(Note: This was actually something I did back in 1990 as part of a Desktop Publishing or some other IT course I was doing at the time. Can’t even remember the package I used. Long obsolete now, whatever it was.)
Lifes & Times, Issue 69, October 1990
Vox Pox : The Voice of the People : Education in shambles!
Recent government disclosures, highlighted in the national press, tell of the financial state of education authorities and the problems now rampant in schools and colleges across the country. But is this the true picture, and do we, the public, really care? It seems to be that the issue, coinciding as it does with local by-elections, is just another missile for the opposing parties to fire at each other.
To test this theory I armed myself with the top twenty concerns in the current education debate and tackled the man – and woman – in the street to find their views. From these I have chosen the four points that generated the strongest feelings on the whole, and have picked people to air their particular praises – or grievances.
Compulsory religion was high on the list of sore points with almost everybody that I interviewed. Susan, a 21-year-old laboratory assistant from Widnes said, "I am a practising Catholic and welcomed the Religious Studies up to a point. However I went to a Roman Catholic School where it was mandatory as an ‘O’ level subject. I feel that the time would have been better spent on a more career orientated course." (Remembering my own school days, it is a view that I would extend to compulsory Physical Education).
Wayne, 30, and married with three children, is an administration officer from Liverpool. " I was dead against forced prayers in the morning assemblies." Going on, he added that if they must reach religion, then they should cover all beliefs, thus allowing students to choose their own faith.
This view was echoed by Jeff, aged 25, a computer programmer from Runcorn. "With respect to the Religious Eduction, I believe that you should not be taught just one religion exclusively, but what other religions are about, how they came about and what they believe in. That it should cover Buddhism, Muslim, Judaism and even Pagan faiths."
My own thoughts on the subject are rather jaded, but I think that the above views have merit and should be implemented. To me, much to the horror of my parents, I put it in the same class as politics. I see no reason to believe something because the family always has.
Next, touching on career advice, is the matter of choosing your options. The views of this were almost as heated and, sometimes, more bitter than before.
Wayne: "We were offered a fairly broad selection for third year options. However, if enough pupils didn’t want to do a class, then that topic was cancelled. Conversely, for over-subscribed subjects it was a case of first come first served."
Susan: "At my school they must have decided that everyone would have a broad education, regardless of one’s own desires. We were given five columns to choose from; three were nearly all full of sciences, with history, geography and French thrown in for good measure, the fourth column was all crafts – art, needlework, home economics – whilst the last was topics that were unlikely to be chosen normally, such as drama and babycare."
Jeff: "We were offered quite a good selection of courses for our examinations. However, no advice was given to us about choosing them; that, in careers, certain subjects went together. We simply were not told that and it meant having to go to college to sit the ‘O’ levels I needed."
Personally, I think that the roots of this lie in careers advice, or the lack thereof. It’s a bit like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted to give the advice as the pupil is leaving school. I would say the best method would be to start off with aptitude tests in the third form, then help the student choose his or her options according to where their abilities, interests and ambitions lay.
It is a fact that current problems, such as teacher to pupil ratios, discipline, and changing examination patterns are valid issues. However, once you have left the confines of school it is the more personal points which you remember. One such thing is school rules. Let’s look at our interviewees’ recollections.
Jeff: "The thing I really hated was rules appertaining to uniform. At my school little changes were made at regular intervals. One such example was adding an orange border to sweaters. You could not wear the old plain black one thereafter, but had to buy the new ones to conform. Paying for this for all of us was hard on my mum. They were even pedantic about the colour of your overcoat!"
Susan: "What struck me most was the almost mindless adherence to codes of dress. The uniforms had to be just the right shade of blue, or black, the school emblem was to be sewn dead centre on your blazer pocket. Any deviance meant being sent home with a letter to your parents."
Wayne: "One thing that annoyed me something chronic was appearance! Our old school had all sorts of rules about hair length, make-up, uniform and so on. I believe that this forced uniform thing is categorising people, is pigeonholing them, as if deciding their position in society from the onset." He also said. " Don’t quote me, but they even frowned on you wearing leather knickers! How did they know?" I dread to think, but I’ve since started to worry about Wayne!
The strangest rule came from a Widnesian woman; apparently she was regularly caned by her tutor – for being left-handed! She was forced to write right-handed because her teacher, a nun (obviously a bit touched) believed that it was a sign of the devil to be a southpaw.
In general though, most people’s thoughts, echoed the above; that too much emphasis was put on the correct dress, on having the right attire for their particular school (though in every case the teachers were free to wear whatever they liked). I must be old-fashioned, I thought the point of school was to be educated.
Finally, in accordance with the current press, were people’s feeling about school resources. My subjects left school 14, 9 and 5 years ago. At present we hear horror stories of leaking roofs, cooked school meals taken off to save money and six pupils having to share one text-book. Let us see how much the situation differed over the past decade or so.
Susan: "To be honest, I never paid that much attention to the matter. I don’t think we were that bad. We were given notebooks and pencils, but after the third year we had to buy our own text books and pens. I remember in my last term though that they contracted out the school meals. The prices went up and the standards went down, but the school saved thousands of pounds a year."
Jeff: "Resources? We had them, but they tended to be in poor condition as our school board was particularly tight-fisted and hated spending money. They told us that they lacked the funds to replenish old stock. I remember us having a gala to finance recovering worn chairs in the sixth form block. One big thing was that we were given a mini-bus for school trips. It was never used because they were unable to afford the running costs – except, that is, when the school board wanted to use it!"
Wayne: "We had no computers and a lack of book, but particularly we were short of sports equipment. Not so much volume as range. It would have been much better if games had covered say javelin and archery, instead of football in winter, cricket in summer, and cross-country every time it rained! For my children now, I have to buy all their books and stationary, and I sponsor them for various things to raise money for basic amenities at their school."
It would appear then that the money has been steadily running out for some time now and that the matter has only been raised publicly when it became critical – or rather it became politically expedient to do so. In conclusion then, the ‘current’ crisis has been building up for at least two decades – and the future looks bleak. It also appears that some schools put more importance on the look of the pupil than his education, and are apt to enforce outdated views on religion.
Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, as it was equally true way back when I left school, is education authorities ideas on curriculum – the people sit the subjects that are in the best interest of the school board, instead of the best interest of the pupil. Thus they are not prepared for the real world. Perhaps the education chiefs should spend some time in the real world themselves?