The acid test

24th April 2015 at 01:00

Whatever the general election campaign is about, it sure ain't education! OK, so we're getting the odd titbit on subjects such as testing infants (more, more, more) or funding adult education (less, less, less) but that's pretty much it.

About all we can hope for is that an MP, scratching around for a way of getting his name in the papers, will come up with some extraordinary, totally irrelevant idea to get the educational juices flowing again.

Just in time, Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, has offered up this gem: make teachers sit A-level exams alongside their pupils. Enforcing this policy, he told the Mail on Sunday, would "drive up educational standards". And there's the obvious subtext, of course, that some of them might not score too well, thus enabling critics to dump bucketloads of excrement on them from a great height.

Or, to put it in Bridgen's own words, "How can they be expected to pass on their knowledge to students to allow them to succeed in the exam if they themselves could not?"

Bridgen, you won't be surprised to hear, hasn't actually worked in education himself. He trained as an officer in the Royal Marines, but before he entered politics his career mostly revolved around running the family vegetable processing business. He seems to subscribe to the theory that in reality teachers have little to do besides sitting around moaning about how much they have to do.

Certainly if his little wheeze were ever put into practice, educators would have a whole lot more to contend with. Not many A-level teachers, for instance, are required to teach the whole syllabus. When I taught English literature A-level, I always shared the class with a second lecturer and thus had to prepare only half the books. To actually sit the exam myself, I'd have had to find time to read, analyse and "question spot" for at least another four texts. And although hefty tomes such as Bleak House and Little Dorrit weren't on the syllabus all the time, there were plenty of years when they were. For the record, I did actually take, and pass, my own A-level in the subject back in the 1960s, despite having the small matter of the "summer of love" to distract me at the time.

Not surprisingly, very few of Bridgen's fellow Tories seem to have rallied around the flag on this one. He told the Mail on Sunday that he wanted his party to put the proposal in its manifesto, adding that he had "discussed the issue with education secretary Nicky Morgan". Maybe he has, but somehow I can't rid my mind of the vision of her heading swiftly for the exit in an effort to escape that particular conversation.

So it's been left to the teachers themselves to respond. "I wonder if the people employed by free schools will have to pass A-levels," a member of the profession mused in an internet chat room. Quick as a flash, another contributor responded: "Probably not. They hardly expect them to pass water!'

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London

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