University

Just a short one today.

I am currently reading an article in The Independent about Cambridge University.  You can find the article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/easier-entries-would-be-cruel-warns-cambridge-8120826.html .  Their admissions tutor, Dr Geoff Parks, claims it would be a “cruel experiment” to lower entry requirements for students from disadvantaged backgrounds so that they can study at Cambridge.

It’s not just cruel; it’s patronising.  How can we encourage kids from poorer backgrounds – and those from state schools in general – to do better in their A Levels by lowering entry requirements?  By telling them that we have to make it easier for them?   That they don’t need to try so hard because we don’t believe they can hack it and we’ll move the goalposts for them anyway?

It is cruel, too.  I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a high achiever at school.  I was.  I was in top sets for everything throughout my school years.  Particularly during my primary years, the ‘clever kids’ were often paired with the ‘not so clever kids’ in the hopes that the achievements of the top set pupils would rub off on those lower down the pecking order.  In my view this does not work well but feel free to contradict me.  Those who struggled with learning just felt further marginalised by their perceived lack of ability.  There is no magic transfer of talent from one pupil to another.  And to place students with lower exam marks into the snakepit of cutthroat achievement a la Cambridge could be a disaster, both for the students’ career prospects and their own wellbeing.

The only solution is to improve education standards at all levels of education – primary, secondary and beyond.  We must educate better – not just in academic terms, but also in the options we offer to these students.  I have written before about the obsession my sixth-form college had with pushing every single student into university and this was done, in my cynical opinion, to boost the college’s reputation.  Academia is not for everyone and we have to relinquish the view that it is.  It is not a failure to choose a path that does not lead to Cambridge.  I truly believe we all have talents.  The hard bit is finding the right channel for those talents.  Secondary schools and sixth-form colleges need to improve careers services within their institutions so those that do not easily take to academia can be offered different routes, whether that be vocational or something completely different.

(This was meant to be shorter than it is.  Oh well.)

C

Voting

This blog seems to be turning into a series of rants about what’s wrong with the British political system today.  Yesterday’s blog got me thinking about voting and the problems we’ve experienced in this country, which invariably relate to disillusionment and ignorance.

Voting turnout has been on the decline since the early 1990s, and dropped to a historic low in 2001 when turnout of registered voters was just 59.4 per cent.  In 2005, this figure rose to 61.3 per cent, and in 2010 rose again to 65.1 per cent.  Turnout for the recent referendum on the voting system – 42.2 per cent – exposed a deep apathy  in our country towards the country’s political system.   Many people expressed confusion about the referendum, its purpose and its consequences.  This is a complex issue and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.  But how can we ask our citizens to vote on electoral reform when so many don’t even understand what electoral reform is?

I doubt we’ll ever see a return to the days when turnout reached high percentages during the 1950s.  But I think there is one fundamental change to be enacted within our education system which could improve both voter turnout and wider political engagement.

Quite simply, some form of politics/sociology/citizenship module needs to become compulsory in secondary schools.  I remember doing some work on citizenship during my high school years, alas it was neither memorable nor in-depth.  Young people need to be taught from an early age about the basics of politics – our institutions, their history, elections, political parties, and wider concepts within the political echelon (ideas of freedom, equality etc).  No doubt this will lead to criticisms along the lines of “brainwashing kids” and encouraging them to lean left or right depending on the personal political views of their teacher.  Steps would need to be taken to keep this in check.  I know from experience how this can happen.  My A Level politics teacher was unashamedly left wing and this did have an effect on our class.  By the time we left college, I would say 80% of our class had left or centre left views.

Not all pupils will enjoy this, and many will hate it and find it boring, but kids say the same things about a variety of school subjects.  I loathed maths (and still do).  But this knowledge has to be provided, at least.  Should pupils choose to reject it, then that is their prerogative.  We tried.  We gave them some basic knowledge about what politics means and how it affects our day-to-day lives.  Until we offer this as a mandatory part of secondary school education, we will continue to fail future generations.