Never mind teaching more Latin, education in Britain needs an overhaul

Gavin Williamson announced not long ago that Latin would be a priority in education reform. This, its rather limited rollout, and the replacement of BTECs with T-Levels begs the question: what should the future of education be in Britain?

Teaching Latin to the masses is a laudable goal. However, it is doomed to fail when people cannot do basic English grammar. Grammar, rhetoric, logic, the old trivium of education, all three long abandoned by mass education. I am certainly no grammar or English expert, no matter how many essays and articles I write. We weren’t taught grammar in primary school – it only became part of year 6 SATs after I’d left. It is so bad that foreign-born English speakers, such as French and German schoolchildren, know our language better than us. We are never taught about our language properly, I had to teach myself – but even then, my knowledge is severely lacking.

This shows the shallowness of our education system. We aren’t taught the foundations of our own language, history, or culture. But we are made to spend most of our time deconstructing and picking it apart, which is surely stupid if we were never taught the foundations to begin with. We get the same history education – Norman Conquest, Tudors, Nazis and World Wars, perhaps the Cold War. It’s ok, but hardly comprehensive. When learning modern languages, like French or German, we learn more about their internal workings than our own. The inability to understand our own language and its evolution may be the reason that the British are hopeless at learning other languages?

British history education is appalling, even at university – perhaps more so. The primary culprit is the pathological obsession with the history of medicine. It is the most boring, tedious and irrelevant topic – unless it’s a specialist interest. Yet it’s shoved into the minds of many who promptly forget it all. Warwick even has a dedicated History of Medicine Masters!

Universities are the centre of failed education policy, more so than even the state school system

If I had to pick one area that is criminally ignored, it is Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil Wars. We aren’t taught the story of how this nation was built, nor its interplay with Europe, or beyond. The scope and narrative of empire are ignored and reduced to jargon, academic buzzwords, and post-hoc moralising rather than serious study.

The nineteenth century, one of the most interesting centuries of British and global history, is relegated to a footnote or forced into the frames of ‘Age of Empire’ and slavery. A proper study of empire, politics, philosophy, European politics, imperial/global history, the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic ages be damned. And we are worse off for it. The political present is aimless and lost – no wonder when most don’t know how we got here. If you studied better topics, you’re the exception that proves the rule.

Perhaps you went to a private or fee-paying school where you got the privilege of being taught your history, culture, and language. This should not be admonished and used as a reason to abolish them: such proper education should be expanded, nut snuffed out. Comprehensive or state education is certainly not comprehensive. Nor if we had to pay upfront, rather than through taxes and borrowing, for it, would it be worth the fee.

Universities are the centre of failed education policy, more so than even the state school system. The absurd notion, target, and now reality of sending half of the school leavers to university has resulted in poorer returns and the mass exploitation of students to line the pockets of banks, loan companies, universities, and government interests. Blair and Labour have a lot to answer for. Quality and graduate opportunities have reduced, not increased. We pay more for a worse education to be spat out into an even worse economy where degrees are all but worthless beyond being a requirement. The soul-crushing world this has created is the product of Blair’s and Labour’s utopian ideal of education, which has destroyed its charge: education.

As universities put cost-cutting and profit above students by keeping education online or blended and thus ignoring their reason for existence – education and research – we see the government bungling their BTEC replacements, T-Levels.

Our political class have left us with a dire education system

The idea is to replace BTECs with T-Levels, two-year courses akin to A-Levels, and abolish many BTECs by 2023. The logic makes sense, making the T-Levels the vocational mirror of A-Levels. Labour can complain about their belief it will ‘entrench’ inequalities and that BTECs are respected forever, but it doesn’t make it true. BTECs have an awful image problem – they will always be seen as lesser. T-Levels could help, but the execution is flawed. I think they may miss the point that vocational courses are meant to be a clear alternative to academic environments. A-Levels have also been made a joke after two years of rampant foul-play in teachers’ predicted grades, maybe they need reform too?

Our political class have left us with a dire education system. Labour and Blair ruined universities and the educational ethos. The Conservatives’ tinkering and reforms haven’t fixed anything – they have just exacerbated the slide. There is a litany of problems. Students are exploited by universities, pupils don’t know their native English language, class sizes are massive, creativity and vocational subjects are suffocated, manufacturing and job market gutted, funding formulas unfairly benefit London schools who oppose all reform to help the worst-off coastal town and village schools, white working-class pupils are utterly neglected if not abused by the system and culture, unions deprive the young of their education with constant strikes and strike threats, standards are increasingly eroded, and a whole generation has been abandoned to grade inflation.

I could go on. But no one at fault – politicians, journalists, unions, let alone teachers – will admit to what they helped create: an educational kleptocracy, idiocracy, and mediocracy. So much for crafting the meritocracy of the future, education hasn’t ever been in a worse state.


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