Secondary school is rather like a funnel. The pupil enters at the wide end and is presented with a timetable containing a lot of subjects but as the years proceed, the number of subjects decreases. At GCSE, depending on the school, it has come down to between five and ten, in the sixth form only three or at most four are studied to A Level. Eventually, the pupil is squeezed out of the narrowest point accompanied by one or perhaps two subjects to be studied at university.
For "academic" pupils, at least, the funnel analogy still holds good. My daily timetable in c. 1956 looked something like this:
First Period: RI or Scripture — first because God comes first.
Period 2: Maths — early in the day when the brain was supposedly sharpest.
Period 3: English.
These were the same every day and for Periods 4 and 5 Geography, History, French, Spanish, Latin, Physics, Chemistry and Biology alternated. In the afternoons came the less-regarded Music, Art, Domestic Science — and Sports. This might be recognised in general outline by a pupil today, though God no longer takes pride of place, virtually no state school offers Latin and there are some new subjects, principally IT and PSHE, aka sex lessons.
The principal difference is that schools then were not dictated to by government, let alone political correctness, in the way they are now. And it is in relation to those things, as well as to the attitudes and prejudices of the teaching unions and examination boards, as well as to the general dumbed-down social ethos, that things in schools after the age of 11 have gone badly wrong, so that we have betrayed several generations of young people.
The unacademic pupil, whose practical talents and potential were once recognised and catered for both in secondary modern school and via apprenticeships, is forced, resentful and struggling, into the same funnel to emerge at a low-grade university doing media studies or tourism, until they drop out or leave ill-equipped for employment other than the sort which could have been learned in a week "on the job" — if at all. That is one sort of betrayal. But what about the more academic pupil: bright, interested, motivated, who should not only be heading for a high-flying career earning a good salary, but has the potential and desire to become a well-rounded individual with a broad general knowledge, the ability both to study one or two things in depth and an interest in many wider aspects of culture and society? Yes, they still exist, emerging overwhelmingly from the independent sector, simply because with the demise of most grammar schools, the door has been slammed shut on bright but poor pupils.
What has happened?
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