The Education Industry

By W. Kenneth Richmond | Go to book overview

3 · The Improvident Society

It is an amiable weakness on the part of the English people, and a vice of the Scots, to imagine that their educational system is second to none. Like cricket or golf, education is a game in which they feel they excel, and if they did not actually invent them they like to think that at least they know the rules better than most. There is precious little in the historical record to warrant this self-deception and nothing whatsoever to excuse it in the contemporary situation.

On the contrary, by international standards it appears that some of the features of the system which we single out for special praise the English grammar school’s sixth form for one – are the very ones which designate it as backward. Compared with other civilized countries, we have the highest proportion of children leaving school at the age of 15, and the small minority who carry on to the university entrance stage are studying a much narrower range of subjects than is thought advisable in other countries. It is true that the policy of early segregation for the brightest pupils has fallen into disrepute and that the peculiarly intense specialization which characterizes academic secondary school courses – the cult of A-levels and all that – has caused growing concern, but it is also true that insularmindedness remains strong and that the worst features of the system are stoutly defended as being the hallmarks of its excellence.

Let the figures speak for themselves, then. (See Table on p. 55.)

Commenting on the International Study of Achievement in Mathematics, which found that attainment in this subject was more closely related to social-class factors in English schools than in any of the others, Professor Donnison writes:

In the final stages of a more retentive system, the spread of attain-
ments will be wider, and the average attainment will be lower.
The average mathematical attainment of the 74 per cent of

-54-

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