Thursday 4 April 2013

Another Brick - how bad was that?

In the late nineteenth century, Britain was still the world’s dominant power. A wealthy country, it recognised the drawback in having an uneducated population so in a series of acts beginning in 1870 it introduced state education, gradually compelling all children to attend school from 5 to 10 years of age.

It was quite normal for children to work to help support the family and very tempting for parents to keep them thus employed so the new law was enforced by Attendance Officers and the child catcher was born!  The school leaving age was raised to 11 in 1893 and to 12 in 1899. Rab Butler’s reforms raised this to 15, from 1947.

What brought about this train of thought about? On my rambles yesterday I came across the old Upper Wortley Board School built by the Leeds School Board in 1876. Later in the day I learned that my elderly neighbours had attended that same school and in a good old gossip-over-the-garden-fence we fell to discussing the good old days.

That red brick edifice is much like my first school. A grand school, a sturdy school. A school built to last, to do a worthy job for the good of all.  The smell of polish and piss and the sound of a headmaster fully engaged with his primary task, patrolling the corridors and maintaining standards. Children busily engaged in actually learning their lessons and dreaming of the day they could get out and get a job. A school fit for the engine of the world.

By 1918, when the school leaving age was 14, all men over 21 were allowed to vote (women over 30 – they had to wait another ten years for electoral equality) So, the average working man could have been gainfully employed for at least seven years before exercising an opinion on how he and everybody else was to be governed. Universal suffrage was a hard-won privilege and a vote was not something to be given lightly. From a platform of real-life experience they passed onto their children the surety that getting a good education would give them a better start in adult life.

Soon, all children will be compelled to remain in full-time education until the age of eighteen, yet there is a clamour for voting rights to granted at sixteen. For every parent who drools over their brood and extolls their virtuosity and wisdom there is an employer desperate to get a decent day’s work out of them, such is their sense of rights, unbalanced by any sense of responsibility. You would let these mere children vote? You would have to be mad to believe this makes any sense.

Because the dreams of old are long gone and the old, low-grade jobs for a school-leaving population (in so many ways less well equipped to do them now) are taken by economic migrants. The emphasis on teaching creativity and freedom and individuality consigns them to a life unlived. Unfit for unskilled work, unable to cope with higher education we are breeding a rabble of entitlement-obsessed, overgrown babies.

If you want to see how education is failing the young you need look no further than the school that has replace Upper Wortley. A school fit for what, exactly? Who in the world will proudly call that their alma mater?

Here’s an extract from Dan Hannan’s Telegraph blog from yesterday;

“The argument for the welfare reforms is altogether more prosaic. We have been spending more and more money without any noticeable impact on either poverty or inequality. Under the last Labour government, the welfare budget rose by an almost unbelievable 60 per cent during an economic boom. Yet the gap between rich and poor widened. Why? Partly because the benefits system deterred some people from getting onto the first rung of the employment ladder. Throughout the Blair and Brown years, 900,000 working-age Britons were permanently economically inactive while 200,000 foreigners a year walked gratefully into jobs as waiters, receptionists, cab drivers, farm workers and cleaners.”

The same argument applies in education – for all the billions of extra resources poured in the only noticeable impact has been a steady downward trend in the attainment and ability of what should be the primary source of our workforce. Just as the answer to welfare spending cannot be more welfare, the answer to poor education cannot be more poor education.

So let’s ditch progressive education and get back to the slate and the times tables. If you’re not academic – and most aren’t - leave school at fifteen and wash dishes, sweep roads, flip burgers or whatever you need to do to earn a crust and learn how the world around you actually functions. Until you can appreciate the worth of work, any work, you have no right to rely on the taxed incomes of those who do the dirty jobs to keep you idle and in false hope.

Oh and you don’t get to vote until you’ve reached 21. And passed an old eleven-plus exam.


  1. Batsby, you are a clever fucker. I agree with this post 100%.

    You have highlighted the area where this Country fails us all, the education of it's people. As you have rightly pointed out on many occasions, without education all we produce are brain dead benefit addicted monkeys whose sole knowledge begins and ends with their "yuman rights".

    A very well written and researched post, be careful I just might start to take you seriously

    1. Oh, you really wouldn't want to do that!

  2. Love it Batsby. I teach so here's my penny's worth. Educationalists and especially those at the higher end have no idea what they are educating people for. Ofsted want learning to be for the sake of it, and warn against teaching for exams. I do what I'm told when being 'observed' and then teach kids to pass at a high rate as the better their literacy, the better their chances. I'm a secondary English teach, if you're interested. I teach students how to analyse information, how to dig into a text and extract the meaning and write purposefully so people can understand and will hear their point of view. I can assure you that is not what those at the top want. They want them out of their seats, to see 'movement' in the classroom and want drama and games. I personally would leave that for drama and games lessons. I'm not a children's entertainer and my classroom in not Butlins. I expect hard work, students to have their heads down and settle to thinking, debating, writing grammatically correct extended pieces of texts (not texting!) and working hard. I've sent numerous students to good universities and not once have we left out seats!

    I'm also not afraid of parent complaints and not afraid to tell students the truth. I warn them that they will have few choices unless they have good grades and that no employer wants a lazy so and so.

    1. That is such a refreshing view. Rewind... I mean that is EXACTLY how it used to be. What you describe we used to call 'comprehension' and I wrote a blog about my inspired English teacher, Ralph Brookes, not so long ago.

      I absolutely reject almost ALL edu-tech for primary school except, possibly, keyboard skills (although I manage fine without) and we could save an absolute fortune by returning to good, solid, meaningful basic education for all.

      Thanks you so much for your comments.

  3. Love your post Batsby. I couldn't have put it better. Bring back the good old days.