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Theatremonkey on Education

December 8, 2010

The cold has given me time to think, and regress to the old days when I was young and relatively monkey free. Specifically, my thoughts turned to students, and how unfair the system is that consecutive Tory and Labour governments created.

I was going through it just as the changes came in granting polytechnics the right to issue their own degrees, and the student loans / grant combination was first offered. Whatever the changes, my fees were paid and I could leave debt free at the end with enough knowledge to, er, well, run in fact.

It took me several attempts to reach higher education, but the fact was that I wanted to do so – and eventually somebody offered me a place and I did well and gained plenty from it. Would I have gone if facing a £30000 debt? No. Wouldn’t even have considered it. Bright enough, but also bright enough to know that very little is worth that.

So, the question is how to balance attracting the brightest – and make sure that every really bright student has the opportunity. My solution is this… In my day, roughly 10% rather than 43% of youngsters went to University. On my course, 50% failed to complete it, and as I understand now, it is an increasing problem – magnified by the numbers of new students now enrolling. I was kept ‘on the straight and narrow’ partly by self-motivation, partly by a clause in my council grant that demanded instant repayment of all grants given in the event of a single assignment failure. Concentrated the mind wonderfully. My conclusion is that all we need to do is identify the most able, and give them the wonderful gift I, and most of our government ministers enjoyed; but also allow others to taste it if they wish – just not necessarily at public expense.

With the abolition of AS levels (whatever they are, I think there is an S missing in the title, but can’t be sure), it leaves the lower sixth free to do as we did – drink and party too much and begin to learn self-reliance and motivation. What better than an open ‘self-study’ option that grants the top 10% of scorers a free education as I had?

I’m talking about an American-style S.A.T. test, structured as the current theory driving test is, and administered in the same way. Issue any interested student with a massive book of questions on topics including Mathematics, English language (Conflagration means crowning a monarch / itching / burning), Grammar, Verbal reasoning (aardvark is to Eskimo as Trifle is to… type questions), History, Geography and General Knowledge. Let them research the answers and memorise them – skills vital in university.

Then, at any time they feel ready during their lower sixth year, they can make an appointment at a test centre and sit a full day of multiple choice examinations facing a selection of both issued questions and similar but unseen ones. The unseen ones are needed to prevent ambitious schools setting up ‘learning by rote’ classes of course. For fairness, a second attempt can be made during the year, with only the highest score counting – thus satisfying the liberals.

In July, all candidates receive their marks, and the top 10% get their University fees paid in full – paying full £9000 if they drop out without reasonable excuse. The next 10% pay, say, £2000 per year – with a refund if they score a first class degree; the next £4000 with 80% refund for a first – and the rest pay any fee the government / university decide to set. We get a return to the old system, satisfying those like me who believe in opportunity, but also leave the door open for others. The current £9000 idea just slams doors shut and I for one hope the LibDems will find last minute courage to vote against, to prevent this.

And on that wish for universal peace, I’m taking a break from the blog until the third week in January. Wishing both readers all the very best for the holiday season and everything you wish for in 2011.

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