First of all I’d like to apologise for not blogging much recently, I’ve been travelling a lot and trying to get all my essays and presentations done for Humboldt, which is taking twice as long because they’re all in German!
During the holidays I’ve been talking to people in Sweden and Germany about schooling. I find it a really easy political topic to engage young people on because it’s a common and recent experience and a lot of us are concerned by the state of flux the system is tumbling into.
New Labour introduced a lot of initiatives and revolutionised the school system in many ways. These changes were not always popular with parents and teachers but the central aim of each one was greater equality. The general coalition push for the re-introduction of grammar schools and the sponsoring of free schools does not have the same aim and will not produce positive results.
Germany has had a 4-tier system in place for several decades, in which 10-year-old children are separated into achievement-based groups and sent to either a Gymnasium, Realschule, Hauptschule or Forderschule. Those who try to sell such systems as meritocracies overlook the real input and output of pupils, and the uncomfortable statistics that show that selection hits the most vulnerable hardest.
The PISA Study (Programme for International Student Assessment) was first carried out by the OECD in 2000 and showed Germany to have a highly unequal and unfair system, with bright non-native speakers of German being relegated to the Forderschule, which is essentially a school for the mentally disabled rather than those of another nationality. As British studies have shown, bright students from poor families lose out in the current system to averagely gifted children from rich families, because the parents themselves are often more highly educated, better informed, and more driven.
In Sweden independent schools set up by groups of parents resorted to television advertising to drum up interest. This was very successful in a many areas, but produced the unfortunate result that state schools had to spend taxpayers’ money on running expensive advertising campaigns in order to be able to compete.
We don’t need to worry about the high achievers, but the children who fall through the cracks. Becoming resigned to a low social strata so early in life is damaging and leads to serious consequences later in life.