Overview and Introduction: Chapter 3

Education… the sorting out of children

Exercise

An exercise for 20 to 100 players

Form yourselves into groups, each group containing just a few (three to six) students. You could use the map you made at the ends of Chapters 1 and 2 to form the groups so that they are made up of students who come from near one another. Each group needs to imagine that all their members are aged 30, have children of their own about to enter the education system and have somehow come to political power. You are the slightly more grownup children we have just been describing; the ones who were in school in the 1990s, who were young adults in the 2000s, who are mostly parents now.

As a group, you have ten minutes to complete the following task: 'Design an education system where the aim is to teach children rather than sort them. What role would exams take in such a system, if any? At what ages would you examine each child's ability, on what subjects/issues, and what proportions would you decide to fail at any stage? How would you decide who goes to university and which university they go to? How would you then grade university students?'

After ten minutes stop and present your arguments to a neighbouring group. They, in turn, should present their suggestions to your group. Vote on the result and carry your combined most popular opinions forward to repeat the process after a further five-minute discussion (as a combined larger group of students). Then combine groups again and again until one set of ideas has won out. What led the most popular system to win through? Was it a good system, or simply well presented? Did you design it assuming your children were 'able'? Most parents think their children are above average!

Finally, take your initial groups and, at random, assign each group a (so-called) ability level. This is the level your prospective children could be expected to achieve under the current education system. One-third of all groups are now made up of the prospective parents of children who would attend university under the present system, one-third will not gain the qualifications to attend university but will be awarded five GCSE A-C grades, and the final third are the prospective parents of children who will not achieve this under the current system. Now, with your imaginary children in mind (and their interests at heart), each group needs to decide which of the systems initially presented it now thinks is best. Each group gets an equal vote. Vote on each system. Which system now wins?

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All available data and further material can be found in the Data section.