Thursday 14 December 2023

Education: competing theories on how to make it worse

Ever a reliable source of glimpses into leftie angst, this week the Grauniad provides us with these competing accounts, within two days of each other:  

Scottish schools have tumbled from top of the class Pupils became unwitting guinea pigs of faddish, unproven theories – and paid a high price ... England’s performance on the other hand, with some caveats, held up relatively well, even with the impact of the pandemic, and it has moved up the international tables ... there is little doubt that, educationally, England is performing significantly better than Scotland.

Peers call for urgent overhaul of secondary education in England:  there is too much learning by rote and many key Tory changes should be reversed 

The former article goes on to make it explicitly clear that for the Scots "faddish, unproven theories", we should read "progressive claptrap": read it if you're interested in more of the details.  In terms of those baleful "Tory changes" in England, here's what the Graun says, contrasting them most favourably with Scotland: 

The comparison with England is instructive ... To take the example of maths, there has been significant investment in effective models of teaching from the highest-performing systems in the world. The data shows that it is paying off, in line with the international evidence that high-quality, evidence-based curriculums are a very good and cost-effective way of improving education outcomes.

It's pretty clear that for anyone broadly on the right with the slightest regard for social equity (whether for altruistic or self-serving reasons), providing good education for the masses to facilitate any latent potential for meritorious advance is one, if not the main, central plank of policy.   It ought to be so for lefties, too.

Sadly, education, and what constitutes "good" in this context, are highly contested, not least because for lefties (and Jesuits) it is an ideological battleground and they have more interest in politically-motivated indoctrination than in what might be termed "objective learning".  (That's when they don't have outright malice and social sabotage in mind.)  In leftist countries like China (and, in former days, Soviet Russia), they are simultaneously keen on both ideology and solid learning.  Because they are in charge, they have practical concerns and an economy to build.  

In the west, the left carelessly takes the economy for granted and cares not a fig for genuine learning: they (the left elite) already know all that needs knowing, and the lower orders don't need to be equipped with anything beyond some slogans of the elite's devising.  They've obviously succeeded triumphantly in Scotland - once rightly proud of its education system - and wish to set about English schools in turn.  A plague on them: recall what Christ said about the fate of those messing with the wellbeing of the young.



dearieme said...

To get anywhere near the quality of schooling I had had free in rural Scotland we found that in urban England we had to pay fees. At least new generations of Scots will be spared that burden.

One of the several reasons for my giving up my old opposition to capital punishment is my zeal to hang the bastards wot dun in Scottish education.

electro-kevin said...

I'm pretty sure that my own education was wrecked (mixed ability classes and all the local grammars closed down) in order to bring us all down to the lowest racial denominator in our area.

PC was entrenching itself in the '70s.

Anonymous said...

Some examples that spring to mind

* Fred Goodwin (Paisley Grammar*) - failed arithmetic

* Tony Blair (Fettes) - failed ethics

* Charles III (Gordonstoun) - failed everything

And its intergenerational with the Prince William going to St Andrews.

* Andrew Neil, he of the global elite, also attended Paisley Grammar. Explains it all

andrew said...

I see paisley being frequently mentioned

Is this possibly a pattern?

Wildgoose said...

Personal "anecdata". I play the oriental game "Go" on a Sunday evening, and we had a Maths teacher attend our informal gathering. As part of the conversation he was extremely dismissive of the white working class boys he was teaching and seemed primarily interested in the non-whites. Needless to say, he was a Corbyn supporter. I am afraid I probably came across as an aggressive right-winger in response to this. He hasn't been back.

His white male working-class pupils will have picked up on his disdain. Given the general malaise in the education of that group I think I know the type of people responsible.

Sobers said...

Don't forget that international statesman extraordinaire and amateur mobile phone thrower, Gordon Broon (Kirkaldy High school and Edinburgh Uni) - Failed just about everything.

jim said...

I though the primary reason for good education in Scotland was the tawse.

Looking at white males in South London I see the problem is self inflicted. Football takes up too much bandwidth. As a counter example I see a young man now running his own building firm. Making out like a bandit, the rest not so much.

Everyone has been to school and everyone is an expert - opinions are like a holes, everybody has one.

Sackerson said...

From my blog of 4 March 2012:

Peter Hitchens' column today includes, as side issue, the following:

"So millions of people can’t do simple sums? Of course they can’t. This is because so many snotty teachers, who think proper education is ‘authoritarian’ and ‘learning by rote’, refuse to make children chant their times tables.

I am no mathematician, but got every single one of the test questions right with ease, simply by using my tables."

I have submitted this comment for approval:

Re times tables: children ARE now taught to recite times tables - but in a different, and much less useful way. What follows may seem a little petty but there are, I think, wider implications.

In the bad old days, if asked "six sevens?" you'd reply "forty-two" straightaway, because the times table chant included the line "six sevens are forty-two". Simple association: say "Ant and..." and you get "Dec".

Now, the children I see have been trained in a sort of stepladder routine, climbing laboriously up all the rungs: "7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42". Not only does this take longer, but they only have to misremember one of the rungs and it'll become "... 29, er, 36, er, 43". Or not infrequently, a petering out into a defeated silence.

This is partly to do with not enough practice: the item will have been ticked off the teacher's planning (as in "we cover the apostrophe in Y4 Spring Term Week 5 Day Three"). God forbid you should bore children with dull, repetitive learning. But without anything else to link to, it's just a list of numbers with no obvious connexion - it may as well be the combination to a safe.

The child may also sometimes climb correctly but go past the required answer because in this painfully slow recital he's lost count of how many rungs you've asked him to climb.

I'm not certain why we didn't simply reinstate the ancient method, but I have a suspicion that it might be something to do with not admitting that we've been wrong about this since somewhere in the 1970s; like phonics, grammar exercises, precis, comprehension and so on. Whatever is brought back is reinstated not only late, slowly and grudgingly, but in some revised form so that crusty teachers and grandparents can't say "I told you so."

I know of one case in the 70s where a departing secondary Head of English burned the department's coursebooks in a skip in the playground, to ensure that the bad old ways could never return; and I've heard of two others who did the same. We have had a revolution; and the revolutionaries (many now leading lights or self-employed consultants) are just now beginning to fade from the scene.

Anonymous said...

Rote learning is pretty much essential for basic arithmetic, just as "phonics" ("the cat sat on the mat") was pretty much essential for basic literacy.

No child ever needs to know WHY 3 7's are 21, just that they ARE 21.

Can't remember if I posted this, but I attended a very middle class gathering a while ago devoted to education in the Himalayas - the kind of thing the late climber Doug Scott, himself a former teacher, took an interest in. The presenters were very excited that the kids would no longer be sitting in regimented rows, learning by rote, but would instead be independent learners, interacting with the teachers from their randomly scattered desks. My heart sank...

Anonymous said...

PS - is Ukraine actually losing, or are all the dozens of "Ukraine losing" stories from the Economist to WaPo just aimed at getting more money and weapons from USUKEU?

Obviously I'd like the killing to stop asap, but I don't want to get my hopes up. There's a lot of ruin in a nation, and even if the US isn't the US of 1939, it still has a lot it can do.

Not so sure about the UK. AFAIK we've made our last Challenger 2 and our last Storm Shadow. Maybe we can send Kurdish barbers and Albanian coke dealers to Ukraine?

Anonymous said...

Russia is already sending Kurds and Albanians and other itinerants to Ukraine, but rather the other side of the front. They'd been rounded up to be pushed across the border to Finland, as part of a "hybrid operation" to punish the Finns for joining NATO (like the Belarussians were doing across the border with Poland prior to Feb22). But the Finns closed the borders instantly and Moscow has nowhere else to send them. Its freeze to death in a Russian forest, or a long truck journey, a couple of stiff vodkas, and front up a meat-assault on Avdiivka.

Anonymous said...

I can't understand it. I thought immigrants were good for us, did the jobs we didn't want to do (for the crappy money on offer), filled all those unfilled posts the CBI are always on about. Finland must be mad to spurn such Russian generosity.

Won't someone think about the poor Finnish landlords? How are rents to be kept high unless you import a million people a year?

PS - things are getting interesting around the Bab El Mandeb. Now Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd are suspending container shipping.

The thought occurs that modern missile technology combined with satellites/gps makes seafaring in a large vessel a lot less certain than it used to be. Perhaps not a great time to cram 70 million plus into an island that can only feed 35 million.

Anonymous said...

According to an article in the German magazine, Bild, Putin is very confident that he has the next US election sewn up with his people in prime position.

Support will be cut and he will sweep in and take as much of the country he wants. Reckons he has enough cannon fodder to do it.

Nick Drew said...

Careful, 6:18 - one of the other anons will sweep in and demand to know what proof you have for this outrageous slur on the unimpeachable Putin

Jan said...

I well remember learning my tables and it wasn't too much of a slog as the teacher had devised a way to make it more fun. After much chanting with the whole class, When she thought a child was ready to be tested she brought out the flash cards for each of the tables eg seven times. She shuffled them and then the child would answer at random eg six times seven followed by twelve times seven etc etc. If you got it right you got a gold star on the star chart. The first kid to get a gold star next to all the times tables ie up to twelve times was top of the class.

Of course such competition between classmates would not be entertained today but I certainly learned my tables with this method.

Nick Drew said...

at age 11 I had a French master who taught pronunciation in fun ways akin to Jan's tables

he had a thing called the 'V' test for assessing one's mastery of the 16 French vowels sounds. You could volunteer for the test if you thought you were ready, or be set on if the master thought you might be.

The symbols for the 16 sounds were arrayed (in a phonetically logical sequence) on the blackboard (old-school) so as to form two big nested / chevroned Vs with four symbols to each of the four legs of these two Vs. The 16 had to be intoned in sequence - from top left, down the inner left-hand leg, up the inner right; then down the outer right and up the outer left. One error & you'd failed - but only to take it again (and again) on subsequent occasions until you nailed it

when you succeeded, the big blackboard Vs became a racetrack for the legendary Straight 16 Popocatepetl, an imaginary racing-car the roar of which was conjured by a practised hand on a long stick of white chalk which, forced firmly across the board at a magic angle, vibrated against the surface quite noisily, and indeed varied in pitch as corners were turned along the track. The thrill of getting a run-out on this mythical beast was such that pupils keenly wished to try their luck at the test. Happy days

Anonymous said...

Do you play well?

Jeremy Poynton said...

My four all went to Steiner schools, as my ex and I were already disillusioned with what was provided by the state system back in the 80s, and had by chance found out a lot about said schools, read up on them and met teachers at one school.

They learnt when appropriate by rote - and in the case of multiplication tables, enhance this by rhythmic physical actions; clapping, or foot stamping. Worked a treat. As did the schools they attended. One result - all scorned university, all went and worked abroad after leaving and were independent and self-supporting by 21.

The core "dogma" of Steiner's system - to produce "free and responsible adults"; and perhaps the key aspect those not familiar with this system would note was that kids there were completely at ease talking to adults. And independent and critical of thought. School in Bristol ran on a shoestring, and survived only with massive parent involvement. I was heavily involved for many years, and had a great time.

Since then the state has pretty much closed them all down. Don't want free and responsible adults roaming the streets, do we? Similarly, the Camphill Villages, places for the disabled founded on Steiner's principles. My ex and I lived in one for a while, Botton Village in the N Yorks moors, on an estate in a valley gifted them by the MacMillan family, one scion of which was at such a school. All there worked, farming, workshops, and after a while you forgot who was disabled and not.

State took them over. The decided it was not right to make the disabled work. So now they sit in front of a TV all day. My oldest son worked in them here and in Ireland and France for over 20 years, and all my other three for varying periods in Bristol.

That it was Conservative government did this just completely pisses me off.

Me and numbers, well I was always a smart bugger who adored maths. Would horrify checkout till workers at our local Tescos in Bristol by telling them what my bill was before they checked it out... (all gone now, that facility!)

No wonder more and more parents opt for home schooling

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear Botton Village is gone. A friend volunteered there every summer thirty-plus years ago, said it was great.

Are Steiners not still going? There was one near Gloucester and one in Pembrokeshire where friends sent their kids.

Mind, I heard you could be bullied if you were called Dave or Tracy, as all the other kids were called things like Sky or Tree ;-)

BlokeInBrum said...

My grandparents used to help out in a rather non-mainstream school in Scotland.

Kilquhanity was a free school founded in the 40's by a friend of theirs, John Aitkenhead.
Based on Summerhill School in Suffolk, it's guiding principle was the independence and self guidance of the pupils. What that meant in practice was that the children themselves decided on the curriculum and were themselves resposible for the running of the place. (being mostly a boarding school)

As you can imagine it ended up being a little bit 'Lord of the Flies' in some respects. Academic achievement ended up being somewhat sub-optimal, but it did churn out some very practical minded and independant young folk.

There used to be a few bios' from people who went there floating about the net which related their experiences there, but it's been a few years since I checked.

It was perhaps a little too idealistic and impractical to be mainstream, but it was a worthwhile experiment and with some better and stronger guidance from teachers could have really been successful.

Sadly the school died when John A. died, but I have some very fond memories of the school when my gran used to take me. It was very much reminiscent of Peter Pan and the the lost boys - total chaos. I didn't realise how unique it was at the time. The ceilidhs that they held on Hogmanay were incredible. Modern education seems bland and colourless in comparison, and very very timid, as befits a very feminised education system.

A Japanese educational organisation took it over later on, and it has apparently flourished.
I think it was a little too naiive and impractical in its original incarnation but I think there ought to be alternatives to the establishment system for those who want it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Guardian and Times journo Jessica (Decca) Aitkenhead is any relation, perhaps a grandchild? Her dad was a teacher in Bristol a/c/t wiki.

BlokeInBrum said...

As far as I'm aware, there is no family connection - I shall have to ask my aunt who might know.

But it does seem a curious coincidence.

There is an online archive about Kilquhanity and the Aitkenheads that might shed some further light though:

Jeremy Poynton said...

"Anonymous said...
I'm sorry to hear Botton Village is gone. A friend volunteered there every summer thirty-plus years ago, said it was great.

Are Steiners not still going? There was one near Gloucester and one in Pembrokeshire where friends sent their kids.

Mind, I heard you could be bullied if you were called Dave or Tracy, as all the other kids were called things like Sky or Tree ;-)

Yes, wonderful place indeed! Wynstones was the one near Gloucester, my boys went to upper school there. Main school a free range one in Bristol, only inner city one, and flexible fee paying.

And kids will be kids! Lots of kids from Stroud at Wynstones. Kids called Stroud "The Muesli Belt" 🤣🤣

There's a wonderful video about Camphill called "Candle on the Hill". Hard to get - I've put it up on Mediafire should you be interested. PC video - vlc player

will play it

Three separate films contained.

There's a short YouTube piece on the films here.

And we had friends in Oxford who both taught at Summerhill. Deffo .. free form!

jim said...

I wonder if going for more of the '3 Rs' style of education is the most sensible way to go. With the coming of AI and the move away from industry and into higher level services we probably cannot afford enough education for everyone to function at this level.

So a bit of triage. Something minimal for the unsuitable and a social skills boost - skiing, language lessons, dancing, STEM and finance and marketing for the more apt. How to sort the sheep from the goats I leave as an exercise, something a bit more open and indicative than the 11+.

Lord T said...

When I came down from Scotland in the early 70s to England I discovered that my junior school education was sufficient for me to coast the first two years of English secondary education. Had a big shock half way through year 3 when I was shown things we hadn't dealt with before. I had to work the last few years and it was worse for me because those few years had set me up as a lazy no good lounger for the rest of my life.

I'm dismayed but hardly surprised about the change.