Saturday, August 23, 2008

Education minister writes rubbish

Andrew Adonis is supposed to be an extremely clever and well informed government minister in charge of reforming schools. But as the GCSE exam results (taken by all children at the age of 15 or 16) are released, he has written a very stupid article in the Times. The key quote is this:

There is no genetic or moral reason why the whole of society should not succeed to the degree that the children of the professional classes do today, virtually all getting five or more good GCSEs and staying on in education beyond 16.

I think we all know this is factually incorrect. And I’m sure Lord Adonis knows it too which makes his statement a lie. Admittedly, some people do still seem to imagine that talent and intelligence are sprinkled over the population like fairy dust. But they are not. As I explained here, genetics means that clever people are more likely to have clever children. Also, the way our society operates means that clever people earn more money. Thus, the children of the ‘professional classes’ will always, always do better at school than the average. This is a brutally unpleasant fact of life and I can understand why people don’t want to talk about it. But for a minister of the crown to state the opposite of what he must know to be true (or else he is too ignorant and incompetent to do his job) is unacceptable. He might as well reject evolution altogether and become a creationist.

But we are talking about generalities. We need to ensure that bright children, wherever they come from, get the opportunities that they need to thrive. That means good quality traditional teaching, streaming classes by ability for individual subjects and not dumbing down the exam system any further. And we need to stop betraying people who are not academic by pretending that they can achieve exam success when, sadly, they never will. Finally, as a society, we need to come to terms with the fact that what many people consider ‘normal’ academic attainment is actually quite exceptional. So we need to stop calling people failures if they do not meet a very narrow definition of success.

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