23 May 2014

Education against ability

copy of a letter to an academic

We never get a break, which is not surprising as modern society is geared against ability. There has been no response to our appeals and invitations for people to come and work here, and for financial and moral support of all kinds.

The idea of preventing people from taking exams ‘too’ young did not come in until after the Second World War. There was a time in the late 1800s when the statutory school leaving age was 14, but it was possible to leave earlier if you had passed the school leaving exam, as my grandfather did, leaving school at 12. At 14 everyone was free to leave, whether or not they had passed the school leaving exam.

Nowadays there is no ostensible minimum age for taking GCSEs (what used to be O-level exams), but they can normally only be taken under the auspices of an educational institution, which may well resist attempts to take exams at an ‘inappropriate’ age.

When I was 12, the majority of the school population left at age 14, without having taken the School Certificate exam, so that only a minority of the population had taken a qualifying exam, which was regarded then as much less important by future employers.

Nowadays nearly everyone has results of qualifying exams that have been taken within the school system, which are regarded as much more important than they used to be, although they are actually far less significant than when a smaller population was taking them.

When I was 14, a law came in restricting the sitting of the School Certificate exam to students of 16 and over. This was reported in newspaper articles, which also mentioned that anonymous ‘representations’ had been made against the change by a number of schools on behalf of their cleverest pupils. I noticed that one of the schools had mentioned a ‘girl of 14 who is awfully good at science’. At the time I thought this could not be me, as I was ‘awfully’ good at all academic subjects. In retrospect, I see that this could well have been me. I suppose it is more noteworthy for a girl to be ‘awfully good at science’ than at other academic subjects.

No concern was expressed by the articles about possible harm being done by holding anyone back, nor was there any suggestion that people at different levels of ability might need to do things at different ages. Instead, discussion revolved around the question of how people with nothing to do might fill in their time.

I took the School Certificate exam (later O levels), A levels and S level exams when I was 16, but this was really far too late for me.

We appeal for £5m as initial funding for a social science department in my unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish preliminary analyses of areas in the history of education that are currently being ignored because they do not fit with the prevailing ideology.