Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More Evidence of the Decline of UK Public Schools

The same sort of intellectual rot and declining discipline that ruined American public schools has now spread throughout Britain's public school system, with the inevitable result that classrooms are in disorder and students are falling behind. According to a new study, public school students in Britain increasingly find themselves unable to compete with privately educated students in more challenging subjects. More worryingly, the study discovered that public schools often dissuaded students from even attempting more difficult subjects.

[The study] found that state school pupils were increasingly turning away - or being encouraged to turn away - from hard A-levels such as maths, chemistry, physics and modern languages and instead taking easier subjects such as media studies, art, design and technology, business studies and psychology.

The result was that independent school pupils, who accounted for only 15 per cent of the total number of A-level candidates, were achieving a disproportionate share of A grades in the hardest subjects: 60 per cent in modern languages, 48 per cent in chemistry and 46 per cent in physics and maths.

At the same time, the gap in performance between independent and state schools was widening.

Over the past four years, the proportion of A-levels taken by fee-paying pupils had risen to 23 per cent, and the proportion of A grades they achieved to 40 per cent.

Apart from modern languages and the sciences, the subjects in which independent school pupils achieved the most disproportionate share of A grades were music, history, English and economics.

The decline of public education in Britain (or America, for that matter) is a matter for extreme concern because of the very large percentage of the population dependent on it. As in most developed countries, the overwhelming majority of school children in Britain attend public schools. A decline in the quality of public education thus affects the majority of the population and will produce long-lasting future damage to the British economy as poorly-educated students graduate and enter the workforce. UK leaders often cite the need for skilled workers as an excuse for immigration. If native-born British students aren't entering the sciences or skilled professions, then thedeficit of skilled British labor and scientists will only get worse in the future. Given the importance of science and high technology workers to a modern economy, this represents a recipe for economic decline.

"These figures are extremely worrying," said the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which conducted the study.

"They go a long way to explaining why many of the best universities are finding it hard to increase state school entries despite extensive access programmes and an overall improvement in grades.

"It seems that university departments in science, maths and languages are increasingly dependent on independent schools for their survival.

"If nothing is done to reverse these trends, whole subject areas [and the university places and careers that go with them] will, to an uncomfortable extent, become the preserve of those lucky enough to be educated in the independent sector."

Jonathan Shephard, the general secretary of the ISC, urged the Government to "pick up the phone" and act on the independent sector's offer of help in raising state school standards and increasing social mobility.

"There is a reservoir of untapped and undeveloped talent, particularly among children from disadvantaged backgrounds," he said.

At present, the focus of partnership activities between independent and state schools was on facilities. "But independent schools have a lot more to offer than playing fields," Mr Shephard said.

"A serious commitment by the Government to working with schools in the independent sector could see 'virtual academies' in sciences and languages set up so that state school pupils could benefit from the experience of independent school teachers."

The best thing the UK government could do to reverse this situation would be to restore order and discipline to the classroom. Student "rights" must be subordinated to the power of the teacher and administrator, as they are in private schools, and misbehaving students should be expelled. Only when order has been restored can the curriculum be reorganized to promote improved performance and more challenging subject matter.


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