The BBC series “School” was a depressing reflection of the English state education system. Academised, under-funded, governed by budgets and statistics, it seems very far away from the memories many people will have of school life. Education has become governed by grades, schools are judged not on producing well-rounded young adults who will play a positive part in society, but on how their GCSE grades compare with those of the previous year and with those of other local schools.
Is the constant achievement of higher grades the object of education? What happens when a cohort of students is not just as gifted as the previous one and the grades slip? Are the teachers then perceived as having failed? What about lessons in the things in life that are not measurable by GCSE grades?
Being fortunate enough to have been able to send children to an independent school gives a different perspective on education. Instead of being about grades it is about the whole person. Fee paying parents will often recognise that their children may not be academically brilliant, what they want from a school is that it will identify and foster talents that exist, that they will seek to respond to the needs of the whole person.
Once, state schools might have followed a similar approach. Students were not forced into a GCSE mould at the age of thirteen. There were opportunities for people to shine in many ways. School could mean many different things for many different people. There was no philosophy of one size fits all.
The academisation process has created schools that are run as businesses. It has created a culture of numbers, it has fed into an obsession with league tables and statistics. Behind all the numbers it is almost easy to forget that there are real people.
A system that creates statistical winners necessarily creates statistical losers. Schools seen to be under-performing lose resources and find themselves in a downward spiral. The most vulnerable, those unable to go elsewhere, find themselves in a worse situation than before.
Of course, all the improvements in GCSE results confer only a momentary relative advantage. Teaching A-Level material to fourteen year olds only works until everyone does it, then it becomes like giving everyone £1,000, no-one is any better off because all the prices have gone up.
Perhaps, when a new government is elected, it might asking questions that are not possible under the present bad school system.
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