coached. You are just saying that because you didn’t pass!

  10. Anton York says:

    Naw, naw na naw naw! No, I’m not “just saying that because I failed”. (Didn’t pass = failed) Further, you seem to agree that girls will grab most of the prizes, well that’s not good enough is it?
    Again; what do ‘you’ people mean by “Grammer Schools”?
    Seperate all kids by how they feel and function at “around” 11 years old ‘never’ to cross over the line again?
    Or do you mean pump more of the money/resourses into the ones we/you choose?
    Or do you really mean that you want “genteel” persons to reach the stations in life that their ancestors would wish for them but are now in terrible wealth decline?

    I was there; It was wrong with a capital ‘R’.

    • Anton York says:

      Hi again Julia, (love your name by the way) I have just re-read your last post and realised that you say a bloke you know got to Oxford in the late 50s but ended up a teacher. That’s my point; what a waste of the best education my country can supply. I knew blokes who went from 2ndMod to tech college and, because they weren’t ‘held back’, soared to the sky and did brilliantly. The system failed them and ipso facto damaged all of us. (and I do mean damaged)

  11. Julia Gasper says:

    What an awful thing to say, to call somebody’s career in teaching a waste!!!!!!!! I don’t think I want to know you, Anton, it is clear that you have got a deeply-ingrained anti-education mentality. The teacher in question who went to Oxford from a grammar school in the laste SIXTIES not fifties has had a valuable and excellent career and deserves respect and appreciation. No wonder you failed since you regard teachers with disdain. One of the worst things about the comprehensive system is the anti-education mentality. Any child who wants to learn is sneered at as “precocious”. UKIP’s education policy is to let the voters in an area decide what schools the County Council EA provides and then to provide them. In the majority of cases this would mean setting up a selective school. We believe in letting all children who want it have another chance at 13 so the 11-plus is not final, and of course those who do well at 16 can then transfer into sixth form at the selective school.
    I like that policy, I am proud of it, and I am going to vote for it!
    Maybe you are damaged (if you say so) but anyway – GOODBYE.

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