Education is in trouble in the UK

Far too many students have a weak grasp of spelling and punctuation - the English Baccalaureate could have been a way of rectifying some of these problems

Share
Related Topics

Can we please set aside politics, political parties, gleeful sneering, triumphant whooping and personal remarks for long enough to consider the issues at stake in Michael Gove’s announcement yesterday that the English Baccalaureate proposal (Ebacc) has been withdrawn?

I have no interest at all in Gove’s personality, private feelings or, for that matter the shape of his glasses, name of his dog or make of his car. Neither am I a supporter of any political party. But I am totally committed to education as both a secondary teacher with many decades of experience and as someone who has despairingly observed and written widely about education for more than twenty years.

Education is in trouble in this country. And the situation has been worsening for as long as I can remember. We now send (most) children to school for fifteen years, from age three to age 18. And still they emerge with appalling, shameful shortcomings. The exam passes they may or may not hold are just a smokescreen.

The CBI regularly complains that grades awarded in school level exams are no indicator of literacy, numeracy or general ability and that companies such as Tesco have difficulty recruiting young workers of the right calibre. International ranking now puts Britain’s education, once the envy of the world, sixth after Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. So how are our school leavers supposed to compete?

University vice chancellors reported to a House of Lords committee last year that many maths and science undergraduates need “remedial” classes because they have been woefully underprepared by their lessons and exams in school. And a group of Oxford academics said last summer that the box ticking culture at A level leaves many students with poor general knowledge and unable to think for themselves.

Bernard Lamb, Emeritus Professor (formerly Reader) in Genetics at Imperial College has long argued – and provided much detailed evidence in support – that far too many of his students have such a weak grasp of spelling and punctuation that they cannot write up their work accurately. Only last week the principal of a top drama school told me that an increasing number of students now arrive unable to follow the punctuation in play texts and are utterly flummoxed by suggestions such as “Let’s look at the verbs in this line”. And a 17 year old Austrian – with fluent, near accentless English acquired only through school in Vienna – asked me the other day why it is that British children can “learn” German or French for five years and still be unable to string a sentence together.

Yes, the evidence is all around us and anyone who persists in denying it has a serious problem – or is perhaps him or herself the victim of a banal, woefully dumbed down standard British education and therefore unable to think straight.

The Ebacc could – just could – have been a fairly simple way of rectifying some of these problems. Five core subjects is a good (hardly new) idea which, whatever the wailing arts and sports lobbies say, would actually have left plenty of time for the extensive pursuit of other valuable activities during the school day. You do not, repeat NOT, have to be examined and assessed ad infinitum in a subject to make it count. In fact it’s that mindset, encouraged by previous botched attempts at reform, which is partly responsible for the problems in education today. Einstein’s comment “What counts might not be countable and what can be counted might not count” should be displayed in every classroom, headteacher’s, education minister’s and Ofsted inspector’s office  in the country.  

As it is we are now faced with the messy compromise of retaining GCSE with “new” syllabuses (again), underpinned by a “more rigorous” national curriculum and a different sort of league table. Whether any of this will make any real difference remains to be seen. Personally I’m not holding my breath. Every Secretary of State for decades has tried to raise standards in education. All have failed. The enormous, vociferous, powerful “education lobby” of teachers, educational professionals of various sorts and people who think that equality means one-size-fits-all always scuppers the reforms. They’re kindly, decent, hardworking people on the whole, but a dangerous proportion of them mistake high standards for “elitism” which they then push relentlessly with party political point scoring.  Meanwhile standards continue to spiral down and our young people lose out.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss