The weekend went well

4th February 2005 at 00:00
It's been quite a weekend. Within the space of two days, I have found myself agreeing with education academic Brian Boyd and "shock journo" Muriel Gray.

Gray expressed her horror at the weekend on reading the news that 60 per cent of respondents in a poll had no clue as to the meaning of the word "Auschwitz". This was the fault of an education system which is "turning out pupils whose academic abilities border on the sub normal". She's wrong, of course. Any analysis will show that their academic abilities are fine.

The problem lies with their knowledge of history and their qualifications as potential members of a mature civil society.

Meanwhile, Brian Boyd has been stirring up the heidies, pouring scorn on the obsession with exams, targets and school results. Wake up and smell the Java, Brian. The whole point of the so called "achievement agenda" is just that: it is intended only to measure the measurable at fixed points in a pupil's life.

Most heidies sussed that some time ago, which is why so many are rushing, lemming like, to introduce Standard grade or Intermediate courses in S2.

The lemming simile is less than than apt, however, since it is usually the lemmings who suffer as a result of the instinctive rush to migrate. In this case, it will be the pupils and not the headteachers who will suffer.

Readers may suspect a degree of bias here. In the case of both articles, they might suspect my views of being unduly influenced by my position as a history teacher. They'd be right of course, except that history will be no different from any other subject in schools which brings subject choices forward to the latter part of S1.

The same old tawdry tricks will be applied to younger kids as were traditionally applied at the end of S2, and non-compulsory subjects will wheel out their boxes of tricks in an effort to attract bums to seats.

I differ with Brian Boyd, however, in my analysis of the cause of all this.

The dash for results is only one causal element in a process which has been going on for some time. Local authorities which have introduced new management structures and a flawed job sizing exercise, have also depleted pupil choice and impacted negatively on the morale of "minority subject" teachers.

Fundamentally however, the blame lies with headteachers. Too many have become "on message" bureaucrats desperate to claw their way up the greasy pole of promotion. Too few have enjoyed any real credentials as successful classroom teachers.

Hardly any have any real vision of running schools, which do not merely meet the demands of the HMI quality indicators but are also places where children enjoy learning. They have sacrificed ethos for a false and misleading efficiency. They have created a desert and called it learning.

I'd try a simple solution. Re-introduce drama, music, outdoor education.

Let's bring the fun back to S1 and S2 and dump this early subject choice nonsense. In short, get the ethos right and the results will come.

Peter Wright. Falcon Road, Edinburgh

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