Education: here we go again

A Dame's School

A Dame-School

The rot set in for British education in the sixties and seventies, when teachers stopped being teachers and started being “learning facilitators”.  Don’t teach the little darlings any facts or skills — just help them to work it out for themselves.

This was driven by trendy academic educational institutions, staffed by left/liberal “specialists” recruited through the columns of the Guardian, where chairs and tenure go to those who get noticed.  And the best way to get noticed?  Make a case, however spurious, to show that all the assumptions which previous generations of teachers have made, and have proved in practice, are quite wrong, and instead  that theoretical ideas dreamed up over a sherry in the Senior Common Room are the way to go.  And hang the pupils first, and the economy later on.

Thus were centuries of experience and human knowledge relegated to the trash-can of our schools system.  Thus was the literacy rate of school leavers in the late 20th century driven below the level that obtained in the late 19th century, before the advent of free universal education.  Today things are not much better, though there were signs of a tentative return to common sense.

So imagine my horror to see a story in the Telegraph of September 20th: “Ofsted inspections in primary schools could be overhauled to focus less on English and maths, because the regulators fear that pupils are missing out on a broad and balanced curriculum”.  It goes on “An over-emphasis on the three Rs often came at the expense of children’s understanding of other subjects”.

No, No, No!  You idiots!  For heaven’s sake!  The ability to read and write (and understand numbers) is not a distraction from other subjects — it is absolutely the key to learning anything, to taking up other interests in school or outside, to getting a job, to career success, to economic progress.  These madmen are like a housing developer who says “In order to spend more money on a quality building, we’re going to sell houses without front door keys”.  We need to make the three Rs the top priority until children are confident and fluent in them.  Then they’re ready to for their “understanding of other subjects”.

My sister spent her career as a teacher.  At one time she was taking the reception class in a primary school, and she prided herself that every child, after a year with her, went on to the next class able to read and write.  Her reputation spread.  Parents milled around at the start of the school year to demand that little Johnnie be in her class, and nowhere else.  But the Inspectors said “She was bringing them on too quickly”.  Sometimes, I despair.

I am reminded of a book I haven’t read for many decades: Charles Kingsley’s “The Water Babies”. In it, little Tom the Chimney Sweep’s lad has escaped across the moors, and scrambling down from Lewthwaite Crag, the first house he finds turns out to be a dame school.  Kingsley describes it thus:

And a neat pretty cottage it was, with clipped yew hedges all round the garden, and yews inside too, cut into peacocks and trumpets and teapots and all kinds of queer shapes. And out of the open door came a noise like that of the frogs on the Great-A, when they know that it is going to be scorching hot to-morrow — and how they know that I don’t know, and you don’t know, and nobody knows.

      He (Tom) came slowly up to the open door, which was all hung round with clematis and roses; and then peeped in, half afraid.
And there sat by the empty fireplace, which was filled with a pot of sweet herbs, the nicest old woman that ever was seen, in her red petticoat, and short dimity bedgown, and clean white cap, with a black silk handkerchief over it, tied under her chin. At her feet sat the grandfather of all the cats; and opposite her sat, on two benches, twelve or fourteen neat, rosy, chubby little children, learning their Chris-cross-row; and gabble enough they made about it.

But even more telling is Kingsley’s later comment:

“And there was a new schoolmistress in Vendale, and we will hope that she was not certificated”.

Let’s hope there were no Ofsted inspectors in Vendale, either.

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11 Responses to Education: here we go again

  1. Ex-expat Colin says:

    On the subject of numbers…the LCEGS report you comissioned a short while back. I think that needs a bit of airing again what with the route marches around cities in the name of more taxes/subsidies for climate change (the panic version).

    Bishop Hill has aired it today at least:

    Its all in the numbers…if you can get them and handle them correctly.

  2. David says:

    I saw the stupid sign one was carrying “100% renewables”


    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      That was said by an Italian female MEP last week…they were on about Russia causing a problem with gas supplies to Europe. She said…”couldn’t we just switch to 100% renewables”

      Just switch…click!

  3. eddie coke says:

    I suppose there’s always the outside possibility that these kinds of hare-brained ideas are suggested deliberately to impede children’s learning, rather than through common-or-garden idiocy. Similar to what Charlotte Iserbyt talks about in “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America”.

    Not sure whether this is mentioned in Delingpole’s book “Watermelons” (I’ll have to re-read it), but the Agenda 21 policy on education is that thick people get lousy jobs and low pay; and people with low pay can’t afford to consume resources. So you protect “Mother Gaia” by ensuring the kids all come out of schooling unable to do much more than tie their shoelaces.

    It’s very easy to get het up about “mistakes” and “misjudgements” by policy people, but the truth may be that these are actually cunningly clever, and very dangerous, people. Slightly O/t but it kind of reminds me of Friedman’s take on the people in government and their motives. See clip (up to 0:43 will cover it):

  4. George Morley says:

    On the subject of education I had a disagreement with a headmaster at a Primary school that my two girls attended who said that tests were bad for the children because the competition is unhealthy for them, putting one against another. To which I said that when the leave school they will be disadvantaged because of his policy when competing for a job. I personally gave them spelling tests and mental mathematics at home and guess what ? They both became teachers and excelled at maths taking exams early. One now has 3 degrees and is a Doctor in Child psychology. I hate spelling mistakes and the misuse of words. I wonder how the Ofsted Inspectors got their jobs.

  5. Jane Davies says:

    Reminds me of the time my youngest daughter was struggling with maths in middle school, and her handwriting was appalling my concerns were brushed away by her teacher. They ‘didn’t correct untidy writing as it would compromise the childs creativity’ and as for the maths ‘just look at her’ the teacher said of my blonde haired blue eyed pretty daughter ‘she will just find a man and get married anyway’. I was totally gobsmacked….and this from a female teacher!! This outrageous attitude was in the late 70’s it seems that nothing much has changed. I agree with you Roger, the three R’s are the basis of ALL learning, not to do this is child abuse, to coin a well worn phrase. Oh and yes, she still has untidy illegible handwriting!

  6. dixonmg says:

    Correct. I went to teacher training college in the late 60s.Plowden had decided that education was to be child centred.Later I waited until the Head had gone out of the school before getting the kids to recite times tables ( terribly infra dig.) Not too much red pen correction on prose thank you for it would undermine the self esteem of precious egos. Education must be fabulously interesting at all times: if a child states that something is” boring” then that is the GET OUT OF JAIL CARD, ie they don’t have to take notice. Only FUN activities are to be allowed. So much for Education, education, education as promised by Blair. Mind you, he promised much that was never delivered.

  7. Andy Robertson-Fox says:

    Cetainly agree that the foundation to education revolves around the three Rs and that it is from this base that an understanding of other subjects and a broad and balanced curriculum follows.
    I do not think the problem is with the inspectors, though, as they will have to work within certaın parameters and these will be determıned by the Regulators

  8. George Morley says:

    Yes Andy , you are probably right about that.
    Following my last comment, the youngest son of the daughter who did’nt go for the doctorate has recently taken his O levels and other exams.
    If helping your children pays off then how about his GCSE exam results shown here.
    He took 10 this year and got A* in everything.
    Add that to this year’s 2 A Level Maths exams with points of 97% and 98% in each
    and the 2 A* grades in GCSE Maths and Statistics from last year and the top grade of A in the FSMQ “Further Study Maths Qualification”
    That’s my grandson William of whom I am so proud and a future Chancellor of the Exchequer no doubt !
    He lives in David Cameron’s constituency.
    Your sister was absolutely right Roger. Good for her.

  9. Ex-expat Colin says:

    I’ll check to see if my KS1 grandaughter gets her book of algorithms out and constructs a bunch of Load, Store, Fetch instructions this weekend. My Android needs to display “Hello Fool” she said last week? That activity(?) might relieve my socks, slippers and some cushions reaching ballistic speeds periodically. Don’t think so..somehow.

    I am surprised Michael Gove fell for that stuff. But, there we have Microsoft/BCS fretting about a weakness in programmer supply in UK. I think brain agility has to be acquired first and algorithms won’t be doing that…I mean recipe/lists.

  10. Mike Stallard says:

    Yes, yes, yes, I have lived through the entire thing – from “Do what you like, but don’t slap that one on the head, he’s got nits!” to “Please do stop kicking that electric socket because you might get hurt…”

    Two positive remarks:
    Our local Academy is now not quite so lawless, and the new Principal, Mrs Claxton, has restored order and discipline.
    In polyglot Peterborough this morning, I noticed that a new generation of people is emerging which seems to be sort of homogenous, British and rather nice. That must be down to the schools.

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