This year it will be 35 years since I left school and Pink Floyd released Another Brick in the Wall.
It doesn’t seem possible. It never seems possible that time passes so quickly, but what I mean is: it doesn’t seem possible that the words of that song can illustrate, so perfectly, what education has now become. It goes like this… They don’t need no education. They don’t need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teacher, leave them kids alone.
Not that the teachers are the problem, because it seems to me that they don’t have much say in it any more. No, the real dunces are the ones who run education in this country.
I am not an expert on education, but I do have plenty of experience of it, having fairly recently seen two children pass through the system, and we took a close interest in it. Neither am I too old to remember my own school days. So I am asking myself what has happened in those 35 years since I left school?
It seems to me that the system is now geared to one thing above all others – teaching kids not much that will be useful to them in the home or the workplace, but rather how to pass exams.
Testing and the syllabus have become everything, so that by the time they are 16 they will need to be made of steel not to have their spirits broken by the terrible pressure to perform and – even worse – conform.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, Ofsted published a report, last week, saying more needs to be done to prepare nursery children for school. They are even talking about teaching two-year-olds. I don’t think it’s putting it too strongly to call this heartbreaking.
Children of that age, or any age, in fact, don’t need to be groomed for school. They are not machines that need priming.
There was no such thing as nursery school for me, so I didn’t start to learn anything at all before infants’ school.
Even then my only memories are of playtime, Friday afternoons, when we could choose toys and games to play, and colouring. We must have had lessons, but they were so relaxed and informal that it didn’t seem like learning.
By the time I was seven and had to go to junior school, I could read, but not very well. So I had a few extra lessons, along with a few others, to bring me up to speed.
There was no panic, and no pressure on me to catch up. I was a painfully slow reader and still am, actually, but I’ve spent most of my working life either writing, editing somebody else’s writing or arranging it nicely on pages, so not being able to read very well when I was seven clearly didn’t do my literacy any harm in the long run.
They’re kids, for heaven’s sake. They’ll learn soon enough – and mostly from each other, but politicians of all colours just don’t understand that education is far more about discovering than it is teaching. It’s not about subjects, either. Life isn’t all history, geography and physics or even maths and English. It’s about finding yourself and expressing yourself.
We haven’t let Britain’s kids down if they aren’t reading Shakespeare at junior school, but we are failing them if they don’t love sport, art and music, or at least have been encouraged to sample them before the pressure is on.
So let them play.
Otherwise, all in all, we’re just turning out more bricks in the wall.