I was never an “A” student. I did enough to get by. I ambled through my A levels to go to the LSE, and from there ambled onwards through theology at Trinity College, Dublin. In the 1990s, I did a degree with the Open University because it was something stimulating in otherwise humdrum parish work. A decade ago, I did a master’s degree with Bristol, because I enjoyed the experience. I was doing PhD work with a postgraduate seminar group in Coventry until last year, never having actually registered with any institution in the five years during which I attended the group. Education always seemed something worthwhile for its own sake. I never got top grades, but that never seemed a cause for concern.
Perhaps I was lucky in having teachers who taught their subjects for their own sake. Of course, they would be pleased if particular students did well, but their first concern was to teach us to think about what we were being taught. I shall always be grateful to Mrs Puddicombe, at the little school on Dartmoor I attended, who encouraged us to “read, read and read,” and to Douglas Howe at Strode College who initiated me into the mysteries of economics, a fascination with which I retained, and to his colleague Sandy Buchanan, who taught me to question every version of history I learned.
I have realised that there would be few prospects of my going to the LSE if I were a student today. Now it is about grades, grades and grades. There is no place now for ambling, no place for simply learning for its own sake and not being worried if a teacher went off at a tangent.
Of course, there was no national curriculum forty years ago and nor was there the commodification of education that has taken place in more recent years. The conversion of schools into self-governing academies has represented a privatisation of education. Even where academies are run by not-for profit trusts, they are effectively businesses. Now it is about the maximisation of grades to ensure the maximisation of student numbers to ensure the maximisation of income. Business and management speak has replaced the patrician kindliness that once characterised many schools. Statistics are king, targets must be achieved, education seems almost an ancillary concern.
Perhaps there are still amblers who enjoy thinking for the sake of it. Perhaps the pendulum will eventually swing back to a world where children are not statistics and where learning is for living and not for grades.