Yesterday I visited Lydbrook Primary School, here in the Forest of Dean. It was once a village school that took children up to school leaving age – Lydbrook was a mining village and many of the children went to work underground or in other manual trades.
One of the teaching blocks has this fabulous sign carved from the local forest stone, announcing that Manual Instruction was taught inside. That would be carpentry and metalwork as well as cooking and other skills.
How many children yearn for a building like that at school, these days? Somewhere to make something, create something and learn a real skill. A classroom where there are no written explanations or reflections, no written exams, coursework or measurable outcomes, other than the the finished object speaking for itself – just manual instruction – the passing on of skills and craft attitudes that matter in the real world those children will grow up to live in.
A little bit of DT mixed into the curriculum doesn’t satisfy practically-minded children. All those essays and written coursework that the art, drama and sports department now require, only serve to put those, who are naturally suited to the subject, off pursuing them.
Haven’t we had enough of political correctness forcing children to be square pegs in round holes for the sake of neat accounting? Will education ever come again to accept that one academic size does not fit all? Will we ever be grown-up enough to accept that we are not all wired-up the same way? We knew it once and built classrooms for Manual Instruction.
Now that a bit of history has passed under the bridge, I can see what happened. The grammar schools gave extraordinary chances to working-class children. Those who got to Oxford and Cambridge soon came to run the country as leaders of the Labour Party, lording it over the Swinging Sixties, when almost anyone could do anything and and almost anything seemed possible.
So how did those ungrateful, mean-minded politicians repay the help and belief they were given by previous generations, that worked so hard to give them a bright, new future? They closed down the grammar schools, that got them where they were, and pulled up all the ladders to advancement behind them, protecting their new-found wealth and position from any new upstarts who might come up from below and take away what had been given them in a spirit of hope and generosity. Then they invented political correctness to put fear into those who might criticise them.
Rather than generally reducing children’s prospects, by creating the comprehensive schools that sought to promote the mean, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if they had followed in their public-spirited forefathers’ steps and addressed the abysmal state of secondary modern schools instead, turning them into first class academies of technology, creativity and craft, that stood on a level with the grammar schools, the two cultures working side by side?
Wait a minute – that still sounds like a good idea to me!