According to a working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser in 1998, the adult rate of functional illiteracy in Britain is a staggering 20%, that is 1 in 5 adults who cant read or write after 11 years of state schooling. For numeracy the report claims that “Some researchers suggest that nearly half of all adults in Britain have numeracy skills below the level expected of an 11 year old”. Science teaching is as bad. According to one report “both school students and science graduates have a considerably lower age-specific average science attainment than did the smaller and more elite cohort of thirty-plus years ago”. Likewise, history is a total washout. When I was at school we were taught about World War One, then Indian Independence, then how the Romans built roads, a bit about the Industrial Revolution, a little bit of the Vietnam War…there was no idea of history of a constant flow which has brought us to how the world is today.
You might think that such underperformance would result in radical structural reform, sackings or pay cuts, certainly that would be the case in any private sector enterprise. But no, teachers have been awarded pay rises and seen their generous pension arrangements left untouched. The average teacher earns £26,460 after five years while the national average is just £22,411.
How is it that the providers of such an obviously useless service manage to get away with it? More than that, how come they are rewarded for it? Well, on the surface the results look impressive. In 2005, no fewer than 97.8% of students who sat GCSE exams passed with 61.2% of them getting grades A* to C. A level results the same year saw the 23rd consecutive increase to a whopping 96.2%.
However, there is very good reason to believe that these children are not passing exams because they have been schooled particularly well but because the exams themselves have become so much easier. According to a report released in 2005, some candidates who got an A grade at A level would only have been awarded a C or D as recently as 1988. A science GCSE is now a multiple choice test and GCSE examiners are told not to mark a paper down “solely because of the existence of an error”. A survey by the Russell Group carried out in 2004 found that “A survey of 100 academics…found that 90 of them believed that an A grade at A-level was worth less than it was 10 years ago.” When presented with the three propositions that A-Level standards were falling, modular A-Levels were easier to pass and examination papers are less demanding, one teacher respondedthat “As an A-Level teacher of some 16 years experience, I have to give a resounding Yes to each and every one of these hypotheses”. Faith in the rigour of exams and the worth of the qualification has been so badly shaken that, according to the report by Reform quoted above, 43% of 18-24 year olds think exams have got easier to pass.
This is not to lay the blame at the door of the rank and file teachers. They may well strike to get more money from the taxpayer and preserve their generous pensions but who wouldn’t in their situation? The syllabus wasn’t degraded by teachers but by ‘educationalists’ who believed that teaching was somehow oppressive to pupils and various socialist tinged governments who do not like the idea of failure. The fact that schools are such violent and anti social places was, again, not down to teachers but the parents who cannot bring their children up and the same socialist tinged governments who didn’t think that crime was something to be punished but ‘understood’ and ‘empathised’ with.
The blame for the abject failure of state education lies at the door of the government and teaching unions and their symbiotic relationship. Unions bank roll the Labour party and so, in government, Labour will do little to anger them. If it tries to enact necessary reforms, as we have seen recently, the unions will call in their support and scare enough Labour MPs into rebelling. By this simple mechanism any real reform of state education is still born and it is the children of the poor who suffer, the children whose parents can’t afford to send their children to public schools unlike the expensively educated offspring of the Labour elite.