When I took my O-level in English in 1968 they might have
asked: What do you call someone who believes that everything was better when
they were a boy? Of course we had multiple choice questions – a sort of pin the
tail on the donkey/the answer is already given/don’t worry about spelling etc.
So choices might have included:
1.) A recidivist fantasist who failed his driving test 6
2.) A nostalgia- tinted obsessive who wore a kilt at his
3.) A self- inflated person somehow made secretary of state
The trick was in knowing which of the three correct answers
was the one the examiner wanted. However, in what was largely a fact and date
learning curriculum, we spent many, many
lessons doing past papers to learn how to second guess the examiners and the
teachers all targeted their lessons on the questions most likely to be on the
exam papers. Whole periods in history were omitted in favour of likely exam
questions – my grammar school didn't much like studying The English Civil War,
The rise of Trade Unions or anything suggesting Catholic clergy did anything untoward.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the spontaneous
utterance of one’s thoughts (How many MPs fiddled their expenses ?
a) virtually all of them including ministers in all major
b) very few and they went to prison for theft
c) these people are in charge of our country – they wouldn't be so immoral)
The problem comes when the utterer has power over young people’s
lives, their futures, their careers, their self respect and their contribution
to society. Even more so when their agenda seems to consist of saying,”You’re
20 per cent of children sat O-levels, so 80 per cent didn't get qualifications. Will we be happy with massive failure? In America, where
the universities rank very highly on international scales, 71 per cent graduate
High School and use this as a passport to further education or jobs. Why, on
earth should we be looking instead to Singapore for a way forward.
The population of Sigapore is
a) about the same as USA
b) just like the UK’s
c) 5 million and 63 per cent of adults had no secondary
education at all.
By the way in 1968 it was cold and we had no central
heating, 2 TV channels, no computers, no mobile phones, few motor cars, many
biased newspapers and very few ever took foreign holidays. Teachers did not
need to be qualified and schools were crumbling Victorian celebrations of
outdoor toilets. But, we had millions of manual jobs in coal mines, shipyards
and docks and working mothers did some cleaning, office or some shop work and generally stayed at
We can no longer dismiss 80 per cent of our population to
educational failure in an unskilled economy. Yes, there are simple changes
necessary to stabilise GCSEs: one exam board would be a start, an end to
multiple qualifications for a single study would help, making A* grades
exceptional might be useful. And no-one is doubting the importance of literacy,
numeracy, communication and ICT skills. Oops, I forgot: Mr Gove has just
removed ICT from the curriculum.