Monday, 14 December 2009

Subject of selection raises its head again

Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University this week called for schools to select its brightest pupils at age 14 to receive a more challenging curriculum.
The reform is needed, apparently, in order to increase the number of pupils choosing science, especially physics, at A-level. The question is, why are we in this country so hung up about the subject of selection by ability when it comes to our children? Other countries seem to manage this ok without all the agonising that we go through. We select on the basis of other skills quite happily; PE teachers select pupils to play on school teams on the basis of skill, drama teachers cast parts for school productions based on acting, singing or dancing ability and so on. Why, when it comes to academic ability, are we suddenly so completely averse to any sort of selection?
It strikes me that we are working to a whole middle class PC agenda when it comes to education, in which fairness and equality equate to the SAME for everyone.
Let's look at that point, that equality means the same treatment for all. No matter what your ability, disability, aptitude or skill level you will all go to the same school and be taught the same things in the same lesson by the same teachers. Imagine if the NHS worked on that principle; no matter what your illness or injury, we all received the same treatment: "Ah, yes, Mr Smithers; lets see 'compound fracture of the left femur', well here's you prescription for Statins and a month's supply of viagra. What's that? Well, I'm sorry, it's what everyone else gets; we can't be seen to be treating you differently from everyone else; that wouldn't be fair now, would it? Look on the bright side, at least you'll have lower cholesterol and be able to keep your pecker up!".

There is also the notion that what is desired by the middle classes must also be what the working classes necessarily aspire to. This is reflected neatly in the Labour party's ambition to have 50% of all young people go to university. First of all, where has the figure of 50% come from? Why not 45% or 60%? Implicit in this are the assumptions that a) at least half of all young people actually want to go to university and that b) going to uni is somehow a 'better' option than not. This policy has been dreamt up by people who are, by definition, upper and middle class. They assume in their arrogance that because that is what they aspire to for their own children, it must also be same for everyone else. Well, guess what? Not everyone wants to go to uni! Some people actually CHOOSE not to. Not because they are poor, or thick, or lazy or anything; they'd just rather do something else. The problem then, of course, is the attitude that whatever else you choose is somehow second best. There is a general feeling in this country that academic success is somehow superior to other form of success (except celebrity, of course! Shallow as we are). I have seen inordinate pressure put on good A-level students by the school to apply for Oxbridge. WHY? Because it will look good in next year's prospectus? Poor lad wants to go to Leeds because that's where they do the course he want's to do, and anyway his aunty Pam lives there and she can his washing and cooking for him.

In this country we do tend to judge people by what they do, rather than by how well they do whatever it is they have chosen to do. Let's take the pressure off kids to go to uni. I'd rather have a first class joiner (plumber, carpenter, electrician, car mechanic, shop manager) than yet another third class graduate in football studies.

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