The elitism of Simon Jenkins

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Simon Jenkins has had a go at writing about English education again. This time, instead of musing on the experiences of his dinner party companions, he has decided to lament the whole accursed system.

To demonstrate just how in touch he is with the issues, he starts by recalling a boy at school who he used to tease as the ‘village idiot’ but who he would defend ‘if anyone bullied him’. This is meant to draw a distinction between the inclusive, bucolic past and a present when children with special educational needs are more likely to be excluded from school than those without such a label.

When you realise that challenging behaviour is one key reason for a special educational needs diagnosis being issued in the first place, higher rates of exclusion are no surprise. As blogger Old Andrew has suggested, given the way the system works, it’s surprising any child is ever excluded without attracting a special educational needs diagnosis. What we need is the training and resources to better deal with special educational needs, not accusations of discrimination.

Jenkins is also very much against exams such as England’s GCSE’s and international tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This fits with his preference for anecdotal evidence when making his argument. For instance, consider this powerful evidence from Germany:

“A teacher recently wrote to the Times that in Germany, largely exam-free schools ‘are trusted to educate in the broadest sense, and objectively assess their own pupils, without recourse to any self-serving, outsourced exam industry’. I doubt that a modern English school would know what to do with its time without exams.”

Isn’t Germany marvellous? Except that if you look at recent PISA evidence, in Germany, the variation in scores on the science assessment explained by a student’s socioeconomic status is significantly higher than the OECD average. In England, it is significantly lower. It’s a good job Jenkins dismisses such evidence.

Or perhaps it doesn’t matter. Jenkins may be something of an elitist. He invokes Yong Zhao to claim:

“…whereas Britain and America have persistently scored badly in Pisa science and maths, they do brilliantly in scientific research and in numerate careers, from high finance to digital technology.”

We all know who these people are who are doing well in high finance and they are not the disadvantaged. Is that OK? Are we all fine with that?

Exams are actually a social leveller. They reduce the impact of ‘who you know’ and of having the right accent and background. That’s why they are so important.

Instead, if we condemn the great unwashed masses to schools that cannot exclude students who are dangerous or who harm the learning of their peers and where the curriculum is focused around vacuous concepts such as ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’, we entrench privilege and the effects of background.

Who would have thought that a Guardian journalist would support a system of privilege?


2 thoughts on “The elitism of Simon Jenkins

  1. It is disheartening how often those reporting about educational issues have not been willing to dive deeply and develop some understanding and technical knowledge about things like ‘tests’ or ‘exams’ which are in fact highly technical. It’s like they believe that since they once took a test, they are experts on testing.

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