Independent Head ‘deceived’ by academic education?

Without wishing to enter into the debate about the issues of social mobility, here’s how one independent head unbelievably describes the vivid way he sees our current educational situation:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8475876.stm

“If we want the brightest children from our poorest homes to fulfil their potential we must not deceive them with high grades in soft subjects or allow them to believe that going to any old university to read any subject is going to be the path to prosperity, because it’s not,” he said.

“So let us not deceive our children, and especially children from poorer homes with worthless qualifications so that they become like the citizens of Weimar Germany or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe carrying their certificates around in a wheelbarrow, or produce people like those girls in the first round of X Factor who tell us they want to be the next Britney Spears but they can’t sing a note.”

5 comments on “Independent Head ‘deceived’ by academic education?

  1. This is just sloppy sensational journalism, of course he would say this, surely it would be more newsworthy if he proclaimed the value of the new vocational diplomas…?

    If you read on the rest of the article it later states that 45% of senior civil servants are privately educated – a figure I would have expected to be much higher (even though in an ideal world I feel it should be 0%).

    What I don’t understand is why the media/government is so fixated on this. I really do wish we could get to a more sensible, common sense, personal and pragmatic approach to exams, i.e. what is the minimum you need to close the least number of doors in the future?

    As a teenager I honestly was not aware of “exams” until we sat our mocks at 16. I only just scraped passes in the “hard” ones (English, Maths and science) but did quite well in all the worthless soft ones I enjoyed.

    Other than allowing me a tightly restricted ticket to the next level of education I have found absolutely no other mobility value in my “hard” qualifications. My soft ones on the other hand have been like an open permit to travel anywhere I want to. Quite apart from the fantastically diverse experience of designing, making researching, evaluating, experimenting, and reporting ceramics – historically, aesthetically, industrially, culturally, economically and scientifically… my A level in pottery is formally described on the certificate as “Craft”. What a marvelous all purpose, get-me-into-anywhere statement. Whenever I’ve needed to be an artist I have been able to accentuate the creative and aesthetic, (it got me into art school). When I’ve needed to be technical I have concentrated on the scientific and practical aspects (it got me into technology and IT) and when I’ve needed to be intellectual I have pointed out the historical and cultural aspects of ceramic history (which got me accepted as an academic).

    My pottery A level and my “Combined Arts” degree (was there ever a softer and more worthless qualification?) are the “examination” equivalents of the Molesworth all purpose thank you letter (Ronald Searle’s ‘How to be Top’) With sufficient imagination they can be reconstituted to be a passport to anything I want…

    So given how completely unreliable formal exams are (you could be the best and still statistically quite easily get B’s or C’s) everyone needs to be encouraged to validate the exams they are forced to sit for themselves. And I can’t see a better way of doing this than playing the system by wasting as little time as possible making sure you have the very minimum “hard stuff” you need, and then looking for the most flexible and enjoyable “soft stuff” and remembering that it’s not the qualification, it’s how you sell it that counts!

    I wonder what the ceramic equivalent of X factor might be….?

  2. Sorry to hog the debate but I probably need to add that I’ve never tried to use this approach to join the judiciary – but for goodness sake who’d want to?

  3. Tony’s comment reminded me of Molesworth’s thank you letter by I can’t find my copy. Does anyone know of a web copy hanging virtually around?

    I found that the better my academic qualifications, the more work I’ve had to do to convince people I am not stuck in a ivory tower (difficult to do as I am in fact very much stuck in an ivory tower). I only got my first proper job in publishing because my Oxford tutor had a daughter at the same school as my Oxford publisher MD – otherwise the MD said ‘they didn’t take people with PhDs’ (and quite right too).

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