Melissa Benn\’s latest whine

Government is keen to emphasise that the studio and technical schools will not limit general learning. But a good education is about more than functional literacy and numeracy or a smattering of science and languages. Young people need not just efficient instruction but the opportunity for exploration – of ideas, history, literature, poetry, music, art, film, politics. These are the things that make and keep us human, and if we don\’t learn how to begin to think about these things when young, we may never return to them as adults.

Most telling of all it is those countries that postpone specialisation which top the international league tables so beloved of Michael Gove. \”Dual education\” Austria was one of the worst-performing countries in the 2009 Pisa tests while informal, inventive Alberta (in Canada) and Finland, in which vocational and academic learning are mixed until later in adolescence, remain at the top.

OK, lovely dear. Finland divides the academic goats from the vocational sheep at 16. So we\’re all agreed then that this is what produces the best education system in the world?

Lovely, so we\’ll proceed on that basis then shall we?

GCSEs for all, A levels and university for a minority,  BTecs and apprenticeships for the majority after that.

Good, excellent, we\’re done then, aren\’t we?

14 thoughts on “Melissa Benn\’s latest whine”

  1. This country gets far too many idiots prancing around on stage doing something ‘artistic’ and expecting the rest of us to pay for it already. High time we got some skilled craftsmen instead.

  2. “…and if we don’t learn how to begin to think about these things when young, we may never return to them as adults.”

    Translation: if we don’t get a chance to indoctrinate the kids in school, how the hell can we raise more socialists?

  3. I’m all for exploring ideas. But there’s a fundamental problem in education in that there’s far more to learn out there than can be thoroughly covered in childhood, or indeed in a single lifetime. So any study program is going to have to pick & choose, to study somethings in depth (including time to explore), somethings more briefly and somethings not at all. The sciences and crafts are things that keep us human as much as any other of the things listed, so why not study those in depth?

  4. The sciences and crafts are things that keep us human as much as any other of the things listed, so why not study those in depth?

    Because the vast majority of journalists, politicians and other pundits didn’t study anything more “hard science” than possibly sociology and certainly didn’t pay that much attention in those classes they didn’t bunk completely.

  5. Wasn’t that how it was, with O levels and CSE and then a further divide into academic studies at A level and university whilst vocational subjects were taught at polytechnics and technical colleges? Plus ca change……….

  6. Re Tracy W @ 3
    I suspect the answer to the question lies in JuliaM @2.
    All of the subjects beloved of the latest incarnation of the Benn dynasty are ‘defined knowledge’. In every area the student will be educated in what is wrong, what is right, what is good, what is bad.
    The problem for socialists, with the sciences is that almost anything can be worked out from first principles. If science is still taught in the same way as I was, the process is a rediscovery & verification of scientific principles. You don’t just accept the boiling point of water, you measure it. Start applying that technique to socialism & it’s too easy to learn things that socialists might not want you to.
    Far better the arts where our betters know best.

  7. Bloke in Spain: I don’t think that’s it, the history of music and literature for example has been for a long time that of the older generation denouncing the younger one’s choices (ragtime, jazz, rock, rap, novels, S&F, TV, blogs) and the younger one ignoring them, and eventually displacing the older generation & teaching what they admired as teenagers to their students as classics.
    If there’s no objective right or wrong it’s hard to hold on to a position of authority.

  8. Young people need not just efficient instruction but the opportunity for exploration – of ideas, history, literature, poetry, music, art, film, politics. These are the things that make and keep us human, and if we don’t learn how to begin to think about these things when young, we may never return to them as adults.

    Does anyone really need to be taught about film or music to appreciate it? Yes, knowing the history of Factory records, or Eisenstein’s use of montage might fill time at a dinner party, but it doesn’t mean you appreciate it.

  9. “Finland divides the academic goats from the vocational sheep at 16”. Really? They don’t stream classes before 16? Or do they just rely on the dimmer individuals avoiding the harder subjects?

  10. “knowing the history of Factory records might fill time at a dinner party”

    Sorry, I’m washing my hair that evening.

  11. Tracy W @ 7
    My point exactly. The subjects are all qualitative & as you point out mutable. The concept of each generation overturning the last. In political terms it’s Mao’s perpetual revolution.
    The sciences are objective. Each generation builds on the work of the generation before. It’s fact not opinions.

  12. @dearieme – in Finland classes are not streamed before the age of 16, and there is very little subject choice either. But then Finland is an egalitarian and homogenous society, and its education system is a reflection of that, rather than the reason for it.
    Finland also puts a lot of public money into promoting the arts in all their forms. The results are mixed, from world-class to complete crap.
    Finland really is not an especially relevant model for the UK – I say that having lived there for nine years in total between 1983 and 2007, and having visited before, during and since. Constituent parts of the UK, such as Wales and Scotland, could certainly learn from the Finnish example, but seem to lack the intellectual flexibility which would allow them to do so – and if they were prepared to learn, might find some of the lessons not to their liking. (Living within one’s means, for example.)

  13. Bloke in Spain: I don’t see that in the arts. Shakespeare and Jane Austen are still popular, centuries later (see movies). Classical and jazz are still alive. The arts aren’t the sciences but they’re additive in their own way.

  14. Streaming and specialisation are not at all the same thing. Indeed they have nothing to do with each other. I’m all in favour of streaming, but against specialisation – that is, I want to see as broad an education as possible for as many as possible. But as this seems to be the very point “the Government is keen to emphasise” I’m at a loss to understand what Melissa Benn is trying to say.

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