E is for Education

Who does not love learning something new? I know I do and these days we have so many opportunities to satiate our lust for learning. Alas for most children they do not get to learn very much as they go to school. Why this is still the case remains a mystery. There can be no logical reason for herding children together who have nothing in common other than the fact that they were born around the same time and live in the same area. It is a patently silly idea that has never worked and never will work. Successive governments keep coming up with some novel idea they claim will make it work – usually involving doing more of what is not working now… more testing, longer hours, shorter holidays etc.


Fortunately here in the UK one need not bother with such nonsense. The law requires that parents provide their children with a suitable education. This can be in any form that suits the child and the family. Attendance at school is not a legal requirement. The original thinking was that there would be an education service along the lines of the health service – available to all as and when required.

A good school, in short, is not a place of compulsory instruction, but a community of old and young, engaged in learning by co-operative experiment.

The Hadow Report (1931)

Such a radical idea was crippled by the machinations of the church, existing school system and the limitations of post war funding and was, alas, never realised in the 1944 Education Act and that “triumph for progressive reform” was a pallid interpretation of what was envisaged and possible.

One looks forward to the day when the nonsensical schooling system is disrupted and we can start to build something better.

Sophisticated Interactive Cheating Learning

Only in the bizarre (as in anachronistic, educationally limiting and often damaging, economically draining and environmentally indefensible) world of mass schooling in the 21st century would looking something up on the Internet be considered cheating. To quote Stephen Crowne, Chief Executive, Becta,

“Equipping our current and future generations with the necessary skills to compete in a digital world is crucial to our future. Through innovative programmes such as Home Access, Becta is driving this development.  We can see in schools and colleges across Britain how the use of technology breeds greater success for students and teachers alike.”


Or from a Microsoft Word document (No! Don’t laugh!) linked from the DCSF site, but without any indication what it is or who created it or when it was created (No! Don’t laugh!) ….

Gone are the days when young people spend endless school days poring over dusty textbooks. Learning is now interactive, sophisticated, and engaging.

Ho hum!

Aptitude and Ability

Last weekend threw up an interesting contrast. On Radio Three’s Private Passions available on iPlayer (until 6th December) Bill Bailey described his schooling (the independent King Edward’s School, Bath) where his talents were recognised and encouraged. On the other hand since her first audition for the X Factor:

one felt that Stacey Solomon had somewhere along the line been failed by the school system. Is the King Solomon High School (motto: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14) really meeting the requirements of Section 7 of the Education Act 1996? If you delegate the education of a child to the mass schooling system do you have any redress when that system fails the child. As Ms Solomon enters the X Factor semi-finals (and, one hopes, ultimate victory) one can only wonder at the countless other children who have been failed by such a piss poor system. If only there were some form of education otherwise than by schooling….

At last… the home education review

Far be it from me to say “I told you so” but… The only surprising thing about the current review of home education is that it has taken so long to arrive. Home educators have been (mixed metaphors alert!) relentlessly painting themselves into a corner for some years now, with their heads in the sand, hiding behind the sofa when someone from the council comes round.

The home educators have been so effective they have even managed to establish a whole new form of education…

According to the review’s top man Graham Badman::

… Legislation affords every parent the right to choose to educate their child at home…

Really? What legislation is that?

In Mr. Badman’s defence he has only ever experienced life through the education system so may well not have much real world/life experience to draw upon.

The legislation requires all parents to ensure their children are educated, either by going to school or otherwise. There is no mention of educating children at home. Alas the home educators have managed to usurp the otherwise bit so that it is commonly seen to mean education at home rather then anything that anyone might imagine it to mean. Even the comedy group [W:Education Otherwise] has sunk to a mere “home education support charity”.

Of course it was never meant to be thus. The “otherwise” clause was included in the 1944 Education Act which followed on from The Hadow Reports: A good school…

“… is not a place of compulsory instruction, but a community of old and young, engaged in learning by cooperative experiment”

Alas bureaucracy and finance meant that the ideals of the 1944 act; that each child is afforded an education according to their individual age, aptitude and ability, never transpired and the bog standard became the norm for most children – despite the notable efforts of Clegg, Duane et. al.

Royston Lambert’s “Alternatives to school” speech (University of Exeter, 19th November 1971) denounced, what were then called, progressive models of education as mere dressing of education in different clothes. While explicitly (note the year) acknowledging the influence of “American un-schoolers” (such as [W:Ivan Illich] and [W:Everett Reimer]) he anticipated an open flexible form of education that gave children “…a base other than home from which to operate…”

And now… This has been sitting in the Draft box for the past week. Perhaps I am not that bothered. Perhaps I just don’t care that much anymore.

I could go on about how [W:Seymour Papert] and his [W:Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas] is today far more relevant than he could have imagined at the time. One branch of his thinking has grown into the Scratch community (although this can become a little too schooly at times) and things like BlueJ / Greenfoot open routes for education once unimaginable – there was a recent exchange on a discussion list where someone was having problems with a game they were creating. “Ah! This is where you need [W:Trigonometry]” came the gentle nudging reply.

Similarly with Illich’s learning webs:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.

Today there are probably such networks for just about every subject and yet little has changed in mainstream education. There are still the Browns,Jones and Robinsons some of the first two will be home educated while few of the Robinsons will be; even though it is they who would benefit most from an education otherwise than by schooling.

The ridiculous idea of mass schooling can be dismissed on, at the very least, educational, financial and environmental grounds but you rarely hear such arguments. I am sure the poor hapless home educators will be huffing and puffing and prattling on about “their rights” and writing letters and signing petitions and all that other stuff they do. I am pretty sure they will not be talking about education. Which is a shame because they can have interesting ideas but sadly these are rarely explored beyond their own little world. If they had talked about education more then perhaps they would not need reviewing.

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