A Student’s Point Of View: What Is Wrong With The British Education System

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The British Education System is something I have endured for going on eleven years of my life and, over the years, I have generated many an opinion on the topic. From a students point of view, I want to introduce to you what I believe is wrong with our education system. I would like to make it clear that I am not well educated on the systems for any country (or group of countries) other than the United Kingdom and so do not feel it is my place to comment on them; this post is specifically talking about the Education system here in the UK.

Examination Process

“Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning.” (Mark Twain)

I have never met a student who is a fan of the examination process, but that is fairly obvious. No one wishes to endure an hour or two of silence spent wracking your brain for those answers that you can’t quite remember and no one wants to spend the weeks months leading up to the exams is heavy revision sessions, so it is obvious that students will not tend to enjoy the process. That being said, I entirely understand the need for these assessments. They allow in depth analysis on who is performing well and why; whether or not it is up to their school, teacher or even gender; what areas they need to improve on; where they excel. It might surprise you to know that it is not the fact we are required to take these exams that seem to bother me. Not at all. What bothers me is how dominating they are.

Marty McFly Huh?
Even Marty McFly fails to understand why students are not taught for learning’s sake, rather than for exam’s sake.

For example, I am currently studying Spanish at GCSE level. I chose the topic because I wanted to learn the language; I wanted to finish school being almost fluent in Spanish, with a heap of knowledge that I can build on and possibly take into further education. Now, I see, that Spanish is pretty much a waste of my time. I could learn the language online (using duolingo or BBC Languages), all for free. Why, you’re probably asking? Because we are not taught the language. No, I am not suggesting we are taught something entirely different, we are taught the basic grammar and vocabulary needed but, at the end of the day, when I finish school, I am confident that I – alongside probably all of my fellow classmates – will not be any where near fluent in the language or even well-educated (because I understand that my expectation to be fluent was unreasonable in the first place). Before someone decides to jump down my throat and claim that this is not a fault within our education system but within my school or with my teacher, I’ll stop you right now. My teacher is an amazing teacher; he is a superb linguist and teaches us more than what is required (ie: what we will need). He often breaks away from the curriculum to teach us advanced grammar and more vocabulary, equipping us with worksheets and guides upon request. Without him, I am fairly certain I would see even less point in taking this subject. I do not care for the qualification if I cannot speak the language, after all.

Now, my entire point is that we are taught what we need to pass the exam. Surely, you probably think that’s a good thing. But, unless we have a really amazing teacher who decides to stray from the curriculum in order to broaden our learning, that is all we learn. The strict curriculum is restricting our learning. Exams are dominating our school lives. The five years we spend in secondary education are all focused on passing our exams at the end of those five years and god forbid we stray from that and learn much else.

This is not a fault in a teacher or a school but in the way our education system has been built up. We are taught that qualifications are more important than learning and this entirely drains all of the fun from education.

Students aligned in this manner almost looks cruel.

To add to my frustration, the amount of exams that students study day and night for over the five years of secondary education only to be informed that they will no longer be sitting the said exam is at an all time high. Students study and six months before they are due to take the exam, it is cancelled and deemed “unnecessary”. I suppose it would be okay if the things they were taught would be of some use, but, the simple fact of the matter is that what they were taught will only be useful for that one exam to get the qualification. If that’s not a waste of time, what is?

I’d Like To Make A Comparison..

Whenever I see examples of students protesting or even just writing about the education system, I am surprised by the ferocity in which some (emphasis on the word “some”) adults respond. “Spoilt brats” should “sort themselves out” and “be grateful”. Just “wait until they reach the real world” and all that jazz. I have a response.

A recent survey focusing on suicidal behaviors among 313 high school students in the Midwest found that, of all the students who participated in the study, 62.6% reported some degree of suicidal thoughts or action, including 8.4% who had actually made a suicide attempt. Of course, this shocking rise in depression and suicide rates among teenagers could be caused by a number of factors yet it would be far too naive to imagine that school is not one of them.

In general, students often come home depressed, angry and exhausted despite the fact that they attend good schools; the best schools. Regardless of standard, there is still something profoundly wrong with the way that these schools work. I’d like to re-literate my earlier point in saying that the teachers are the least of these problems. Michael Grant, a parent, says that it’s “the regimentation, the testing obsession, the college application pressure, the dragging kids out of bed at 7 AM, high school kids working 10 hour days by the time they’re done with homework, the fact that there isn’t even any minimal co-ordination on homework to keep teachers from all piling on at once.” Stating that it’s “wrong”.

I want a nap

Grant goes on, adding “I get paid to do what I do, and I control my own schedule, and I use cigars, caffeine and alcohol to take the edge off a work day that is shorter and easier than what my kids endure. I don’t do half the work [son] does.”

In this day and age, it is expected that children should know exactly how they wish to spend the rest of their lives at the age of thirteen. At thirteen we are making decisions that impact ever other major decision in our lives and we have to decide what subjects we wish to pursue in further education, what career we want, what college/university/apprenticeship we wish to apply for, all within our early teenage years. The pressure is immense and we are cut no slack, yet it is deemed inappropriate for us to ever complain about the hardships we endure. I understand the concept of being insensitive. I understand that there are kids and adults who have endured hell in comparison, but does that deem our concerns invalid? Saying that someone cannot struggle because others have it harder is almost the same as suggesting that someone cannot be happy because others may be happier. It is absurd.

 Michael Gove

Profile picture
Pictured above, a self-righteous toff who goes by the name “Michael Gove”.

Michael Gove is a controversial figure, subject to much negative public discourse. For all of those who are unaware of who this wretched man is, he is the Secretary of State for Education.

Gove has caused much controversy over the years, the most recent perhaps being his vow to “kill the mockingbird”, ie: cut out the novel To Kill A Mockingbird and the novel Of Mice And Men among other American novels from the English curriculum.

“I am a Marmite person. People love me or hate me.”
(Michael Gove to Jan Moir in her profile of him for the Daily Mail)

Charli Kimmis, thirteen year old blogger, adressed an open letter to Michael Gove in response to his decision to cut books such as TKAMB and OfMAndM. You can read the full letter here.

The thirteen year old states:

“I can imagine that there has been no democracy to this decision. Why should To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most influential texts in the world, and Of Mice And Men, be removed from our curriculum?”

She further suggests that Gove is crushing the dreams of students rather than inspiring them to achieve higher grades, adding: “I am an aspriring lawyer, and so both English Literature and English Language A-Levels were a possibility to me. Now, I am not so sure.”

It is interesting to note how she goes onto to challenge Gove’s sense and maturity in teaching him a lesson that is usually taught by the adult to the student: “From the article, this is the phrase that may have shocked me the most. You “really dislike” it? I’m sorry, Sir, but you cannot just go around removing things from a curriculum just because you don’t like it. If I was education minister and this was how you go about things, I’d be removing maths and science. But that isn’t how it works, I’m afraid.”

Michael Gove also proposed plans to “shorten holidays and lengthen school days” and has since seen protests from parents and students alike, a group of students from Brighton even striking. Watch the video here.

To be honest, I am in complete disagreement with even the idea of shortening holidays and lengthening the school days. Currently, we attend school for the majority of the year, six hours a day, five days a week. That is not including extra-curricular activities, support and homework. Children should have a childhood and that means time out from studying. It’s all very well saying that it’s preparing us for the “real world” but shouldn’t we be allowed a childhood before having to go into the real world? That being said, the majority of those in the real world now will have done six hour school days with a decent amount of holidays when at school, and is proof that there is no need to lengthen the school day or to make us learn more.

Requirements for the end of secondary education were that a student needed five A* to C grades at GCSE, which was often difficult enough. However, Gove has upped that requirement to eight. Not only do I think that it’s absurd that every student would be deemed unworthy if they did not manage to get such high grades, but the fact that students are all judge on the same thing appalls me.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
(Albert Einstein)

The concept of having to have certain grades to be able to do something with your life is pathetic. The attitude of “don’t get the right grades, don’t go anywhere or do anything” should be abolished, not encouraged. Teaching students that if you make a mistake in the past or if you are not as intelligent on paper as the next kid you might as well give up because you’ll never amount to anything is not the attitude that society should be instilling in our future generation. As for reducing people’s abilities to grades and numbers, it’s all pathetic. You cannot fairly examine a kid who is a kinetic learner in the same way as you can a visual learner.

“If Michael Gove were a building, he would leak. He would crack and crumble on faulty foundations. He would be windy, but also overheat.”
(Rowan Moore)

To Conclude

There are a lot of things concerning our Education System that I disagree with, as presented above. There are people who make the wrong decisions when it comes to structuring this system and I don’t think that makes them bad people but these mistakes can and will never be rectified if they are never brought to light. I understand that this is my opinion and I have no right to force it upon others, but should kids not have the right to have a say in what affects them? These decisions affect my life and my future. They do not affect the future’s of all the adults who feel it’s appropriate to complain that we are complaining; they do not affect the future’s of Michael Gove; or you, if you are out of education; but they do affect us, and we have every right to take action or at least have our say. So, I guess, that’s what I’m doing. Having my say.

If you’d also like to have a say, please start or join in in any discussions in the comments section. Thank you for taking your time to read my mammoth of an essay. Have a wonderful day. 🙂

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3 Comments

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  1. It is true; schools kill creativity and stigmatize mistakes. We are always told what to learn and rarely have a say on what we want to learn. We are also told these subjects will hep us in a successful career.

  2. The thing about being self taught is that there are no restrictions. You learn what you want how you want when you want. With paid education you lose this freedom. Throughout your school experience you are told what you must do. What subjects you need to learn and how you need to learn them. You cannot take 2 or 3 that peak your interest. You must contrive others in order to meet their rather arbitrary conditions.

    Take maths. In maths you are scored by how you get the answer instead of the answer itself. This discourages the idea of subjective thinking. It ignores the fact that these children are individuals who think and learn in their own ways. If you can just see the answer in your head you shouldnt have to waste time showing your working in order to get full marks.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s wrong with British education.

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