Quartermaine for Education Secretary

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Rowan Atkinson is to star in a new play Quartermaine’s Terms by Simon Gray and directed by Richard Eyre at the Wyndham’s theatre in London’s West End from 23rd January 2013 for twelve weeks only.

The play takes place over a period of two years in the 1960s in the staff room of an English language school in Cambridge. Previously a made-for-TV film in 1987 and a BBC Radio 4 play in 2006 the show in London stars Rowan Atkinson as the teacher St John Quartermaine.

Just what would Quartermaine make of Education secretary Michael Gove’s proposal to re-introduce ‘O’ Levels in the form of English EBac? Perhaps writer Simon Gray has the material for another play.

Maybe Michael Gove failed dismally in his own ‘O’ Levels or indeed as he appears to have the intellect of a retarded twelve-year-old maybe he was denied taking them? Gove has single-handedly denounced all the hard work of current pupils by declaring GCSE’s ‘too easy’. Just because results have improved doesn’t necessarily mean exams are any easier.

Man, and indeed women, are now able to run faster, run further, jump higher, jump longer and are far physically superior to specimens twenty years ago. So why is it so difficult to accept that perhaps pupils are just far brighter or work far harder than twenty years ago?

With the research resources at children’s disposal, such as Google, learning is so much easier and quicker. And in this cynical world of league tables the education system of the U.K. is now simply geared up to teaching kids how to pass exams. So isn’t it only natural that the pass rates and grades achieved have risen? Wouldn’t it be far more worrying if grades had fallen?

As a past grammar school educated boy myself, who took ‘O’ Levels back in the 70’s, I can personally testify that the GCSE courses that my own daughters are undertaking are far more difficult than anything I encountered when at school. And they are certainly burdened with far more homework and work a darn sight harder, so all credit to the kids today and the passes that they achieve.

There are two main problems with the education system, firstly Michael Gove, who has completely undermined the whole education system and decried the efforts of pupils currently undertaking course work and exams. The pupils that achieve good grades in the last of the GCSE’s in 2014 could feel that all their efforts and hard work is for nothing if the ill-informed Gove and his cronies declare that they are ‘too easy’. I’d like Gove himself to sit the current exams and see how he fares, I suspect not too well.

The second and perhaps the more major issue with our education system is the actual subjects being taught, the syllabus within those subjects and the relevance to today’s society.

Take History for instance, such a richly interesting subject that is taught in such a way to make it seem so dull as students are geared toward learning specific dates and snapshots of ancient history. Surely it is time to move on from Harold and the arrow in his eye, and focus on more modern history, such as the back-drop to the current conflicts in the middle-east or more recent wars in places such as Rwanda and give our students a better understanding of the modern world we live in.

Surely the Tudors and ancient Britain could be covered in an Andrew Marr style video diary to speed the whole learning process along?

The sciences seem to ignore the needs of business, such as computer science and focus too much on photosynthesis and the like. Whilst there is a demand for home grown scientists it is not everyone’s cup of tea and by making such subjects compulsory it is prolonging the agony of some students who would be better placed being taught more creative subjects or practical sciences such as marketing or business from a much earlier age.

Chaucer? Shakespeare? What is that all about? It’s supposed to be English. Is our education system saying that there have been no worthwhile literature in the last 200 years apart from these authors? For fear of upsetting a whole raft of theatrical types, Shakespeare is quite boring and written in an old prose style that is akin to a foreign language. I can understand that it is about analysis and interpretation but surely a more interesting novel to analyse would be the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown? Denounced simply because it was popular.

In Foreign languages there are a raft of choices, German, French, Spanish, and yet by cramming all these in along with the defunct Latin we produce a nation that can barely converse when abroad put to shame by continental Europe who all have a command of the English language. Even the majority of foreign footballers are eloquent in speaking English. Perhaps the focus needs to be on just introducing one foreign language but doing it well and taking a leaf from the Scandinavians and teaching it in a similar style.

I would also bet that the majority of people in their working life have never needed to know Pythagoras theory or Logarithms or Algebra. Maths should be divided in to two subjects, basic everyday arithmetic to ensure everyone leaving school can add up, subtract, divide, multiply and work out percentages. Then a more advanced mathematics for those who do have a burning desire to know the circumference of a circle, and the angles in a triangle etc.

Education, education, education, Tony Blair promised us in his ambition to get everyone in to University. Michael Gove seems to want to destabilise the whole structure. Neither are right, and as the World Wide Web continues to expand horizons so kids expectations rise. Yet the truth of the matter is that we can’t all aspire to be politicians, lawyers, journalists or accountants we do need brick-layers, plumbers, electricians and indeed teachers. These professions need to be more valued than that actually are and paid accordingly.

I wonder if it is just a conspiracy by the politicians to keep us down trodden masses at the bottom of the pile?

Whist Atkinson’s St John Quartermaine is a hopeless teacher the main theme of the play is  loneliness. The seven teachers that the play focuses on all experience problems of loneliness in one form or another. It is a comedy although there are some serious themes and the play evokes the British penchant for “muddling through” very much as Michael Gove is doing. I wonder if Michael Gove is lonely and simply seeking attention with his outrageous proposals?

So perhaps the Government’s education policy is just one huge farce at our expense?