A spot of soul-searching over dwindling possibilities on the subject-based horizon

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
How do we count the true cost of reducing the options to study discrete disciplines at secondary level?

Before I went to secondary school, I made a list in my head of all the subjects I wanted to take. I can't remember them all, but I know that it included mechanics and geology.

You're right. I hadn't really researched ahead. The reality was maths (+ arithmetic), English, science, art, music, PE, French, geography, history, social education and something called "classical background" (why didn't you just give me Latin?).

In S2, as a reward for being brainy, I got to do German as well, whereas my brainy pals who had been sensible enough to throttle back a bit got to do technical education. I could add that some female pals were made to do home economics, not technical, but at 13 I had made a sterling job of alienating any female who might have been a pal.

In S3, it was goodbye to PE, art, history, music, German and classical background. Science underwent nuclear fission and turned into physics and chemistry. In effect, I was studying six subjects and getting arithmetic for free. I remember careering round the house singing "no nay never no more", thinking I'd seen the last of my German teacher. I hadn't. She was trilingual and we had her for O-grade French. Despite the risk of getting her again in S5, I continued with French rather than geography. Maths at Higher abandoned any pretext of being related to counting, so arithmetic went too.

It all worked out very nicely for me, but I promised - someone - years ago that "Well, it worked for me" would never be my prime driver in an education career. So what could be better?

Looking at my own children, I don't know that there was any real advantage to them in studying eight Standard grades as opposed to "six plus arithmetic for free". For one of them, only six would probably have been a positive advantage. On the other hand, neither was traumatised by having a subject-based secondary education. Would five at S4 have been too few? I've searched my soul on this and I think the answer is yes, if it had been the only option. Personally, I could have closed off a number of avenues and deprived myself of a broader scope through mistaken notions of what my future career might be.

However we change the system, it still has to work for people like me. Not that the old system was perfect, even for the likes of yours truly. There was no trace of interdisciplinary learning in my day, and I think I am the poorer for it. And it still hurts that I never got near that Ford Anglia, glimpsed through the windows of the technical department.

Gregor Steele is now a Twit: https:twitter.comGregor_notwork.

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