Robert Tyler argues that the school starting age should be only the first of a comprehensive raft of reforms to modernise and improve UK education
It’s September, which means a new school year, and for many, myself included, the start of university. It’s also that time of the year when politicians start debating education reform again whilst the Unions drag their feet pretending that they know what’s better for other people’s children…
Anyway: this week we have seen a number of top academics argue that it’s time to change the age at which we send our children to school, as there is substantial evidence that starting school at the age of 7 is far more beneficial than starting at the age of 5. I personally can sympathise with this idea, as I don’t think that I learnt to read properly until about the age of 9. I have to admit that the arguments they have set out are quite compelling. Many countries already extend the kindergarten years to age 7, which allows children more time develop on their own in a calmer and friendlier environment.
However I don’t think that education reform should stop there, as these academics do. I believe that the very nature of exams and testing throughout childrens’ schooling careers needs to be changed. I personally advocate the International Baccalaureate style of testing in which it’s not about getting grades so much as it is about actually learning and expanding objective understanding of the world around us. In other words, learning to think for yourself, rather than being told what to think. For example, the Economics A Level is pretty much all Keynesian economics.
Whilst doing my A-Levels, which to me seemed far too narrow-minded and dull, I also took two optional courses. One was called Theory of Knowledge, which allows people to explore the world around them by questioning everything from different points of view. The other was the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), which allows pupils to explore any subject they want in depth and do a detailed report on it. Both of these were fascinating courses, and both of them have actually helped me change my mind on a lot of things. I think that at least one of these courses should be added to the National Curriculum.
I also agree with the group of banks that recently said that children should have finance lessons later on, to learn how to do tax returns and handle money. And against tax as I am, it unfortunately still exists, and thus I feel it necessary to learn about how the system works. Perhaps it may even take people along the path of economic independence and teach people that living off the state has no benefits whatsoever.
But my ideas for reform don’t just end when it comes to curriculum and teaching people to think for themselves. I would like to a swing to more privatisation in the school system and more free schools. The independence for schools to be able chose which curricula to follow, and when the school is in session, can offer more choice when it comes giving children a head start. I want to see a voucher system or even tax exemptions put in place.
So, for example, a voucher is worth £X. It can either be used to go to a state school/free school without paying anything, or it can be used to go to a private school taking £X amount off the fees. This can be used in addition to bursaries and scholarships. Equally, more private schools could start setting up Free Schools as well. I know that, from this September, the college I went to in Berkshire has adopted a failed state school that was destroyed by unionised teachers and debt, and will now be setting up a Free School for the community in its place.
Alternatively, tax exemptions could be an equally viable solution. If you spend the money to send your child to a private school, then why should you still pay taxes that fund state education? If you are already paying for education and you aren’t sending you children to state school, then you are effectively freeing up space in the state system anyway. Why pay twice?
Furthermore, I would also reform the holidays system. Perhaps it’s time to match the German system in which each region has holidays at a different time of the year, rather than having all schools break up at the same time. I would also agree with Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton, who has advocated further changes to school timetable to replace them with longer terms, but shorter school days perhaps even starting later in the day. Research has shown that allowing teenagers to start later actually increases their concentration.
Now that we’ve sorted out schools, I suppose we should take a quick look at Universities…. Right off the bat, I’d like to see more of them privatised. At the moment there are only four private universities. Two of them are law schools and the other two are humanities schools. One of them, which I’ll be attending later this month, was founded in the 1970’s on Libertarian/Liberal principles by a group of Oxbridge academics who had grown tired with the state of university education in the UK.
By going private it offered the academics the freedom to pursue whatever they wanted to research or teach. There is no reason why universities can’t survive independently of the state. In most other western and modernised countries, universities are private and can still survive.
Those are my visions for education reform. Unfortunately hardly any of this can ever happen so long as the Unions have vice-like grip, teachers and lecturers preventing any meaningful reform. Like with most things in the UK, the only way to reform anything is to beat back the totalitarian grip of the Unions, who seemingly cause more reactionary harm than they do anything else.
Robert Tyler is a Card Carrying member of the Conservative party and a Libertarian. He is the current editor of Bogpaper.com, a free market, laissez-faire blog set up by James Delingpole. His interesting include F1, Northern European and American Politics, and political activism. He tweets as @RGTyler