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Not all children belong in school This week's closures mask the reality of truancy

Children are taught to fail (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Children are taught to fail (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)


September 5, 2023   6 mins

Kieran is a tall, stocky 14-year-old. He likes being outside and fixing cars. He describes school as “like being in a prison”. He has always hated it — when he was little, his mum sometimes had to carry him in under her arm, but he’s well past the size where that was possible.

After an altercation with a member of staff in the summer term, he didn’t return for the rest of the year. Instead, he spent much of the time with his dad, a labourer who picks up jobs on farms and building sites, doing what sounded like back-breaking work from the time he would normally get up for school until long after he would normally get home. He loved it — he likes getting on and doing things, and being useful rather than being treated, however sensitively, as a problem.

Kieran is one of many such problems. And as more than 100 schools threaten not to reopen this term, their plight looks set to be ignored once again. One in four English children are persistently absent from school; one in 50 are missing more than half. Among pupils in years 10 and 11, a third  are missing the equivalent of at least one GCSE’s worth of school.

Often, these cases are referred to mental health teams like the one I work in, which were set up to address common problems around behaviour, anxiety and low mood with brief self-help treatments. What happens in practice, however, is more complicated: schools, faced with scant resources, often end up referring children out of a need to be seen to be doing something, and low attendance often features.

Kieran, for example, had an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) — the highest level of support for special educational needs — for dyslexia and ADHD. His mum begged his teachers to let him sit certain classes out, so he could focus on a handful of core subjects rather than skip school entirely, but there wasn’t much they could do — in the name of inclusivity, the school is expected to provide a full curriculum for all children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Kieran was, in effect, a victim of a doggedly one-size-fits-all approach which maintains that everything can be fixed with education. It started with Blair, who believed in sending half the population to university: his argument was that academically clever people went to university, so if everyone went to university, everyone would be academically clever. Britain’s next wave of reformers, Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove, held that a traditional knowledge-rich curriculum would impart more information and better life chances to English children. Pisa results indicate that it probably has, but that average contains multitudes, and some of them aren’t coming into school. And it isn’t just the children with diagnosed special needs that suffer — it can be a pretty bleak experience for those who simply aren’t academic, too.

Ella is 13 and softly spoken. She is in Year 8 and missed a lot of school last year. She gets headaches which were probably caused by anxiety — it is very common, especially in children and adolescents, for anxiety to manifest somatically in the form of physical aches and pains or nausea. If you ask Ella how things are going, she will reliably say that she is ok, home is great and school is tricky. She isn’t being bullied, and she’s too well-behaved to get into trouble — she just gets stressed out by school. Ella is in the bottom set for everything, and while the groups are smaller and the teachers do their best to make the work make sense, she knows she isn’t doing well at it.

Ella loved being at home in lockdown. She liked being able to do schoolwork in her own time, because it takes her longer to work things out than others. She liked being able to hang out with her cousins, and help out on her family’s farm. Like Kieran, Ella has a strong sense of her values and what she wants to do with her life. School is barely relevant to it.

A team like mine could work on some of Ella’s worries; helping to build up her confidence. But what you can’t cure therapeutically is the empirically observable knowledge that you’re stuck doing something you are bad at. If the core of your anxiety is a belief that you’re not good enough, there’s nothing more effective at feeding that belief than not being good enough at the only thing you have the opportunity to do for most of your waking existence.

In an under-resourced system optimised for academic exam performance, pastoral teams can do their best to find out about the interests and motivations of non-academic children, but they can’t rewire the curriculum. In response, activist groups, such as Not Fine In School which represents families of mostly neurodiverse children who are out of school, argue that the current model, far from being inclusive, is failing many children. They advocate for a less punitive approach to pupil absence — at present, local authorities can fine parents over children’s low attendance — and more rights for parents in determining the best educational provision for their children.

The preference of many children is to be able to self-direct with one-to-one attention when they need it. The obvious place to do this would be at home; but unlike the US, where a strong culture of home-schooling is has resulted in better outcomes than those of state-educated children, the Department for Education collects no outcome data for home-schooling families and the education establishment is, at best, sceptical. Moreover, there is very little support for families where both parents are working. Some US states, by contrast, help fund home-schooling with tax credits or deductions.

Instead, the axiomatic assumption in Britain is that school is best, and any misalignment with the school system is an individual pathology. We defer to the language of “anxiety”, which has become a catch-all term for all distress caused by an aversive experience. But this can be unhelpful for a number of reasons, especially where school avoidance is a feature: it can pathologise ordinary difficulties, undermining children’s self-confidence and self-efficacy; it can mistake the distress that many autistic children experience in the school environment for something that can be straightforwardly treated with exposure; it also assumes that the individual, rather than the environment, is the problem. 

We could, for instance, describe the frustration of being stuck in a lesson you are unable to participate in as anxiety, and we could do the same with the sensory discomfort of the classroom, but those aren’t irrational fears and they can’t be fixed in the same way irrational fears can. And even when those children are coping with the demands of being in the school environment, they tend to emerge with little to show for it. Pupils with an ECHP are working on average three years behind their peers by the time they leave school; only 13% of children with special educational needs leave with GCSE passes in English and Maths.

One way of looking at this is to see children who are statistically less likely to do well at school as voting with their feet and staying away. The education establishment would argue that this is precisely why it’s so important for them to be in school — to “close the gap” in their attainment compared to other children. But I am not convinced. In The Cult of Smart, the Left-wing writer and ex-teacher Freddie DeBoer argues that academic ability is largely heritable and that the increasing amount of pressure and money spent on trying to close achievement gaps have little impact. We justify wildly disparate outcomes in wealth and well-being as being merit-based — if you work hard in school, you deserve better in life — when the outcomes are determined more by luck than hard work.

DeBoer’s solutions include ditching the assumption, beloved of cognitively blessed elites, that academic attainment signifies moral goodness, and allowing children to opt out of the academic curriculum at age 12. David Goodhart makes similar arguments for the UK in Head Hand Heart, arguing that a cognitively minded ruling class has failed to take skilled manual labour and caring professions seriously. What do we signal about the work we value as a society when we tell children that the only things worth learning in their formative years involve memorising and decoding information?

In the current system, we pretend that everyone can jump through hoops of academic cleverness, which are the only hoops worth jumping through. When that doesn’t work, we pathologise the individual and blame the teachers, who should be able to skilfully engage all children in the class, no matter how large their spread of aptitude and interest for the subject.

Kieran and Ella have been having a miserable time in an environment ill-suited to their needs — it was that, rather than any irrational error of thought, that dented their attendance. The only thing they were taught was that they had failed.


Kate Adams works at a school in England.


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Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
10 months ago

No, no, no! How dare you suggest that a monopoly one-size-fits-all education system devised and run by the educated class is anything but a heavenly gift to humanity.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
10 months ago

This article was relatable on a few personal notes. I wouldn’t say I’m intellectually gifted by any means, but I enjoy reading and am extremely interested in topics like history, politics and other topics for example. When I was younger I would be one of those kids in English lessons who could read a paragraph from a book easily, name the capital of most Western countries and tell you all sorts of historical facts. You’d think I would be fine at school, but I actually really struggled. In fact so much so that my head of year told my parents to their face that I was a write off. I didn’t respond well to most of the styles of teaching and even in the subjects I was interested in, I found the lessons to be dull (either because the teacher lacked enthusiasm or because we were covering areas I just had no interest in). This did get better as time went on and I left with some GCSE’s, but I needed to redo them at college to move onto other things.

Now, when I was at college, everything was different and I excelled. I was treated like I actually wanted to be there and all my lecturers were happy with my performances. End result was that I got the results I needed, did a college course, went to university and got a 2:1 degree. Now, even though I was profoundly useless at maths in school, I work with numbers and also manage people in my job. Not bad for a write off
 (up yours lousy head of year). Just wanted to add this experience as even those who would and do benefit from higher forms of education still suffer from a rigid, judgemental and uncompromising system.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
10 months ago

I see no mention here of the damage to other children’s education which results from trying to keep these misfits under control; the drain on teachers’ time and energy; the continual disruption of lessons, etc. etc. Nor of the fact that some parents are positively antagonistic towards school, the police or anyone else in authority – and indeed towards their neighbours. Problem families breed problem children.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
10 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Evrytime someone mention a so-called underfunding of school-system, something that is blatantly couterfactual when seeing the amount of public resources put into education, then here is the answer.
Filing the danaides’ barrel is a perpetually underfunded task.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
10 months ago

Deleted

Last edited 10 months ago by Jonathan Andrews
Richard M
Richard M
10 months ago

I agree with the general thrust of the article. Over the last 30 years we’ve over-emphasised the academic education route at the expense of the practical. (Then we wonder why we can’t get a plumber!)
But I would urge a little caution in taking Kieran’s story as typical. My professional experience of this area comes from around 15 years ago when I worked in local government. My job was to evaluate and report on grant funded schemes to support “left behind” communities, including education support programmes.
If you could only pick one indicator that a child is at risk across multiple aspects, it would be very bad school attendance. Not attending school regularly correlates strongly with things like age-inappropriate caring responsibilities, low-level crime and nuisance behaviour, risk of exploitation etc. This is not to say that a child who attends school regularly is automatically fine. Its that very often poor school attendance is a sign that something is wrong or going to go wrong soon.
More anecdotally, personal experience supports this. My kids are teenagers and while they go to a pretty good school, they both know plenty of their cohort who have drifted away/dropped out completely (a situation which was only made worse with lockdown). By and large these kids aren’t getting up at the crack of dawn to work on a building site with Kieran. They’re hanging round the local shops from mid-afternoon until late in the evening.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard M

When we’re writing them off at 14/15/16, what do you expect? We tell them that without GCSEs they have no future and so they then write themselves off, might as well drink and do drugs to numb the hopelessness and bum about on the streets with equally hopeless mates. Don’t need GCSEs to sell drugs or commit petty crime!

Richard M
Richard M
10 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

I agree we shouldn’t be writing off kids, but let’s not get confused about causality here. The primary reason these kids are disengaging is not because they are being written off. Its predominantly because of more tangible things like family circumstances.
Being written off is more like an inevitable consequence of teachers and schools not being able to cope with so much demand. From my experience, they mostly do as much as they can within the time and resources available to them, which are inevitably spread thinly across multiple cases.
In circumstances where families either can’t or won’t support children’s learning, its impossible for schools and education authorities to completely plug the gap.

Nanu Mitchell
Nanu Mitchell
10 months ago

Just teach children to read efficiently and do simple maths.
Back in my school in New Delhi – 1200 girls- every child was reading well by age 6-7 even though English was often not spoken at home. Every child could do simple addition and subtraction.
Once the basics are in place most children will manage

Nanu Mitchell
Nanu Mitchell
10 months ago
Reply to  Nanu Mitchell

To continue- when I taught in state schools I was horrified/bemused by the convoluted methods used for teaching straightforward reading: methods imported from the USA. One teacher I knew stayed up until midnight most week days to compose tricksy learning cards for each pupil. The theories! The agonising! Chalk and talk would have had them all reading etc in a few months.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
10 months ago
Reply to  Nanu Mitchell

Deleted

Last edited 10 months ago by Jonathan Andrews
Saul D
Saul D
10 months ago

There have always been the kids who know they’ll be off working on a farm or diggiing ditches for council, or off on the bin-lorries when they leave school. Fixed hours. Physical work. A laugh and enough cash for beer and a kick-around or fishing on Saturday. What good is school to where they want to go?
The dark cloud though, is modern life is swamping these lives. Money is numbers on a screen. Everything has labels. Every piece of work has a form to be filled in, or a permit to be applied for. The machinery is all computer screens and menus. Don’t-need-education doesn’t fly because the default expectation is everyone is educated enough to handle an online world created by people with degrees, and the intrepid kids from overseas are taking the low-paid easy-work jobs leaving life on the dole as the fallback. No education is also not a viable option.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

Geez, you pack a lot of assumptions into this comment. Just because a kid doesn’t excel at school doesn’t mean they can’t use computers, or that they are happy merely drinking or fishing. By the way, I have met many university grads who were borderline functionally illiterate.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Many have been educated into blue-haired, tattooed imbecility.

Last edited 10 months ago by Allison Barrows
Terry Davies
Terry Davies
10 months ago

Sadly, I had to chuckle at that!

Saul D
Saul D
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Examples, not assumptions. There are a lot of reasons why basic comforts are enough for people. Money in the pocket is physical and manageable at a tactile level. When it’s numbers on a screen and numbers scare you because you’ve been taught you don’t add right, or you have a number-dyslexia things get hard to manage. You can’t even get to a website without some huge consent form popping up – that I’m pretty sure most PhDs don’t really understand. Click and keep going. And take a look at how hard it is to book a flight, or choose a train ticket. Dark arts to bewilder and confuse even educated people. When everything you buy comes in subscription format and you don’t own anything. Click and keep going. They’re smart enough to know the rat-race isn’t for them, but the world is becoming more difficult even for career-aspiring educated people to navigate. We could all do with more simplicity.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
10 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

In the U.K. we use the term home education rather than home schooling because it is understood that learning is education and that it can happen anywhere and doesn’t only come from schools or schooling. There is even the “learn nothing day”, which is joke because very few people can go through a day and learn absolutely nothing.
Admittedly, there is a huge difference between home educated children and truant children, which I personally put down to the parent child relationship. Truant children have a greater relationship with their peers and have probably lost all self respect due to the negative experience of school and has a difficult relationship with parents who are either battling with them to go back to school or have given up.

Arthur G
Arthur G
10 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

All of those things you take a givens are actually policy choices.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
10 months ago

There used to be more practical streams in school – woodwork, cooking (aka Domestic Science) and needlework. These are all life skills we could all benefit from. Unfortunately, the blob took over and these subjects were agglomerated onto Technology. Instead of being taught to cook, my children were taught how to design a ready-meal. How passĂ© that sounds now.
Secondary Modern schools used to cater for the more practical, less academic pupils but that has been swept away with the all must have prizes and half must go to uni mentality.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago

Please not ‘the blob’ again! Just a lazy expression like ‘woke’. I agree about the practical skills taught at secondary modern schools. I failed my 11 plus completely in the 60s and went to a rural secondary modern school and loved the woodwork – which became my hobby, and I still use what I learnt then. However, secondary moderns are not a good idea generally. I never gained any significant qualifications – other than a grade 1 CSE in woodwork. However, I went to the local FE college (properly funded then) and got good science O & A levels, went to Sheffield university and eventually ended up with a PhD. Life would have been much more straightforward if I had gone to the excellent comprehensive school which eventually replace my old sec.mod.
Failing your 11 plus says ‘not academic’ which is often a complete lie.
So don’t get taken in by all the nonsense about the grammar school system. Most didn’t go to grammars but suffered the second rate education dished out by sec mod. (Apart from the woodwork!)
Practical/academic shouldn’t be an either/or choice.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
10 months ago

This is probably true, only in cases where the students, especially boys, are smart and simultaneously, not suited to the feminised education track of – sit quietly, pass some exams, do some rubbish non STEM degree, join a admin or govt job.
Physical jobs such as truck driving, gardening, plumbing etc don’t need university degrees.

What is worrying is the implication here that you can use “stress” or “anxiety” as excuses for checking out, instead of being taught to deal with it and be strong.

For most kids, going to a disciplined school with routine, structure and regular learning is beneficial.

Incidentally, I heard a nearby school where students lost 1-2 years of education due to COVID, is seeing building closures because of some asbestos issue (I think).
That’s a bigger concern I would think – those poor kids are finished. After years of missing studies, there is no way they will ever catch up.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
10 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Many colleges do foundation courses so they can get maths and English and taster courses of NVQ courses on offer.
incidentally, my daughter failed to gain her maths gcse despite multiple attempts and yet got distinctions for her fashion course where she specialised in construction/ dress making which requires maths.
the system doesn’t work for all kids and non academic children shouldn’t be made to feel useless on the grounds of not being academic.
additionally, the system also breeds fear of failure which is one of the most damaging aspect of all. We learn through failure and so when we are mocked and ridiculed for failure, we stop trying.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
10 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Exams are not the problem – they actually favour boys – the problem has been a move away from sat, timed and anonymous exams towards “assessment” and coursework which favour well behaved and quiet types.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
10 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Yes, our would be superiors really have a preference for well behaved and quiet, it seems.

Alexander Thirkill
Alexander Thirkill
4 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Hiya, 18 years in secondary teaching here. Coursework essentially ended for most GCSEs and A levels after 2015/2017. It’s all exams now. More like 1980s O and A levels, rather than the GCSEs I did in the 1990s.

Vocational qualifications like BTECs and NVQs still have various forms of coursework and/or extended, multi day examined project work.

I think GCSEs could do with some more mixed types of assessment.

I’m a history teacher, but have taught other subjects up to A level.

I could see us having say 60% conventional written exams, maybe 30% oral assessment, ideally recording in booths, and maybe 20% multi-choice knowledge test – say 200 key knowledge questions. Again, make this digital. Show them a visual source, or have them respond on screen. Mark by AI.

odd taff
odd taff
10 months ago

I left school at sixteen without any qualifications. I had hardly attended in the last year or so. Fifteen years later I obtained my O Levels and A levels though evening classes and then passed professional examinations. I wasn’t ready for studying as a teenager but after a spell in the army and some fairly tedious work I understood the need for qualifications. School was for me like imprisonment. If I’d had been compelled to stay on till eighteen I think I’d have ended up with a criminal record. I think there are probably quite a few youngsters who would benefit from a more flexible system that allowed them to go out to work earlier and catch up on education further down the line.

Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago

This seems to be an argument for alternative schools, not alternatives to school. In fact these already exist, but only for those who can afford it – from the establishment sports/outdoor pursuits public schools, to the Waldorf/Steiner/Montesorri. I appreciate the author’s frustration – but go carefully, the potential for neglect, abuse, and dysfunction are great. Homeschooling is surely a good option, when well done. A great many kids who are well served in the standard system would nevertheless move hell and high water to get out of school – just to get away from the work and the stresses of socialising. Even well-meaning parents and professionals are perfectly capable of being co-opted into avoidance strategies.

Last edited 10 months ago by Dominic A
Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

The complaint that our society over-values academic ability and downgrades manual and other competencies was already well-rehearsed in the early 1980s when I trained to work in Further Education. It rumbled on throughout my career, and was still going strong when I retired. People paid lip-service to it, and managers in particular found it a useful mantra when dealing with construction, hairdressing, and catering lecturers. But nobody had any idea about solving the problem; it was just there is the background to be grumbled about, rather like the weather. I suspect it is structured into how complex societies carry out “work”. Those who can articulate and express their thoughts get to organise and coordinate the labour of others, those who can see patterns and measure outcomes get to decide rewards. Crudely, scientists and lawyers get to run society, and we can’t see any way around that.
So although there is a great deal of sense in not insisting that all children receive a formal school-based education, I’m uneasy, because the academy is usually where such skills are learnt. I note that both examples in the article mention farm work. That’s fine, but let’s not write off academic ability too early. Especially if we ourselves are only capable of formulating the arguments for doing so because of the Robbins Report and the Blairite reforms. It looks a bit like pulling up the ladder.

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
10 months ago

In America, there is a distinct revolving door between government and academia, scratching each others backs: from funding to political postures and policy. The teachers unions are the third leg of the progressive stool. This is far too important a relationship to rock with attention to the students!
The goal seems to be far more one of indoctrination and control than teaching to prepare students for real life.
This would explain our disastrous academic results and our activist, spoiled, self centered, useless and totally unrealistic graduates! Rather than reform that which has no intentions of being reformed, we, here, need to take and keep our kids away and start again.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
10 months ago

I’m currently working on a PhD, but one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever had was as a groundskeeper for a local public park. I was out in the fresh air all day, away from other people, I got to enjoy nature, and I got to curse out the ingrates who left their litter everywhere; it was very cathartic.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

You liked it so much you quit?

Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
10 months ago

” We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall”
Roger Waters and David Gilmour

Last edited 10 months ago by Ralph Hanke
laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
10 months ago

The factory model of education is actually not too bad, as long as we stick to the three Rs (reading, writing and ‘rithmatic). But even basic geometry started to lose some of my classmates. I liked geometry but the teachers had to go over the same thing again and again til the others caught up. That’s when they started to lose me. Advanced classes would have been even worse; I would have been a dumby in a room full of brainiacs.
The thing is that was more than fifty years ago. As with so many other topics, I’m amazed that we haven’t made any progress at all!
By the way, the post lock-down attendance problem is the same in the States. But over here we have comparisons to make between the various States. The ones that shut down first and longest are suffering significantly worse than the others. As per the NYTimes, so it can’t be written off as far-right conspiracy mongering.

Last edited 10 months ago by laurence scaduto
Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago

Love the spirit of the article, but even here the author is fundamentally misunderstanding the problem.
The problem isn’t that some people think there’s a relationship between “moral goodness” and academic success – but that people think there’s a relationship between “moral goodness” and economic success. We as a society (this author and the education apparatchiks and everyone else, too) want ‘trying hard’ and ‘doing your best’ to equate to economic success. He doesn’t want these overlooked kids to be forced into academic contexts… but seems to forget that the reason for the academic push was to increase economic outcomes. I agree with him… but what happens when ‘trying hard’ on the farm leads to poor economic outcomes for these kids?
The thing which ought to determine economic success isn’t academics or trying hard, but simply productivity, ie, your ability in a market economy to satisfy the needs and wants of other people. In other words, doing things that are in high demand because other people want them so much and because other people can’t do them, should be the path to economic success. Lazy, entitled brain surgeons *should* make more than industrious, good-willed farmers… right?
In a sense this is completely meritocratic – the more productive should be the more highly paid. In another sense, though, it might undermine all the imagined virtues of meritocracy (that it isn’t racist, isn’t sexist, doesn’t depend on nepotism, etc.). Because what if it turns out that some demographics are in fact better at brain surgery and others are better at teaching? What if it turns out that the son of a brain surgeon is more likely to be a good brain surgeon than the son of a coal miner?
What if it turns out that meritocracy is just our way of pretending we’re not all stuck in the same old Great Chain of Being?

Last edited 10 months ago by Kirk Susong
T Bone
T Bone
10 months ago

This article goes to show that Socialist elites micromanaging outcome disparities is a total fail and should end immediately. The logical solution would be to simply focus on increasing the range of educational opportunities to account for different learning preferences. But that’s not possible in a Socialist environment because Socialists believe increased opportunity favors the Status Quo.

There is no arrangement where outcomes will be perfectly distributed on some kind of socioeconomic bell curve. So Socialists decide that everyone should have their opportunities limited to keep the “outcome disparities” from getting too wide.

All Socialists do is lower the ceiling. They do nothing to raise the floor. If everyone improves but the top half of a graph improves at a greater rate than the bottom, the Socialists consider that a failure because a gap is widening. The sole purpose of the Socialist “Inclusivity” program appears to be limiting academic accomplishments of the top half to protect feelings. In reality all it does is decrease total accomplishment and make more people feel like failures.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Have you actually worked in UK schools recently? Socialist is the last thing they are whatever you might read in the Daily Mail. You’re living in a weird ideological bubble.

T Bone
T Bone
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

What do you think Socialism is? It’s just the micromanagement of group hierarchies. Any goal geared at artificially leveling out group outcome disparities is Socialism.

So you think the Socialist planning is limited to economics. No, this isn’t Marxism. Its Marxism turned inside out. It’s seizing the means of cultural production and knowledge production…mainly education so it can reproduce itself as the dominant culture.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
10 months ago

“what you can’t cure therapeutically is the empirically observable knowledge that you’re stuck doing something you are bad at.”
This line struck home for me. I was always excellent in school because I happen to be very good at the things academic achievement measures. My rude awakening came after graduation when there were no more teachers, no more tests, no more grades, and no more clearly written instructions. I then learned that social skills, an area where I have a genetic deficiency, are actually more important to post-academic success than any of the things I had been measured on, hence the above quote applies to me now in a way it never did when I was in school. It’s a reversal that also demonstrates the basic point, that our education system is measuring, valuing, and teaching things that are, at best, not perfectly correlated to life success. That’s the optimistic view. My view is that public education is a combination of three things, a wasteful exercise in social signaling, an effective, if morally questionable, method of cultural and social indoctrination, and finally, the most important function, a public daycare system that frees up both parents to work more. IMHO, they should drop the pretense and start children in ‘school’ at age two or three. A lot of working class people could save a lot of money that way. I’ve commented before on how the enlightenment moved western culture towards the quasi-religious glorification of ‘reason’ at the expense of other virtues. Cultivating ‘reason’ in children is not only developing the quality for social good, but also imparting the importance and primacy of ‘reason’ over other virtues and other aspects of life for the sake of cultural cohesion and the acceptance of established class hierarchies.

Susanna W
Susanna W
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Well said. And this has triggered me to voice more. I am wanting to continue learning. Aged 70. Did a GCSE Biology last year, the only non core subject at evening class. I am going on to an A level this year. I paid for myself. 46 enrolled, half attended from autumn half term onwards, and 13 sat exams in the summer.

Only I paid my course fees. Others were resits for under 20 year olds. Government pays. Enjoyed the learning new stuff. Teacher stressed. One year of 2hours a week class time. Students walked out of class whenever they liked. No discipline or self discipline. GCSE exams were strange -100?s in 100 mins nearly! Gobsmacked I did not get a standard pass, grade 3 at Higher level, and that I cannot resit it! I have to enroll again and/or resit next year. Not at that college – dropped that GCSE this new year. (Examiner shortages across the country and no chance for early resit.) What a struggle.

One size fits all is a joke. We are failing our grandchildren never mind a granny who Chose to put herself through the system, to open my mind, to understand more of the world around me.

I see the future is in the growth of home learning GCSE and A levels. Pay for it interest free for 10 months. Three A levels are cheaper than the cost of a new iPhone 14. Think on that! I am doing the one A level. Online. No commuting, learn at home, one to one and worldwide resources online. No bullying, no mid afternoon closing of school or college. Things have changed our minds. College is not easy for inter-age mix-ups. Me sitting three A levels at my local college sounds interesting, convenient and pragmatic. In reality they are mostly conditioned to behave in an institutional manner, chasing the government grants and shaping college and students into qualification-driven measuring tools.

If you can learn GCSE and A levels at home, then time to look at changing the straitjacket. Free education accessible to all is on the one hand while offering more input, resources and measurements for SEND classes and anxious/truant pupils (than for those who want to learn and expand their knowledge more broadly than the academic base our schooling focuses on) on the other hand. Juggling everything else in between. Burnt out, stressed out, ill human beings whizzing around chasing targets, timetables, teachers and ill tempers. Trying to keep a lid on it. Mindfulness kicks in. Has to succeed, they say…. well, it’s time for mega change in our offerings of upbringing young people.

Get the universities off the necks of funding providers, get the politicians off the focus of the money chasing trail, and get children prepared for leadership, innovation, ideas and inspirational thought for and application to this world which we steward. We are losing out massively through truancy, punitive judgements, indoctrination, and narrow minded mentalities – killing off the can do attitudes with assumptions that if you aren’t complying with 100% school attendance and are not relating to the academic push push push of schooling then you are no good.

If we really had children’s best interests at heart in our educational system and their school environment we would not allow them to suffer as they do in the mess of biased curriculum, non-cohesive timetables, unrealistic targets, idealistic learning contexts and surreal aspirations. Time for honesty, acknowledgement and courage to make big changes. We can encourage, embrace, endure and enjoy an educational programme that puts each child’s development as a future adult, over 16, at the core of the community. What we have at present is both ugly and boring.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
10 months ago

Just so everyone knows – the government’s definition of ‘persistently absent’ is that a pupil missed 10% or more sessions (more than one day in a fortnight). This is where absence starts to have a sharp effect on academic performance. It is also where schools start to focus on particular pupils and their families.
The government also reports that 12.4% of all pupils miss 10% or more sessions due to illness alone. Either we should be asking why our youngsters are so ill, when expenditure on health is at record historical levels, or else we should assume that their parents are lying.
There are cases when youngsters especially boys would rather be doing a man’s job than staying in school. They are likely to be the minority. The majority are probably children who liked doing nothing during Covid and happy to live a life of idleness at the expense of those who do work.
Home schooling works where one or both of the parents is academically strong and the motivation for home schooling is usually not due to the child or children having SEN but an opposition to such issues as sex education, critical race theory and bullying. What the author is asking for is a system of state sponsored home tuition outside of any supervision. The potential for embezzlement of public money is huge.
The two mantras that are being defended by insistence on the one size fits all approach are comprehensive schooling and mixed ability classes. If the educational establishment allows special schooling for those with SEN, then the clamour will increase for a national return of grammar schools to serve the highly intelligent.

Alan Bright
Alan Bright
10 months ago

The trouble is that we confuse education with school. We all know that education can happen outside school – and often does.
The government could simply give ÂŁ6,000 per child per year to parents – ie, the cost of educating children in the state system. Child benefit would be scrapped, for efficiency and simplicity. This could be tax neutral – ie, taxes could stay the same.
There would be no strings attached to these payments. As with child benefit and income support, parents would be able to spend it how they choose.
The government would stop funding schools. Schools would receive money only from parents who wanted to send their children there.
Charitable status would be removed from all schools.
What it could look like
Some parents would be feckless, ignoring their children’s education needs totally. But children of such parents often fail at school anyway. But there would be many advantages:
·       Some parents would choose a pick and mix approach, looking for education in certain subjects but not in others, according to their child’s ability and interests. This education could be delivered in a variety of ways: individual tuition, large groups, internet.
·       Some parents would outsource their child’s education five days a week (or more). For this, no doubt schools would offer this as a total package and would look little different from schools today.
·       Some schools would charge more than ÂŁ6,000 for the complete package. Some parents would be able to pay the extra and therefore ‘buy’ better education for their children. Not much difference there then.
·       Schools would also offer modules – eg, 5-a-side football, GCSE Spanish, sex education – for parents to choose from instead of full-time attendance.
·       Parents of disruptive pupils could be told to take their child – and their money – elsewhere. At the moment, significant resources are spent on disruptive pupils, to the detriment of recruitment to teaching and, most importantly, the education of other pupils.
·       Non-academic pupils would have funding to pursue non-academic options earlier.
Do we really trust parents enough to hand the money directly to them? Granted, some children might be worse off under this approach, but surely it would deliver many, many benefits. The children that would be worse off would probably already be in difficult home environments but there are other measure that could help them, rather than producing a poor educational system for everyone.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
10 months ago

I attended high school between 1970 and 1974 in NZ- the kids who had the most fun were the non-academic streams fixing up old cars and building stuff – and going on to apprenticeships without the bother of uni etc. We certainly did not view them as ‘failing’ , but we certainly realized that one size will never never fit all. However home and cultural boundaries meant that this group did have to actually attend school – rather like a zero tolerance policy between home, school and police etc.Seems to be that the qualification for being in a position of governmental power is that of real world functional idiocy in most areas of policy.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
10 months ago

“…academically clever people went to university, so if everyone went to university, everyone would be academically clever.”
Let them eat cake too!

Doug Bodde
Doug Bodde
10 months ago

A gamish of thoughts and policy advice here. Literacy, numeracy and civil formation (citizenry) not being important factors apparently. Reading and writing’ and rithmetic taught to the tune of the hickory stick is what we used to say in America.