back to article Boffins demand: Cull bogus A-Levels, hire brainier teachers

Today the Royal Society, Blighty's pre-eminent boffinry institution, has issued its "state of the nation" report into science education in the UK – and it doesn't make encouraging reading. According to the report, there are far too few schoolchildren studying the correct combinations of subjects at A-Level in order to become …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Teaching? In Britain? F*cked up like a budgie?

    Gosh, when did this happen?

    1. Stu Wilson

      as if i *really* didn't think this was sarcasm

      that would be under the labour leadership in the 70's

      1. Ted Treen

        Facilitators, maybe...

        ...but in the 1950s, it was an acceptance by the Soviets that they could not confront the West militarily which led to a long-term strategy of infiltrating & controlling two areas of Western society: unions & education.

        Britain, of course, exemplifies the success of this with our history of the last 30 - 40 years

      2. Sirius Lee

        Maybe there's another side to this coin

        I've up voted your post. I went to school in West Yorkshire in the 70's which, I discovered later in life, was a hot bed of experientation in education and led the introduction of the infamous secondary moderns. I left with 3 poor A-level (fortunately Maths, Physics and Chemistry) and went to do Sport Science. There is no doubt in my mind that your brief analysis is correct.

        It was only when I arrived at Poly that I realized how poorly prepared I was and at 19 resolved to re-educate myself and with a help of a couple of lecturers vastly improved my ability to *write and communicate*. I got on to a CS course went on to do an MSc in CS in Sussex and never looked back.

        So on the one hand I recognize the concern in the article. On the otherhand, I did not know myself, while at school, and my parents did not know how poorly prepared I was. It seems to me that schools are going to fail kids while those schools have to provide a common education to all kids. Surely one size does not fit all in education any more that it does shoe size. Just as kids grow at different rates, so they are likely to learn at different rates.

        I was a council house kid and I know I grew enormously as a person after leaving home and fortunately the education system caught me, re-oriented me and sent me on a better path. I'm convinced that I'd have turned out the same 18 year old no matter how good the education on offer.

        So I have limited sympathy for the Uni lecturers complaining about the need for remedial maths. I'm sure they'd like nothing better than to have cohorts of well prepared and motivated under graduates so they can do all the fun stuff and leap to the next level.

        But life's not like that. I'd lke the win the lottery so I don't have to work.

        Instead, I'd like to see uni lecturers talking about how they get a buzz from quickly taking promising but poorly prepared kids and successfully giving them the benefit of their experience. And, yes, not letting go some who it clear will not make the grade. Compassionate but tough love.

        1. TkH11

          @Sirius Lee

          You are advocating that University lecturers should be spending time bringing up sub-standard students to the required level and enjoying the kudos that could come with that.

          I disagree. Ok, you might have been a substandard pupil, and I don't how intensive your CS course was, but in my degree in Engineering, the lecturers don't have time in the curriculum to spend additional time bringing up substandard students that didn't do so well in their GCSE and A level exams.

          I agree with your premise that students may learn at different rates, but it's for the school level education system to deal with that. A levels should prepare students for entry to university, that's why someone studies A levels.

          When a student passes their A levels at the required grades, they should then be in a state to enter Uni. If an 18 year old doesn't have those required A levels as stipulated by the faculty at the University, or doesn't have the required grades then it is right that they should not be allowed to enter Uni.

          if that means, the student doesn't pass their A levels until 19, or 24 then so be it.

          The specification by the university of the A levels and grades required are the entry requirements for the Uni are set with good reason.

          The university can not spend time catering for students of widely varying ability. Some do, and they do so by having a foundation year. If the university is able, is willing to design a course of longer duration or provide that additional year bringing the students up to the required level, then that's fine, but to expect the lecturers to spend time teaching you as an individual on a non-extended course to cope with your shortcomings isn't an option.

          1. Ross 7


            " my degree in Engineering, the lecturers don't have time in the curriculum to spend additional time bringing up substandard students that didn't do so well in their GCSE and A level exams"

            And those kids A-Level teachers didn't have the time to deal with the kids that weren't up to speed from GCSE, and their GCSE teachers didn't have time to deal with the kids that weren't up to speed from KS2, etc. Basically what you;re saying is, it doesn't matter how capable you are, if you got a bum deal in Year 2 with an incompetent teacher and as a result couldn't do maths as well as your mates in other classes you can say farewell to any kind of STEM degree and resultant career?

            *Someone* needs to play catch up with the kids that through no fault of their own got left behind. You were lucky - others aren't.

            Another failing with your argument is that it does not solve the issue with the number of STEM graduates. If we decide to leave kids in A-Levels until they are 24 starting in Sept this year, nobody goes to uni to do the more challenging courses for 3-5 years. Guess what happens to those courses? They don't get run any more. The departments shrink/close, so we end up with a bunch of kids that at age 24 can now study the subjects, but no actual courses for them to go to.

            The causal factors of this whole issue are numerous and complicated. They include (but are not limited to) -

            > school league tables directly leading to teaching to spec (rather than teaching skills);

            > government focus on high results at GCSE leading to an unreasonably large gap between GCSE and A-Level;

            > large class sizes;

            > parenting ("teaching is the schools job not mine");

            > toothless discipline (expelling students is not only extremely difficult and resource intensive, but is done on a swap basis - you get rid of one, you get one, so you still have huge disruption issues);

            > p*ss poor sci specs from the exam boards;

            > poor working conditions for teachers.

            Science has always been the maligned subject nobody wants to talk about. If you want evidence, just look at the the governments GCSE KPI - "5 GCSEs at A-C including maths and english". Ummm, so where;s the science? Any school with half a brain at it's head is going to spend its money on maths and english to boost its ranking, knowing that plenty of kids will get 3 other easy GCSEs to go with them. Science gets left behind because it's too hard and too expensive to ensure the majority of kids do well in it.

            Getting great teachers in to the profession isn't terribly easy anyway (you need to spend another year either at uni which costs you fees, and you don't have a wage, or as a GTP candidate), but keeping them is impossible. If you;re that good, why get paid £21k a year to have kids not bother doing their work, treat you with disrespect, occasionally threaten you with scissors, destroy the teaching and learning materials you spent your weekend (unpaid) making (having bought the mats with your own money), and then their parents whining that their kid didn;t get an A* (even tho he has yet to hand in a single piece of homework, or go one lesson without going on BBM, or checking Facespace) (all real world examples).

            If they want lots more kids in STEM it's fairly simple to set a framework where it will happen, but it's political dynamite. You need to legislate to control the exam boards, give teachers more powers, and (this is never going to happen) pay them a wage that will keep the best teachers in the job.

            Barclays et al complain that if they didn;t pay their best employees £200k in bonuses they would walk. Teachers on the other hand are just expected to suck it up, then we complain when our kids don;t do as well as we'd hoped. Guess what? If you pay someone less than they can get elsewhere for doing less work, they're gonna walk. That leaves you with the teachers that can't get a job elsewhere, or hope they can make a difference. We all know where the last type end up, and it ain;t pretty.

            If the gov actually want more quality STEM graduates then they can do something about it (at a cost obviously). However we all know they just want to talk about it and wring their hands - it's so much easier and cheaper.

            1. Anonymous Coward

              Exam Boards

              And the way things are set up now, the exam boards are in competition for numbers of candidates (hence profits), so they're not going to make their exams harder, are they.

            2. fatchap


              "*Someone* needs to play catch up with the kids that through no fault of their own got left behind. You were lucky - others aren't."

              That would be the parents in my book. Part of the deal when you have a child is you have to care for them.

  2. Tom 15


    I'm somewhat dubious about this article... it seems a bit out-dated and incorrect. First of all, General Studies is hardly studied any more, they stopped counting it at Universities some 4-5 years ago.

    Secondarily, not doing Triple Science is no reason not to do an A-Level in any of the three sciences. Double Integrated Science is more than adequate for this and I know a lot of people who have gone on to do A-Levels, etc. from these.

    1. Dennis 1

      Watering down the syllabus

      ....meanwhile the A-Level syllabus (especially Maths) gets further watered down, as the entrants are poorer in the subject coming in at 16. Uni Porfessors moan permanently at the remedial standard of maths in new undergrads

      If double science is a watered down science, and all subjects are becoming more watered down (as evidenced by maths capability above) then it stands to reason that double science at GCSE is providing a far poorer preparation for A-Levels then single separate sciences.

      They offered double maths at my school (20 years ago), back then it was mandatory for the thickie kids who elected not to take single sciences. There was a bar on progression to A-level sciences from double-sceince GCSE.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Possibly if we went back to the exam each year with promotion to the next year depending on the results, then there might be more motivation to [ut in a bit of effore.

        I never took O-levels, it was called school certificate in my day: pass the exam or do the whole eight to nine subjects again. I was fourteen in a class that ranged in age , apart from me, from 16 to 20.

        Of course, many schools then had Billy Bunter's "Remove".

    2. RichyS

      General Studies

      4-5 years ago? Have Universities /ever/ counted General Studies? And I mean proper Universities, not re-badged Polytechnics.

      1. ThomH


        I took A-Levels a bit more than a decade ago and even then the advice was to take General Studies just because in the final year the exam was before half term whereas pretty much every other exam was after half term. So it was used as a sharp shock to the student body. There were no formal lessons and the advocated preparation was "to read the newspaper". My university at least explicitly wouldn't accept it to count towards an offer.

        That all being said, isn't the c.2000 division into AS and A2 meant to address the problem of people picking the wrong three? The average student takes five AS levels in their first year and whittles them down to three to study to A2 level in the second. So, especially for people like me that went to a separate college, you get a chance to experiment with interesting topics and then hopefully some decent advice and a rethink shortly before UCAS kicks off. That has a January deadline, so tends to become prominent at the start of the second year.

      2. jon 13

        Proper Universities

        I left school in 88 just before the Polytechnics were renamed as Universities, General Studies definitely wasn't counted back then. I doubt it ever was.

        When I was doing my A-levels I found that between maths and chemistry 90% of the physics syllabus had already been covered so I counted it as a bonus. I'm surprised this wheeze was not more widely recognised.

        The Economist had a great article about why teaching is so undervalued in the UK - or rather why it is so bad compared to places like Korea who pay little more than the UK but have excellent teaching because there is a culture that respects teachers. When my parents became teachers there was a little prestige attached to the job and the pay was comparable to police. They watched 40 years worth of declining pay (compared to police) declining respect (if you can't do, teach) and declining job motivation as every single government wanted to introduce its own reforms.

    3. Samuel Walker
      Thumb Down

      @Tom 15

      General Studies is still very much taken at A-Level. I finished my A Levels a year and a half ago, and General Studies was compulsory for everyeone (as well as in the co-hort after us).

      And my Sixth Form college wasn't a bad one either - top 20 (by avg ALevel points) of every college for 11 years running.

      Even though most universities don't accept it, colleges still make students take it.

      1. TkH11

        @Samual Walker - General Studies

        I've never heard of a college forcing students to take any A levels!

        At my college/school (a school with combined 6th form college) we chose all our A levels.

        I can't see how any school can force any student to do any subject at A level.

        Surely it has to be student's choice only?

        What would happen if the student decided they didn't have enough time to do the General Studies A level and wanted to concentrate on the A levels that mattered to them to enable them to study their chosen course at Uni, and then a) failed to attend the lessons b) didn't turn up for the exam

        What would the college do, kick them out of the college and bar them from studying for and going in for the other A level exams?

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Double Science

      Unfortunately, my year in high school was the first where we had no option but to take Double Science.

      I would probably advocate the choice being available for students as to whether to take separate sciences or not. I would have chosen separate, personally.

      However, I did not find I was at any disadvantage when it came to studying Physics at A-Level. Still got an A, still got in to University no problem.

      Aptitude and attitude are far more important than a relatively minor difference in course delivery and examination.

  3. Hollerith 1

    How to lure brains into the teaching profession

    My missus did chemistry, maths, physics and further maths for her A levels, and did pure maths at Oxford. After a career in law, she wants a change of direction and looked into teaching. The huge drop in pay would be counterbalanced by a feeling that she is doing something worthwhile. But her sister is a teacher and wants to get out because she says the Gov't -required paperwork has taken over her life and sapped her love of teaching. So my missus is thinking 'no' to teaching. A shame, as it would do teenage girls (and boys) good to see a comely female genius.

    1. Martin Usher

      Plenty more where they come from....

      The missus is a Physics teacher, has a Master's in the subject plus the usual teaching certs. She's the eldest of three sisters; the younger two are also Physics graduates, one has a D.Phil/MBA, the other a PhD.

      The strange thing about this is that if you get the three together in a social setting you'd never know.....unless the conversation happened on something physical.....

    2. Mallorn

      Not just filling in paperwork

      It's not just filling in paperwork. My sister is one of the rare primary school science teachers and her problem is that she is heavily restricted in what she can do. For example she got together with secondary school science teachers to arrange a program where pupils in the final year of primary got to go to the secondary school and use some of the more advanced lab apparatus. However this was nixed because it wasn't safe for them to be in a secondary school lab (with teacher present)...although magically the following year it all suddenly became ok.

      Frankly I think the Royal Society has got it completely wrong. You attract good teachers by allowing them to take the initiative and make a difference. Good teachers will make subjects more attractive to students and give good advice. Diluting subjects in the hope that if you take enough "A" levels students can't avoid hitting at least one science subject is daft because then when they get to university they will know even less making the job of us university profs even harder.

  4. breakfast Silver badge

    Would be easy to make science more appealing at university level

    One thing that would perhaps be useful to stimulate the study of useful scientific things at a university level would be to drop the tuition fees for those subjects. We don't really need more English Literature graduates after all, so ramp up the fees for the fluffy subjects a little further and they can subsidise useful science, engineering, maths and other degrees that require harder work but everyone assures us make a larger difference to the economy. Given how much the government seems to want to screw around with tuition fees anyway, they might as well take things a step further at this point as everyone already hates them so why not do something worthwhile among all the contemptible weaselling.

    With that to attract people towards science subjects there would be more demand for science teaching on the way up to there, which might set things up in that part of the jobs market to attract better teachers.

    1. Mark Olleson

      Still funded

      Science and engineering subjects will still fully funded by the government when the new cap on tuition fees comes in. The big question is whether the universities pass this on to students. A lot of people suspect not - especially in institutions that consider themselves to offer a broad-base of humanities subjects as well as science and engineering.

    2. Jolyon

      Obvious, simple and useful.

      and therefore unlikely to happen.

      (If only we could teach science as well as we do cynicism)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This response is bizarre.

      Have you not heard of Market Forces?! If there wasn't a Market for English degrees do you think they would be offered? Clearly, there is no general market in the UK for Science, Technology or Engineering degrees or they would oversubscribed, wouldn't they??

      Anyway, you don't need a degree to be an Engineer/Technologist, you just call yourself one. Most of the managers who would employ you wouldn't be able to detect you as a fraud because they are Arts/Humanities graduates. The work is done off-shore in China and India so you need to be able to create a User requirements Spec from the proforma developed by people who can.

      UK has good at Bespoke science and technology companies and we have enough Engineers at the price to just about satisfy companies involved in them - or the pay rates would go up. Again, Market forces for you...

      I'm at the cynically wrong end of my career in Engineering. There are many excellent pupils. students, teacher and lecturers and they are being badly let down by unfunny clowns in Banks, Industry, Business and Government. In the end it is the people without the gold plated pensions who will pay for the short term pursuit of profit through focus on financial services and exporting UK technical employment. It may be unattractive but investment has to be made in UK PLC infrastructure and training because that is were we live, FFS.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And that is the truth here

        And where exactly will a university graduate with a math, physics or chemistry degree go I may ask? Or a graduate with a CS degree?

        Any R&D left in this country? Any high tech engineering? Anyone thought why Google is happy to pay a Swiss living standards wage, but sees no point in having proper research in the UK? Anyone noticed that IBM quietly upped anchor 10 years ago? Anyone? Nobody I guess...

        If we do not count biotech (where you are more likely to hear Russian, Bulgarian or even French and German instead of English) the answer is Nope, Nada, Nil, Zilch.

        That answers your questions. So for the demand in "proper science" and "proper R&D" present in this country at the moment the teaching is unfortunately more than adequate.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          There are R&D and bleeding edge companies in the UK

          I work for one (Cambridge startup, bought out by Americans). State of the art in video, camera work, DSL semiconductors etc. World leaders in fact. And this isn't the only company in the area doing state of the art. Pay is generally pretty good.

          We get any number of CV's in but most are pretty hopeless - and we end up employing a lot of people from outside of the UK/Eurozone. We do have a lot of Oxbridge grads/PhDs though...

          You need to look harder, or have a better CV.

      2. Jon 52


        The market forces in this case are majority A-level school leavers who want a blast at university and just have a simple life doing somthing fun. I think less than half of all students will actually seriously look at job markets before going off to Uni and base their decisiion on that, even less will make this decision at 16 when choosing A-levels and less than that at 14 when you choose triple or only double science.

      3. fatchap

        Market Forces

        The problem is that the market forces for a degree subject do not relate to the market forces for graduates of those degrees. This is due to the lie that is being perpetuated that all degrees are of equal value and that they are a passport to success.

        This results in a demand for graduates in Science, Technology and Engineering and a surplus of Humanities graduates, meaning that aggregate statistics on graduate employment are low.

    4. nematoad

      Hold on a minute

      What you and the Royal Society seem to have missed is that the reason people take "the fluffy subjects " that is:

      1) they are interested in the subject

      2) some people do not have an ability with maths.

      I am such a person.

      I left school with 3 O levels and never got to take any A levels. After studying with the OU I got a place at full time uni and graduated with a BA in Archaeology. OK so archaeology may not be the best subject to make a lot of money, but I did it because I loved the subject and believe me after three years hard grind if you don't love the subject at the start you sure as hell won't at the end. So why didn't I do a "useful" degree? Simple, I would not have been able to complete the first week let alone three years, my mind just does not work that way. If everyone was the same think of how flat and boring it would be.

      It is strange how people with a talent for maths seem to think that everyone should have it as well and that those who do not are either lazy or terminally stupid.

      1. It wasnt me
        Thumb Down

        Thats all well and good....

        ......but why the hell should there be any funding for those subjects? You have just admitted that you do something you love but dont earn a lot of money. i.e. you dont pay a lot of tax.

        I on the other hand have an Engineering Masters degree from a red-brick university. It was a very expensive education, no doubt, and I received it free of charge. Hoewever, the payback on the government's investment is phenomenal. Each year I pay a fortune in tax.

        That is what a university education should be, an investment. It should not be means tested as with the new proposals. And the cost of the course should be inversely proportional to the likely tax-take from a graduate of that course.

        In other words - engineering, medecine and the sciences should be free, with students chosen for ability. If you want to go and do vocational course and fluffy crap "excuse to party for 3 years" courses then by all means do so, just dont expect the rest of us to pay for it.

        As an aside I cant stand my job, but I live a comfortable life. I really love windsurfing but I dont expect the govenment to fund it.

        1. Maurice Shakeshaft

          In a different world...

          As an Engineering Graduate I agree, in part.

          However, University shouldn't be just about a 'Meal ticket' which is what you seem, in part, to imply. Unless you have a passion and interest then you wont make a very good Engineer/Doctor/Dentist/Lawyer/Scientist/plumber/mechanic/electrician.... and that is what we want. Yes, you'll get buy and make a living but you may also be attracted for the wrong reasons. Some teachers continue in their chosen profession even though they could get more outside because its a vocation and they happen to be acknowledged as being very good at their job by industry, their pupils and their peers.

          We have to find a better way than the crap system at the moment but while society continues to accept less we'll get less (unless we're talking taxes.. that is...)

        2. nematoad

          @it wasnt me

          "If you want to go and do vocational course and fluffy crap "excuse to party for 3 years"

          Just try digging out footings by hand in July on a very sensitive site wth the soil made out of compacted shingle and stone building rubble.

          I didn't say that the job I used to do was badly paid. (I'm now retired). As it happens I got a post-grad qualification in systems analysis and design. Believe me when I worked at some of the largest companies in the world (BP, GE, Zurich) I paid plenty of tax. I also earned a lot of money which I retained. What I am saying is that there are different horses for different courses. Not eveyone is skilled in maths. What if it was decided that no-one could get a job unless they could also run a four minute mile or some thing equally arbitrary?

          Anyway the whole reason for a university degree is just to turn out droids able to be slotted into the production line. It is also to give the person concerned the skills to learn, marshal your thoughts and arguments and present them in a logical fashion.

          In any case who says that the study of man's past is worthless? Are you saying that the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, Maiden Castle, Pompeii are of no worth? If you are then you are doomed to live in a impoverished shallow world with no roots.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Sure it was you.

          "......but why the hell should there be any funding for those subjects?"

          Because an education is not - no matter how much you've been duped by idiots who put everything in monetary terms - a loan. If it were a loan then 'ability to pay back' would be a consideration. It's not though. It's a gift. That's why there should be funding for those subjects: Because gifts of this nature should not just be the province of the rich and powerful.

          "Each year I pay a fortune in tax."

          Boo-hoo for you. Each year lots of people pay a fortune in tax. And? So what if someone doesn't pay a lot in tax? We're are a democracy, not a financial meritocracy. You seem to have the two confused. In a democracy people may contribute - and gain merit - in numerous different ways that don't necessarily have anything to do with money.

          "That is what a university education should be, an investment."

          No. It's an education, not an investment. An investment is what financial twats do because it helps them obtain more money than they already have so they can get even fatter necks than the world pie-eating champion and clog up the world with their fat, fat arses. An education on the other hand is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. An education, I repeat, is not an investment.

          That's not all though.

          Politicians and businessmen (= 'Unimaginative C-graders') love that pernicious "Occam's Razor of utility" by which nothing that doesn't produce something for the economy is worth funding. It's a shit argument though as a moment's thought will reveal. Which bits of maths, for example, produce more economic effects? Clearly applied mathematics would. What, though, about pure mathematics? Does research into fractals deserve funding or not? What about String Theory? What practical use does that have? OK. Cut funding for those. Cosmology - no practical use. History - no practical use. Philosophy - no practical use. Economics - no practical use because it's a pseudoscience. Politics - doesn't produce stuff for the economy. Keep going along those lines and you'll have nothing left: You'll have peeled the artichoke and be left holding empty air.

          These things have value not because they can be priced, but because humans value them: That is all the value they will ever have because value is a human invention.

          You're asking the wrong question. Instead of asking "Why the hell should there be funding for those subjects?" you should have been asking "Why the hell shouldn't there be funding for them?"

      2. peter_dtm


        that's not is being said

        what is happening is the opposite of what you suggest is being advocated.

        What actually seems to be happening is that because Science & maths have absolute answers (in exam & project terms) and because Primary schools seem unable to teach science & maths; most students - especially those who are interested in science and maths - are put off - they don't SEE the science teachers; the schools seem to try and marginalise science/maths as anyone not good will fail - ergo (keep those boxes ticked - get the number of passes up) pupils are indirectly dis-couraged from taking science and maths. So less students take them - so there is less teaching staff to teach and less money to fund. And have you seen the impact of 'ealth n safty numpties - there are NO experiments worth doing any more. And what is covered in GCSE triple science is an absolute bloody joke - no science challenge; no science content (but oh so plenty of political crap).

        The liberal establishment hates science (they believe any technology is magic as they are largely too idle to try and understand it) as it hates engineers - despite being totally reliant on technology (or is that because...).

        GCSE science and maths syllabus do NOT challenge any student with an iq higher than that of an egg.

        There was a time when most countries would take 3 A levels as equivalent to 1st year in Uni; now they are seen as a pre-requisite to a year's remedial teaching.

        It doesn't pay schools to encourage science or maths - so it is going to get worse and worse

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        QF the MF T.

        "According to the report, there are far too few schoolchildren studying the correct combinations of subjects at A-Level in order to become science or technology undergraduates – and so develop into useful high-skilled citizens of the future as opposed to mindless drones qualified in the humanities or other soft studies."

        Like journalists?

        Let's face it. We all watch TV, listen to music, read books or play games. Still want to send those creative types against the wall? When your entertainment options are coding or wanking or watching Maths TV, well, life gets kinda dull.

        Thanks, nematoad, and others, for doing all the stuff that the mathstards can't.

      4. TkH11


        "It is strange how people with a talent for maths seem to think that everyone should have it as well and those that do not are either lazy or terminally stupid".

        I have a talent for maths and I went to a second rate large state run comprehensive school. That talent for maths came about by sheer hard work and nothing else. I certainly wasn't born with the ability I can tell you, and I found it very hard work. But I was motivated, I knew I wanted to go off to University and I knew what A levels I need to pass to get there. So I worked and I worked.

        No I don't think everyone should have a talent for maths, but I DO think everyone should come out of school with maths and english O levels. In my view, there is no excuse not to do so. It's important. It's essential. And that's how the education system and the government view it.

        In your case, by your admission you obtained only 3 O levels, I don't know, but you correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing with 3 O' levels you didn't get both the maths and english.

        "I left school with 3 O levels and never got to take any A levels"

        You said you never got to take any A levels, you say it almost as if the school refused you the opportunity, as if you're not to blame for not getting A levels, that it wasn't your fault you didn't get the opportunity.

        Let me assure you, it was your fault. Not a nice thing you want to hear. I certainly wasn't brilliant at school, far from it. But I did get enough O levels to qualify for going onto to do A levels, and there was only one reason why I got those O levels..again, sheer hard work and nothing else.

        In my school, we needed to do 4 O levels minimum in order to go on and study A levels. A friend of mine only acheived I think 3 or 4 O levels, he didn't satisfy the minimum requirement but the school allowed him to do the A levels. Guess what happened? He dropped out of the A levels because it was just too tough for him. The minimum requirement was set for a good reason.

    5. Kerry Hoskin


      totally agree, or bring back a proper grant to those doing properly accredited BEng or B.Sc degrees. If you want to do a BA in Media Studies you're on your own!

    6. BlackMage

      Wrong way round

      I disagree entirely with this one. What we need is tuition fees that reflect the costs of the training and potential rewards for completing it. Science and engineering training is vastly more expensive than English Literature or other soft subjects. Labs stuffed full of expensive, precision equipment, high cost consumables (chemistry and biology), computers used for actual computational work rather than email and Facebook and the qualified staff to run the whole thing properly. Compare that to the requirements of English Lit: a fiction library.

      We have arrived at the current dysfunctional arrangement precisely because of homogeneity of costs to the student. If it costs the same to get a degree by doing a hard course as as it does by doing an easy one, many will pick the easy one irrespective of value or quality. If different courses cost different amounts then students will start asking very relevant questions like "Why is this course more expensive?" and "Is it worth me paying extra to get on a better course?" Questions like these lead to rational and informed decision-making, exactly the kind of thinking we want to encourage in general and most definitely in science and engineering students.

      Dropping fees for science and engineering courses will produce more dropouts than new scientists. The reason is simple, more students will take the cheap option without having the skills required to study hard subjects, fail and quit.

      If you want more scientists and engineers to go into teaching, you need to make it worth their while. Why take a teacher's low salary when you could get paid more for your hard to learn and expensively acquired skills elsewhere? Reward that hard work...

      1. It wasnt me
        Thumb Down

        Thats complete bullshit.

        "Dropping fees for science and engineering courses will produce more dropouts than new scientists. The reason is simple, more students will take the cheap option without having the skills required to study hard subjects, fail and quit".

        Thats crap. Quite the opposite is true. Dropping fees for science and engineering courses will increase the number of applicants for a fixed number of places. The universities will then be able to chose the brightest students to fill those places.

        There, fixed it for you.

      2. fatchap

        Fees != Standards

        Just because the fees are lower does not mean that the entry criteria should be reduced and so I can not see why there would be a correlation between fees and number of dropouts

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "We don't really need more English Literature graduates after all, so ramp up the fees for the fluffy subjects a little further and they can subsidise useful science, engineering, maths and other degrees that require harder work but everyone assures us make a larger difference to the economy."

      You don't need science, engineering & maths in order to boost our economy: You need many more people than we have prepared to do the same jobs as we do for less than we currently earn.

      That is why we are being out-performed by other countries and has relatively little to do with having more graduates.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No thanks

    I took Psychology, Sociology and English Lit. at A-Level and went on to drop out of a Sociology degree half-way through my first year. The whole time my grades were awful.

    Now I'm achieving high first-class grades on a CS degree. I apologise to the Royal Society if I wasn't mature enough at 16 to know EXACTLY what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I guess I'll just quit now and get a job at Macdonalds.


    1. Elmer Phud


      It's people like you wot gets all the jobs these days.

      There was I thinking of doing bit of shelf-filling and I'm under-qualified (not having any degree, A level or O level, that is).

      At least under 'Big Society' I'll have the chance to be chained up as part of a crew doing litter picking on the local roads where the expensive houses are.

      Won't see you at McD's though -- I've not been in one of them for many, many years.

  6. mark 63 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    tax the bullshit subjects

    like 'breakfast; said earlier , the way to get more proper graduates , i.e. science , is to make the courses cheap if not free , and if they cant afford that put the bill onto all the bulshit subjects , especially Film Studies

    1. Mark Olleson

      this might not be the best incentive

      This might not work out quite as you expect if it results in a large number of unsuitable candidates selecting science and engineering subjects simply because they are cheap.

      I can well remember that drop out rate on MEng in Electronic Engineering I did at a Russell-group red-brick university in the mid 90's: We started with about 150 students in the first year, dropping to probably under half of this by the 3rd year. By the fourth year, there were 13 of us staying on for the MEng.

      My university, no doubt like many others, was very conscious that too many of their students were coming from independent schools.

      Whilst the usual way onto an Engineering course was Maths and Physics A-levels, and more often than not another science, they also offered places to candidates from vocational backgrounds - who often a very light on formal mathematics education.

      Invariably, these students found 1st year Engineering Maths very hard (those of us who did A-Levels found the first semester a rehash of stuff we'd already done and found it a very easy ride). A huge number of those who failed the year did so because of this course. And without it, they were truly stuffed with all of the other modules as well, which relied heavily on it.

      Unless we want to stuff the first years of our science and engineering degrees with students who are likely to fail, education before university is a really big deal.

      1. Super Fast Jellyfish

        cheap science courses

        In which case you fine Unis which can't be bothered to select properly. The alternative is to have a 'science foundation' course for those who need bringing up to speed.

      2. peter_dtm


        back in the 70's we were told - very proudly - that they (assorted Unis offering Engineering) expected (aimed !) to wash out at least 1/3 rd of the students in the 1st year - and they would be concerned if they washed out 2/3rds - they'd just make the selection harder

        However they did reckon that if you got through the 1st year you should be able to finish the course - 'course you may only get a 3/3

      3. TkH11

        pre-requisites for the degree

        I'm going to support Mark Olleson's post fully on the issue of having a good education prior to University. Much of my experience reflects Mark's, I too went to a Russel Group university to study Electronic Engineering, (perhaps even the same one? Who knows?).

        I knew HND students that had joined the BEng degree in Electronic Engineering that seriously struggled with the maths in the first year and almost quit. For us that had undertaken A level maths, our experience reflects Marks, that some of the first year topics in Maths were refreshers of our A level.

        Our second year consisted of something like 10 different subjects of which 8 contained a lot of maths. And boy, did it get difficult. I still recall discussing with friends that we thought the transition from O levels to A levels was difficult, but the transistion from A level to degree level was far, far harder.

        We worked our nuts off at University, it was tough, the work load was very high and the subject matter, the concepts, the maths, difficult, and I think it would have been hard pressed for any university to have worked us harder.

        I believe now that since then, that degrees have been extended from 3 to 4 years, presumably to cope with the lower quality of students going into the Uni as a result of all the tinkering, messing up of the GCSE's and A levels by the Labour government.

        Those input entry standards to Universty Engineering courses have to be maintained and the maths is ALWAYS a pre-requsite.

        I work in information technology, I don't have a degree in Computer Science ( I did A level computer science and found it incredibly easy) and I can blow the arse of any CS grad.

        I had a lodger in my house at a highly reputable Uni, styudying Computer Science, could he design a computer with the knowledge they taught him? Not a cats chance in hell.

        Maths is the key to understanding almost everything. Key to understanding the real world, how things change, and move - dynamic systems. Something CS grads are not taught.

  7. max allan


    Unless they've changed things recently, kids with highers at scottish unis were expected to do an extra year before the course really got going. So a 3 year course would be a 4 year course.

    I went from the England with a-levels to Scotland for a degree and found the first year was about half n half "easy" and "new".

    I think degrees are too narrow focussed myself. I found after 2 years of studying electronics to what seemed to be pointless levels of detail, I just wanted to do something different.

    I don't work in electronics now, but I can't imagine being able to work out the impedance of a cable from first principles AND how electrons flow through a transistor junction is going to be useful to most people. You might need to know the nitty gritty of some of the areas, where your work is focussed, but not all of it.

    I'd suggest more vocational A-levels followed by something like an apprenticeship program in whatever the company want you to do, nationally recognised etc... so you could move jobs and keep your course going. AND continue that through life.

    Unlike most companies I work for where you keep getting thrown new technologies and expected to figure it out because it's sort of similar to the old one you were working on. Actually have some sensible budget allocated for training. (One UK wide banking institution allocated about £500 per employee per year and then threw VMware at the Windows admin team. No surprise it was a bit of mess)

    1. Annihilator
      Paris Hilton


      I couldn't figure out the difference. I went to a Scottish school, and then Edinburgh University. By 5th year of school, I had a Higher in maths. As part of 6th year, I was able to do what's called CSYS (Cert of Sixth Year Studies) in maths as well.

      When I got to university for a BSc in maths, the first year was spent covering what I'd covered a CSYS, so was an absolute doddle. By contrast, my English counterparts had barely touched any of the stuff I'd already done, and had a relatively hard year.

      I could never reconcile the differences though. In hindsight I could probably have started in 2nd year, and completed a Scottish degree in 3 years, whereas the English students would take 4.

      1. David Neil

        Twas ever thus

        I left school back in the early 90's, and had done the old physics O grade and the the old higher. I noticed immediately when I went into the lab that they were teaching specific heat and other stuff I had covered at 15.

        A quick chat with the lecturer and a few testing questions later I got a pass and told to come back in a few weks.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: Highers???

      ".....I found after 2 years of studying electronics to what seemed to be pointless levels of detail...." I learnt more of real practical value in the first six months in the industry than I learnt in the whole four years of my degree. But the HR people that interviewed me way back then had exactly the same attitude as they do now - "You need a piece of paper in a narrow range of degree subjects to prove that you are capable of the mental gymnastics required for this role."

      Back in my day, about 50% of all graduates ended up as accountants, simply because there was demand from accountancy companies. I see many science grads today stumbling around the job market because they are spot-on science geniuses, but their skills are not directly applicable to many of the jobs actually out there. I'm not sure just churning out more science grads is the answer unless we can tie it in more with what the economy needs, and that will always be hard seeing as how your choice of degree has to be made whilst guessing at what the job market will need in three or four years time. Can't we start listening more to industry people rather than those living in ivory towers in unis and associated societies?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "I'm not sure just churning out more science grads is the answer unless we can tie it in more with what the economy needs, and that will always be hard seeing as how your choice of degree has to be made whilst guessing at what the job market will need in three or four years time. "

        But the efficient market always provides, doesn't it? Except when it's busy off-shoring, to society's detriment. I bet a little bit of left-wing protectionism seems appealing right about now.

        "Can't we start listening more to industry people rather than those living in ivory towers in unis and associated societies?"

        Industry people are telling me to get a degree in programming VB Macros. Let's not listen to them too much, eh?

    3. The Indomitable Gall

      4 year degrees

      Max allan,

      The Scottish 4 year degree isn't because of an insufficiency in secondary school, it's because 3 years just isn't long enough for a degree. In fact, most students in Europe spend 5 years at uni, to get an undergraduate masters.

      The Scottish higher/sixth year system is more flexible than the English A-levels.

      In my day, you would typically do 5 Highers in fifth year (normally Maths and English with 3 free choices) and then in sixth year do 3 subjects at CSYS, with possibly a 6th Higher in addition to the CSYS. Nowadays, CSYS has been replaced with Advanced Higher, but I believe the pattern is broadly similar.

      In this way, the Scottish system introduces specialisation by degrees, leaving to a broader academic foundation and reducing the pigeon-holing of teenagers when they're really still too young to know what they really want to do.

      Many uni courses start with the assumption of study to highers only, but in specific areas may assume CSYS/Advanced Higher knowledge. On the whole it's a balanced system, but you can't please all the people all the time, so there has to be some retreading of ground in any course.

    4. Campbeltonian

      Re: Highers???

      "I went from the England with a-levels to Scotland for a degree and found the first year was about half n half "easy" and "new". I think degrees are too narrow focussed myself."

      The whole point of the 'easy' first year in Scottish universities is to allow you to take a breadth of subjects so that your degree *isn't* too narrowly focused. In the first and second years of my computing degree I studied geology, astrophysics and history and philosophy of science (a history course, not a science course). I hadn't done any of these before, and they're 'easy' precisely so that people studying other subjects can achieve a breadth of education.

      If you have good enough Advanced Highers (roughly equivalent to a full-term A-level or the old CSYS that they replaced), you can skip the first year entirely. Or if you have good Highers you can skip your high school 6th year and go straight into uni (something I sometimes wish I'd done). In these situations the Scottish degree is essentially the same length as an English one.

    5. peter_dtm

      I think

      I think you'll find that learning how to calculate impedance from 1st principles - or understanding electron flow through a PN junction wasn't ONLY about learning the 'hows of impedance or electron flow;' it was aimed at teaching you how to learn; how to get back to 1st principles; how to understand a problem; how to progress in the right direction (towards the solution); how to work with discipline and stricture; how to be able to do the same analysis and get the right answer - even though all the parameters 'appear' to be different. And may be most importantly; you should have learnt not to clutter your brain with useless facts - that's what the internet/reference book is for.

      You're whining like some wannabe artist demanding they don't need to learn how to paint; as that's all so old fashioned.

      If you don't understand the basics; if you don't know how to learn' if you don't know how to apply that knowledge - well you are worse than a banker.

  8. Neil Stansbury

    Change the entry requirements

    A-Level in "Physical Sciences"





    A-Level in "Biological Sciences"




  9. S Larti
    Thumb Up


    "Firstly, there should be an attempt to rein in the vast and continually burgeoning range of bullshit A-Levels which are easy and fun to do but no use whatever – and which tempt kids away from the true path."

    But will it happen?

    And, Tom15, I'm afraid that General Studies is not only still there, it's compulsory at many schools even though few universities will touch it.

    1. Marky W

      General Studies is OK

      My school had mandatory General Studies - and this was, IMO, a good thing. It exposed science kids to the arts, and art kids to the sciences, and generally helped with producing more rounded students.

      And with only an 90 mins of lessons per week it still allowed me to take 4 proper subjects and go on to do mech engineering at a proper uni.

      (and that was 20 years ago, when A-levels were actually testing, not like today mind you, write your name on the bloody paper and they give you a pass, grumble, grumble, etc, etc....)

      1. BlackMage
        Thumb Down

        In principle...

        My school had mandatory General Studies too (nearly 20 years back). Everyone had to endure the lessons except the Further Maths group as the two clashed in the timetable. The idea of exposing science kids to arts and arts kids to science is a nice idea in theory but we couldn't help but notice that all the Further Maths group got A in General Studies and very few of the rest did.

        1. Marky W


          Probably a reflection of the elite nature of further mathematicians than the quality of the teaching. (I nearly wrote 1337 there, but realised that as I'm touching 40 that would make me a bit of a twat).

          From memory the exam wasn't really 'teachable' other than if you read the Sunday newspapers cover to cover and watched a reasonable number of documentaries on the telly (in those bleak www-free days).

      2. TkH11

        @Marky W - General Studies

        "My school had mandatory General Studies - and this was, IMO, a good thing. It exposed science kids to the arts, and art kids to the sciences, and generally helped with producing more rounded students."

        Utter crap. What the hell is a 'more rounded student' and how does it actually help them?

        I didn't do General Studies, I had enough on my plate doing the other A levels.

        And I would have greatly resented my school forcing me to do a subject which I felt was a) completely useless, b) wasn't going to help me get into University to study my chosen subject c) would have taken my time away from the studies required for my chosen A levels.

        And looking back all those years, do I feel as if I have lost something because I didn't do General Studies? No, not in the slightest.

        As an adult, after I finished University, I have a lot more time, and I can choose what I want to do with that time, and if I choose to go looking at the arts, then that's my choice and I have the time to do it. Being forced to do General Studies against my wishes doesn't help me!

        A levels are about studying the subjects to sufficient depth to be able to get into University and then continue those studies on. Who gives a monkey's about General Studies A level if the course of study at Uni does not require it? !!

        I don't believe for one second that an A level in General Studies and knowing about some painters or composers would have helped me one tiny bit in my engineering degree.

        I know what would have helped me, an A level in Further Maths!!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    All we need, more 'jack of all science' type folk who are dabbling a toe in the water. Surely the folk you need in science don't need convincing to work at the interesting subjects, rather than endure the boring easier ones ?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Evidently the employment situation for sci/tech grads isn't that desperate, though, or more of them would be willing to become teachers."

    Nothing and I mean NOTHING could tempt me to become a Teacher. Hat off to anyone who is desperate enough.

    1. Peter 82


      Currently the job of teaching is extremely unattractive.

      What with not that great pay, ridiculous levels of paperwork, job risks that include being sued for everything and anything that you may or may not have done, only the very dedicated stick to it. Also having known a fair number of teachers the office politics are extreme and can damage your mental health.

      1. Neonin
        Thumb Up

        Hear Hear!

        @Peter 82: I couldn't agree more! I was on a degree to become an IT teacher because I do love the teaching profession, but I worked out very fast that all the additional stuff that gets dumped on teachers by the ever-changing mind of whichever "flavour of the month" educational policy is in with the Gubbermint would drive me bat-shit crazy if I had to do it for work every day.

        I became a technician instead. You can still get involved in the teaching side of things but it's the poor bastards who are classed as actual "teachers" that have to do the paperwork. I have a lot of friends in the teaching profession and I have nothing but awesome respect for their patience and the job they do.

      2. Mark 65


        Although many may not agree, I believe the biggest problem with teaching is the pay structure (block pay bargaining and unionism). I know that bonuses were given in the past, for instance, to attract males to early school teaching and to attract maths teachers to take them above the normal pay-scale but that's not enough.

        We have to face facts in that, although many do the job for the love of it (I myself could never entertain the thought) it is still cold hard currency that keeps the roof above your head. I see no reason why a brilliant maths teacher (or any other subject) should live a shit life because they teach. I know there are those that state "if you want better pay then work in private industry" - I used to be one before I had kids - but that ignores the fact that you will therefore be sentencing kids to either a shit education or a costly one and society will reap the outcome of this. Good teachers and those in much needed areas should be separated from the abhorrent bullshit that is the "you've been teaching for 8 years so you're at this level" crap that goes on.

        Why should someone who may be crap earn more just because there's a couple more years on the dial? Can't see it happening though.

    2. JimC

      Teaching is fine

      Childminding aggressive brats and fighting off their low life parents, on the other hand, is a very challenging skill indeed and I know I lack it.

      1. Elmer Phud

        Not the low life

        The low life parents are usually O.K.

        The ones with a bit of an educaton are the real troublemakers.

  12. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    What is really needed

    is more good maths and science teachers at all levels. As far as I can see it, the only way to achieve this would be with financial incentives. The question is, where would the additional cash come from. When the economy was booming, it seems we pissed all of the cash up the wall rather than investing in the technological future of the nation, now it is too late.

    The only alternative I can see is for those companies who benefit from high quality maths/sci graduates to pump money back into the education system, possibly through some sort of charitable fund, or for punitive levels of taxation to get a pay-off in ten years time, which is never going to happen.

    Big biotech like GSK benefit enormously from such graduates, yet when I graduated from a chemistry degree some 10+ years ago, the starting salary for graduates working 10hr days in the lab was less than £20k, whereas with a physical sciences degree, it was possible to go and become an accountant or similar and earn £30k for shorter hours. I took the third path, and through a lot of hard work retrained as a software developer, I'm noty sure this option would be open to too many others.

    All in all, then, the education system, particularly surrounding science and maths, in this country, is royally screwed. I guess it's time for me to go and learn Mandarin Chinese. Ni Hao.

    1. ttuk

      I think there already are financial incentives

      I believe there already are financial incentives for sci / maths teachers..

      a friend of mine quit his IT career to retrain as a maths teacher and got his PGCE paid for by the govt. also I think the starting salaries are around 4 or 5k more than for those on other subjects.. even with that extra cash though you're still much worse off than working in industry, and horrendously so compared to the finance sector..

      as it is teaching is a profession for the few graduates who actually have a passion for the subject and enjoy teaching (my friend) and (mostly) all the people that got a 3rd and couldn't get a job using their degree in the private sector. Those that can't, teach.. as the advert really should have gone..

      as someone who studied maths but now earns a good but extremely boring living as an excel monkey in finance and barely uses the maths skills I spent 4 years studying to masters level I would be tempted to go into teaching.. unfortunately I know it would involve ungrateful brats, ridiculous hours and paperwork and an almost 66% cut in my salary.. No thanks.. The only thing that attracts me is the fact that it is a very transferrable skill in demand almost everywhere so would enable me to earn a living somewhere that wasn't a ridiculously huge city

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    General Studies

    There is a lot of hate for General Studies, but a study found that results in General Studies were a better predictor of degree results than any other A level.

    General Studies was a soft option because you didn't have to work hard for it but it didn't, like most A levels, reward rote learning.

    However, I am talking about 20 years ago. Maybe everybody gets an A* now.

    1. peter_dtm


      how depressing to realise I did it 40 years ago

      even then the arrogance of the humanities - we (science geeks) had to do general Studies - to 'teach' us arts & current affairs - did this mean the humanities & art types did 'general science' and learnt to change a fuse & understand how science works - HA !

      still the same today - the liberal elite wallow in their ignorance & believe they must make sure we poor techy types 'understand' art and current affairs - its not even the blind leading the blind - most of them know less then most techy types ... (ok I'm biased; but at least I know it ...)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    God, that's depressing.

    Time to start saving for a private school.

  15. jake Silver badge

    Things sure have changed in the last thirty plus years ...

    I have A levels in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Pure & Applied Maths, English, Economics, Latin, French, Religious Studies and History.

    Yes, that's 11 A levels ... and I'm a bloody Yank.

    The Nintendo Generation needs to step away from the console and learn what life is all about ...

    1. TkH11


      An A level here - or the ones years ago when I did mine - took 2 years of studying and 3 could be done in a year. That was as a full time student.

      So 11 A levels, at 3 every 2 years, equates to 6 years of continuous full time studying.

      You're a liar or you've devoted a hell of a lot of time in your evenings and weekends in pursuit of a useless ideal. If you don't have a degree then you'd been far better off spending that time studying for one. If you do have a degree than that's a further 3 to 4 years of full time study, which means you've spent far too much time in education.

      I can think of far better things to do with my time than simply studying for A level after A level which don't benefit you finanically.

      1. JimC

        2 years of full time studying/3 in a year

        Well, three A levels took two years of *school hours* studying at 6th form levels of effort. I' m not sure that's exactly the same thing as two years of full time study, but I do wonder if the OP has got his A levels and O levels confused.

        1. jake Silver badge


          Nope. I also hold 13 O levels ... Add Geography & Art to the above list ;-)

      2. jake Silver badge


        I was young, a Californian in Yorkshire, somewhat introverted, and didn't date much ... I did 'em in two years. My semi-eidetic memory probably helped ;-)

        Financially, the knowledge-base I received with that basic, low-level of education has benefited me immensely over the last third+ of a century ... and yes, I have degrees. Several, in fact.

        I forgot my civil engineering Masters in that lot ... Mea culpa.

    2. Dave Murray


      Sorry to dissapoint you mate but that's only nine A-Levels, Religious Studies and Latin don't count.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @Dave Murray

        Maybe not. But they've been useful over the years, nonetheless ;-)

    3. Samuel Walker


      Wow, things have changed.

      A year and a half ago I took mine.

      The standard process is 4 AS Levels (1st Year), then dropping one subject to take 3 A2 Levels (2nd Year).

      My college did offer the option to take 5 AS Levels if you had enough GCSE's. And 4 A2 Levels if you got a C or higher in every AS level you wanted to continue. I know of no-one who took 5 A2 Levels.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Invisible Graduates

    I don't know where these magical graduates are all hiding, because we can't recruit them for love nor money.

    For a single Mech Eng job we'll get 40+ applicants from countries where they require sponsoring and usually 2-3 applicants from the UK. Of these 3 UK Engineers, one won't even have a mecheng degree, one will have a Desmond degree from an unknown university and the last might be a reasonable graduate.

    This leaves you hoping that the one graduate that you managed to get to interview can pass the engineering test, do well at interview and generally fit in at the company.

    1. Kerry Hoskin

      same with us

      we have a dev job going in our lab, so far loadsssssssss of appliaction form requests from non EU nationals, they won't get the job as they haven't got a work permit, total waste of time for our HR department

  17. Mark #255

    GCSE "science"

    Hmm. I did a double-award "science" GCSE (in 1992), and though it was moaned about at the time (particularly by my be-BSc'd parents), it was rather interesting. Certainly I got to study some of the squidgy stamp-collecting* bits.

    And it didn't seem to do me that much harm - A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics & Music (oh, and General Studies), MPhys in Physics, PhD in surface physics.

    Besides, I'm not sure you can complain (in the abstract, anyway) about a broad-based "science" GCSE whilst simultaneously applauding the call for a, erm, broad-based replacement for A levels in which science is supposed to feature more heavily.

    * see Rutherford

  18. CD001



    But her sister is a teacher and wants to get out because she says the Gov't -required paperwork has taken over her life and sapped her love of teaching.


    Bingo! My parents were both teachers, one in secondary and the other in FE - both retired several years ago and they both complained about the amount of paperwork, the government changing the curriculum every couple of years, OFSTED inspections and all the other periphery shite that got in the way of actually teaching. OK, everyone complains about the periphery work they have to deal with (like generating reports for managers) but it just seems that in teaching it's far more excessive than most other jobs.

    Not to mention the fact, of course, that with the media-fuelled, Paedo-hunter General mentality in the populace at large, any man wanting to work with children these days needs his head checking (almost literally). Mind, I tend to think that anyone who wants to work with the vile little scrotes should probably seek psychiatric help.

    Yes - I did both Maths and Physics at A-Level - no I didn't do them beyond that level because they were so staggeringly dull in the second year ... 2nd year of Maths was almost entirely statistics which completely killed the subject for me.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More work?

    "... it is often difficult to persuade teenagers that they should do so much more work than their idle chums taking English, Geography or whatever."

    Eh? I took MCP and Geography as a 4th subject* and I can assure you that MCP was a doss compared to Geography. In Geography you have to write essays and stuff. Do not confuse difficulty of understanding with difficulty of labor.

    * General Knowledge, er, Studies as a an additional league table booster.

  20. Wommit

    Not gonna happen

    Not in this country anyway.

    1) You have to change the attitude of the senior / head teachers in the junior / senior schools away from the 'fluffy' ideas about the kids finding their own way through 'the learning journey' (tm). You have to convince these people that their job is to actually _TEACH_ the kids in their care.

    2) You have to remove disruptive influences, including (or especially) disruptive students, from the classroom. How can a class of 30 to 60 learn anything when one or two of their number is running round being a total arsehole?

    3) You have to get rid of the useless teachers. Now this is never ever going to happen. Once someone figures out how to properly evaluate a teachers performance, the whole teaching profession will shit themselves.

    4) You have to convince the kids with the ability to attain these qualifications that they should actually _WORK_ to get the quals. Now that is going to be difficult when the kids see football or big tits, and the willingness to expose them, as their best gateway to fame and fortune.

    5) You have to convince the hordes of middle class parents (who believe that their kids degree in media studies has equal worth as a degree in maths, science or engineering) that they are twats.

    6) You have to convince the universities and HEIs (doesn't that give you a warm and cuddly feeling if 'insidership'?) that this country only needs about 1% of the media studies graduates that they currently churn out. And that most of these 'universities' are little but jumped up red brick colleges and they should go back to what they used to do so well. Teach technical subjects for those without the real ability for the 'pure' subjects.

    7) And you have to convince the government, and those hordes of middle class parents whose kids were given^W^W obtained a media studies degree, that it is worthwhile for this country to pay for the harder, more salable courses.

    There are countries who realise that the only way that you can give everybody an equal educational qualification, is to give everyone the lowest grade possible. Some people are brighter, more academically able than others. These people, the brightest of our children, need to be nurtured and helped to fulfill their potential. It means streaming kids into ability groups, it means harder work for the teachers of the higher groups. It means getting the very brightest kids into special schools so that they can be taught by the best teachers. It also means that the less able kids are grouped too. They should be helped to develop their potential just as hard as the brighter kids, but their needs will be different. And so on down the ability range until the very least able are helped in the ways that they need.

    None of these thoughts are actually radical, nor are they 'consigning the less able to the rubbish heap'. If these brighter kids are from middle class or, heaven forbid, upper class families, perhaps we should be looking at what they are doing right and what the others aren't doing.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Career potential is a big problem

    The question everyone will be asking as they choose subjects is, "What career can I build on these subjects?". Aside from the fact that any kind of career is looking shaky these days, it's difficult to see where you can apply skills based on maths and sciences. It's becoming harder and harder to justify doing any research or development in the UK when it is so much cheaper to move it somewhere else (or so the thinking goes - I see it as terribly expensive in the long term). Everyone is fixated with management, marketing, and selling in general, but not it's a deadly spiral that will leave us bereft of the skills to make any further advances. Every conceivable change to schools and teaching won't make any difference if society in general looks on these subjects as a dead-end.

    1. Dennis 1

      Engineers and Scientists, to Managers

      Engineers become the management.

      That's the career path!

      MPC + GS, BEng Hons Electronic Eng, Stint as a telecoms engineer, now a managment consultant - the education provides you with ALL the right soft skills to progress in life.

      Find me a good manager that is incapable of understanding or applying logic!

      1. JohnG

        Engineers become the management?

        No they don't - the upper echelons of most companies are filled with people who specialised in finance, law or sales and marketing.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good teachers not great brains

    What's the obsession with getting geniuses as teachers?

    Really smart people with a really deep understanding of the subject should be professors and/or industry doing smart stuff.

    You want good teachers.<--Full stop

    A teacher's key skill is the ability to explain concepts in multiple understandable and memorable ways to people with different levels of intelligence and different kinds of thinking.

    Then to be able to teach well you need to have other important communication and management skills.

    I'm a better mathematician than my wife, but I can assure you that you'd much prefer her to explain things to you.

    1. John G Imrie

      I've met some geniuses

      And they couldn't teach for toffee.

      The brightest of them new this.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Wife is diabolical at maths but a far better accountancy teacher than I'd ever be.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        But one of my accountants

        once told me that not being able to add up correctly was not a barrier to being an accountant. You just have to be able to get it about right, and explain away the discrepancies!

        And in case you ask, he was good enough an accountant to get me out of a sticky hole with the HMRC without too much damage.

  23. Graham Bartlett

    Missing the obvious

    If you pay teachers less than a Mickey D's assistant manager (teacher's starting salary is £21.5k, Mickey D's 2nd assistant manager is £23k), what standard of teacher do you think you're going to get? Add insane amounts of form-filling, mandatory unpaid overtime for marking, and an out-of-control classroom environment caused by chav kids with a sense of entitlement. Result: you're only going to teach if (a) you're ultra-dedicated, or (b) you literally can't find any other job. The exams they take are entirely immaterial - if you're dedicated then you'll teach regardless of the exams you took, and if you can't find any other job then you'd've probably just taken more filler subjects at Scottish Highers too.

    If teachers were paid a starting salary in the high 20s, killed the form-filling, either paid overtime or made sure there were enough teachers for the school (many schools can't find enough teachers, so more strain on the rest), and gave proper backup to teachers - at that point, people might choose teaching as a career. Until then, it doesn't matter a damn what you do to the exams system.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better Teachers = More Pay

    I'd happily go and teach any of Maths, Physics, Computer Science, or IT (all of which I'd be qualified to teach*, despite the fact I think that IT GCSE and A-Levels are worthless** and Computer Science only marginally less so).

    But I won't take a pay cut to do it, not least during training. And then when in the job I'd probably want a slight pay rise, to cope with the scrotey kids.

    *I have an MEng in Engineering and an MSc in Software Engineering (both from Oxford), and I studied the "holy grail" of Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Further Maths at A-Level.

    ** I got an A* in my IT GCSE without breaking into a sweat. I studied IT A-Level for a term. Then binned it off and switched to Further Maths instead - far, far, far more valuable qualification.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Career potential is a big problem

    My older son goes to what is meant to be the leading state school in Bristol and has just started GCSEs. Last year we had an info evening to present the various options in GCSEs (plus all the assorted diplomas which are allegedly "considered just the same as GCSEs"). The head gave a talk about how students were making choices now that was going to start to affect their future careers etc ... however, the only actual jobs she mentioned were "working in a call centre" and that at sometime they'd probably "work in a burger bar" and went on about how in the future everything was going to be changing so fast that no-one would actually have a single career and in any case you'd probably be made redundant and have to start again every couple of years. All very inspiring :-)

  26. peredur

    Pay not that great?

    What? Not that great pay?

    That and 12 weeks holiday a year and a working day of about 6 hours. They don't even have to do 'dinner duty' any more. Not bad, I'd say.

    And yes, I know a lot ( but not all) teachers work longer hours and for parts of their holidays, but they've got a heck of lot of catching up to do before they get to the hours of us 9-to-5, 46ish weeks a year people: and that's before counting in all the extra hours and missed holidays *we* finish up doing.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      If you think teachers work 6hr a day you've never lived with one. The wife is regularly marking or planning classes until after 10pm. And by regularly I mean every other day including weekends.

      The long holidays are party compensation for that term time workload.

    2. Neonin

      You think that, but...

      Trust me, if those holidays didn't exist you would have no teachers. Until/unless you've worked in a school alongside them and seen what they have to go through (and I worked in an "outstanding" school) then you just don't understand the severe mental pressures that teachers have to deal with day in and day out. They NEED those holidays, or they'd just quit or go insane.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Needed Holiday

        Couldn't agree more...

        I used to teach - when it came to summer holidays - the first two weeks were spent ill. Some strange sickness that required rest etc. Wasn't sickness - just the stress coming out. The next week was spent fixing up all those things that you never got round to in term time. The next week could have been called a holiday and the last weeks were spent preparing for the coming school year.

        6 hrs is a very misleading statement - one teaching hour is probably closer to 75 real minutes minimum. Thats prep time and possibly a little paper work. Then you have to do the rest of the paperwork and becuase your idiot school couldn't come up with adequate material - you needed to create material, tests and god knows what else...

        I think I was doing something like 60 to 80 hours a week just to keep up.

        Whoever thinks that it's an easy cushy number needs to do it.

        Would I go back?

        Absolutely - IF the money was upped to a level that you could live off AND the burden of administration was lowered AND I was given some executive power to easily remove disruptive members from class. (ok - thats a lot of ANDs)

  27. davenewman

    I was an admissions tutor

    for a B.Sc. Management and Information Systems degree, and we accepted any good A-levels. The subject didn't matter, the grades did (BBC or better, BC for mature students). There was also a huge table of equivalents to A-levels, including BTEC, Scottish Higher, Irish certificates, French bac, and so on.

    Many of the best students came into the 2nd year after an HND. So I reckon the best approach is to stop people doing degrees straight from school. Instead, 100% of the population should do a vocational qualification in whatever the economy needs right now. This could be in an FE college, or a company apprenticeship. Then later in their lives, when the vocation has disappeared, go and do a degree so that you can learn how to learn new subjects for the new jobs that are replacing the old one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Vocational first, then what?

      A couple years later you'll be married with children, a dog and a mortgage. Then just take off from work and study for a couple years? How's that going to work?

  28. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The question that's never asked

    And then, what?

    Having watched the process of two of the Pete 2 clan setting out for university (or 3 years of booze, partying and occasionally handing in an assignment, as they thought it would be) nobody ever takes the whole school/qualifications/university/job process to the next logical step. Nobody in secondary education appears capable or interested in what happens to the little kiddy-winks once they depart (running) from the hallowed portals that was school.

    The secondary education process is essentially a sausage factory. Raw meat comes in at age 11, gets stuff added, shaped and wrapped up. Eventually it gets squeezed out of the other end of the educational machine and, with luck, adds to the tables of academic achievement with the requisite numbers of GCSEs and A-levels. The End.

    At no point during the years spent listening to semi-qualified grownups (in the loosest possible definitions of both terms) is there any strategy given to the kids. Sure, some of them might get some careers advice from people who went into the education system aged 5 and are still in it, 30 years later - albeit giving instead of taking. But none ever get told that if they get a degree in art-history or french, all they'll be able to do with it is work in a museum (sweeping the floors) or in a Burger King in downtown Marseilles asking the punters "Voulez-vous quelque choses à boire, avec ça?"

    For most of them, the whole point of school is survival. Getting through with the least amount of hassle, selecting courses that aren't hard - or that they like. No-one apparently ever suggests that Geography, German and Religious Studies might not be a good combination or that people won't be falling other each other to employ you, with English Literature and Physics side by side on your resume.

    No. Education is far above such practical, materialistic things as earning a living or paying off your student loan. It's all about EXPANDING YOUR MIND, releasing your potential (for what?) and becoming a balanced and valued member of society. Just like your teachers were. That's just as well, since by the time these future dole-claimers get to studying for GCSEs, the deadlines for career changing decisions is far behind them. If yo want a career in science, it's no good thinking about that at age 21 after you've graduated. Or even at 18 when choosing a degree course - your available topics are decided by your A-level subjects and grades, not by what you WANT to so. Even at 16 your path is already cast in concrete as it's then too late to correct poor GCSE choices and take different courses instead. So at the tender age of 13, either you want to be a scientist or you don't - any other time is too late. But, at 13 what possible experience would you have to base a life-choice on? Only your parents and teachers - God help us.

    1. Neonin
      Thumb Down

      Sorry but I disagree.

      I downvoted you, and here's why.

      First of all, I'm sorry your two children setting out for uni had no-one at their previous school who gave a shit. From my own personal experience of working in a school I can categorically say that there are PLENTY of teachers who do care. Last year one of our ex-students at uni committed suicide and it affected a lot of staff deeply, enough that there were a good number of teachers from our school at her funeral. But they don't care, right?

      As for giving strategy to children for picking their GCSE options, the problem is you can talk till you're blue in the face but for many, given the option, they WILL pick what they see as the "easy skive" because they just don't understand how it may affect them. Your options there are to change the way they see life (parents job) or not give them the choice in the first place.

      Lastly, as for the whole "Your life is planned out by the time you're 21" nonsense... Really? Have you ever tried applying for uni after that age? You'll find universities, like a lot of employers these days, are far less interested in your qualifications and more interested in your potential aptitude and interest in a subject. Even for the more "hardcore" subjects like sciences, most places would be happy to take on someone for a MEng who'd gone and done their A-level and degree when they were 30 because that's what they wanted to do, because that shows willingness to learn and interest in the subject.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Then let me disagree with your disagreement

        Of course teachers are human and would like to see their pupils succeed, somehow. And sorry to hear about the suicide and yes that'll affect you, you wouldn't be human if it didn't.

        But there's caring, and there's caring. What we're talking about here is about imparting the knowledge and skills to help you succeed later in life and the counselling on choices you have as a pupil isn't all it could be. Heck, the teaching isn't all that could be. It may very well be it's the best the teachers can give. But that's not a guarantee the offered teachings are actually good enough, or even the right subjects. A large part of the point made in the article and the report it references is that indeed, the teachers care so much they aren't bleeding good enough for teaching subjects like math and physics.

        It's all very moving, and touching, and shiny-eyed good-willed, I'm sure. But if it's not what the children need, then it's not what the children need. It's simply not good enough. So sorry, but that's how it is. You don't seem to understand that, which isn't surprising since you're part of this inadequate school system. How do we know it's inadequate? It doesn't impart the knowledge and skill we need freshman students to have to educate new scientists to eventually pick up and further the state of science.

        As to employers, I have shedloads of potential and the battle scars to prove I can deliver, too, and also stacks and stacks of emails and letters to prospective employers and recruiters and very little answer indeed. They want shiny bits of otherwise meaningless paper and more years of experience than the technology has existed and if you don't have it, well, you're SOL. "Don't call us," and you know the rest. Yeah, if you want to achieve something better get cracking and be sure you're well under weigh at 21, lest you be tossed by the wayside. I can relate to that. "Willingness to learn" my arse.

        1. Neonin

          Disagreeing with you disagreeing with me

          I'm not saying all schools are perfect, and indeed the system needs changing. I know many teachers who know they should be telling students to avoid certain things, but the "higher ups" LIKE those things because they're an easy result and some of them count as FOUR GCSEs, meaning you only have to get them a C in that and in Maths & English and that's your all-important 5 A-C target hit. It's sad, but many of the school leaders either do this on purpose or feel like they have to because otherwisde their school will be judged as "poor" by the gubbermint and put into special measures.

          There ARE a lot of bad teachers. There are a lot of teachers who simply shouldn't be in the job, because they don't really care. I'm not trying to excuse them, but they're not the only examples of teaching you should be looking at. Don't blame teachers if the government of the day has decided that they should be allowed to pick whatever they like and water down the curriculum, unfortunately they have VERY little say in what can and can't be taught to students. This is why education should be run by a separate committee outside of government interference. You know it. I know it. We all know it.

          Teaching is a very tough, underpaid profession considering its vital importance in the future of our entire nation. A lot of schools are also run by people who have a... slightly dictatorial approach and that's fine if they're good at their job, but many aren't. A lot of teachers fear trying to change things because it's easy to find yourself on some trumped up charge and dismissed, which unlike most jobs is almost a death sentence for a teacher. The school system is home to so many workplace abuses that get swept under the carpet because no-one looks at a school unless it's failing, you'd be amazed. They'd never get away with it if they were businesses.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            So we have disagreement, and...

            Bad teachers, inept headmasters, a meddling government, rules geared to foster just the wrong thing, and kids forced to make choices they have not the means to meaningfully make.

            Identifying a horrifying lack of /good/ teachers is but the beginning. The next question is /why/ are there so few? Part of that will be in the local leadership. Some will be in what people are attracted to teaching, and in what education school delivers. Another thing identified in the article was "bogus A-levels", putting to much effort in what basically are filler subjects. I can't help but wonder, why are they even offered at ordinary levels?

      2. Pete 2 Silver badge

        @Sorry but I disagree.

        > I downvoted you, and here's why.

        First of all, respect for saying that and the explanation.

        The point I was trying to make was not one about nuturing/caring, there's plenty of that - some of it's even genuine (though personally I'd prefer teachers who were complete b.....rds, but efficiently and consistently transferred knowledge and skills). What I would like to end is the "stove-pipe" effect of schools. A teacher presents their subject to one class, then goes on and does the same at a different level to another class. Repeat this process for every teacher in every school. Each one does their job in isolation, is assessed in isolation and never has to consider what any of the class is taught by any other teacher - and in some cases actively avoids "stepping on other teachers' toes". That's a bit of a simplification, but the general case stands.

        I suppose the basic problem is the emphasis on choice. While this may seem like a good idea, in real life choices always come with consequences. Those are never made known to the kids when they decide what courses to take. It's almost put as a "free lunch" - with the only limitations being ones of timetabling, not practicality If there was the possibility of some kind of sanity check on those choices - preferably run by an outside, independent body that both presented options before the choosing began and support during it. Along the lines of "you _do_ realise that if you do X, the following opportunities will be closed to you?" or "if you want to go into Y, you'll need a minimum of .... "

        This is not even just about getting a job. Exactly the same principle applies to purely academic courses - although it would be nice if schools set the expectation that people leaving education should support themselves - rather than work merely being one option open to them. Even the old chestnut of "Legal / interesting / well-paid - choose any two" would be worthwhile careers advice to anyone, at any time during the education process.

        1. Neonin

          Upvoted this time

          As title ;)

          We do seem to broadly agree. The current system needs changing as it is not really fit for purpose. The vast majority of teachers who care would agree, but they feel powerless to do anything in the face of the bureaucracy and target-driven culture they find themselves. If they don't meet targets, which are nationally set with no regard for school catchment area and general ability (CVA went some way towards making up for this), they're judged to have failed. If they try to argue against the measure headteachers put in to meet those targets, they're met with the old "don't you want the school to improve?" argument.

          The problem with your argument about preferring teachers who were bastards but efficient and consistent at transferring knowledge is... it doesn't work. The best teachers, and I've watched this happen, get the students interested in what the lesson is about. Getting them interested can sometimes involve having a laugh and a joke with them, or learning how to get them "on your side". If you don't do that, they switch off. This isn't the 40's and 50's, as much as we may lament it children do not generally have the same automatic respect for their elders that they used to. Being a complete bastard means you cannot be efficient at putting across your knowledge, because students are actively turned off by it and will deliberately go out of their way to ignore you.

          Some teachers will still tell students that picking Media Studies, Business Studies, and Film Studies for their A levels is going to close doors for them. Many students don't care. What do you do then?

          1. Anonymous Coward

            To add

            Strangely school senior management and the Gubbermint seem to promote this ideal of the friendly teacher, who will care the child, nurture the child and somehow get the knowledge into the child via painless osmosis.

            The truth is kids like a useful bastard. The most popular teachers when I was at school were those that instilled a sense of fear in the kids and got results. You knew there was no messing with these teachers and for whatever reason the 'bad kids' knew this and for them it was even more effective. They gravitated to these bastard teachers not away from them.

            The friendly teachers, who were often also poor at teaching, would get no end of trouble and disruption.

            The wife is a bastard teacher. She shouts at the kids and throws them out the class if needed, she confiscates their phones, she issues punishments and follows them up, she tells parents their kids are lazy and feckless BUT she also gets the highest results in the region especially from challenging kids

            How do the management reward these results?

            She was pulled up the by the depute for being intimidating and condescending to the kids, she was ordered to top confiscating phones in class and is banned from throwing out trouble makers. She's received no mention of her success at all only criticism of the few problems. She's also been blocked from expanding her successful department to offer other university approved subjects in favour of vocational courses such as hairdressing and retail (to be taught by a language teacher).

  29. Jim 59

    The disicipline that dare not speak its name

    This article does not contain the words "engineering" or "engineer". Whereas the RS report is peppered with them, El Reg prefers to talk like this:

    "... science or technology undergraduates..."

    "... sci/tech faculties"

    "... sci/tech grads..."

    The Reg perhaps needs to review its nomenclature for various levels of boffinry. It does not help us engineers that a leading technology paper does not know what we are.

  30. TkH11

    Numbers of IT Grads

    I'm a professional engineer and have been for 20 years. In my early days I was very much in support of the profession, (still am to a degree) but I work in a company which is determined to outsource as much as possible to India. We bring in Indians and kick the English out (by making them redundant).

    I talk to my native indian colleagues in the UK, I talk to Indian colleagues in India and I hear the same thing: there aren't enough jobs in India, so this is why they leave and come to the UK.

    It's all very well saying, let's take positive action to increase the number of science, engineering, IT graduates but the fact is, given how many of these are being turned out by Indian Universities, there isn't enough jobs in the world for them!

    If we as a country adopt a strategy of increasing the number of grads in these categories, then we're simply exacerbating the problem and salaries in these professions will drop further, and they're already too low!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Floating Teachers

    Someone who could teach proper science to kids and not just general scientific ignorance would probably be useless at fitting in with the other primary teachers and useless at not coming across like a paedo or "on the spectrum" so probably wouldn't get the job.

    So why not employ an army of floating primary science teachers that take a class once a week whilst the normal teacher is having non-contact or is ill?

  32. 100113.1537

    Education - or training?

    As a UK graduate (BSc and PhD) who has not lived or worked in the UK for 20-odd years, my impressions may be somewhat off-base, but the issue I have is the changing role of higher education - into a training system as opposed to education. As a number of previous commenters have noted, real training (as in learning the job) comes when you are on the job - the degree requirement was to identify those people who could learn and had the necessary background.

    It now seems more and more that people (employers? employees?) expect to be able to "do the job" as soon as you start not "learn on the job" and so the focus of the qualification becomes more vocational than educational. In this case, we end up reducing the usefulness of the qualification for anything other than the specific job it is intended for and ability of the employee to bring anything more to the job than just an adequate ability to perform it. Now this is a chicken and egg situation - do employers demand this or teachers expect this to be the case - but as I compare my A-levels and degree studies with what I read now, there is no doubt that there has been a large change in focus.

    As I have been exposed to higher education in four other countries since my UK PhD, what I have noted is the value in the highly focussed A-level system in the UK: For those people who have the desire and ability to get into research it is (or was?) the best system of any that I have experience of. Whether this was a problem for other students was an important question, but wrecking one (only?) good thing about the UK education system hardly seems the right way to go about addressing a different problem.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    It's great up here...

    Hmmm just so happens our wonderful politicians are well into the process of bastardising that Scottish Curriculum highlighted as being so good. We'll not be doing subjects in the future only outcomes. And most of those will have the words "equalities" or "diversity" tacked on them somewhere i.e. show how the oxidation of iron can be made to improve the equalities in developing nations or how can quantum physics be used to encourage equalities in inner city areas.

    Also as a spawn of the Scottish system with highers in Maths, English, Chemistry, Biology and Physics followed by an honours degree in biochemistry I can state that after seeing what the wife goes through as a teacher there is no fucking way you'd ever get me to work in a school.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    I went to one of the crap secondary schools

    I didn't realise it at the time but now I know for sure: they sold me and my education down the river so that they could get a few cheap points on whatever nonsense bullshit clock-watching bum-picking league table faecally impacted nonsense bollock-sweat-odour crap factory wank bucket statistics the head master (if we even had one??? never saw him do a days work in his life) happened to be looking at when I was at school.

    I bet he was earning £100k a year as well. And thanks to him and his chums millions of kids are leaving school without an education. Might as well get Jim Davidson to run the education system. Somebody with such a total lack of education as him would do a fine job.

    Ban the league tables.

    Bring back a real education. This is not the post-ideological age that Tony Blair and his war mongering chums hoped for. Some of us can still think and we're fucked off.

    I would kill my own children with a wooden cooking spoon before I'd ever consider sending them to any of the bullshit factories we laughably brand as schools. With people we laughably pretend are teachers and text books we laughably imagine might be accurate.

    Well I say no more. I do not consent to this kind of shabby treatment anymore. I reject your reality and substitute my own.

  35. James Pickett


    “Blighty's pre-eminent boffinry institution”

    Still? Despite their motto, ‘nullius in verba’, their head honcho, Sir Paul Nurse, managed to present a whole edition of ‘Horizon’ dedicated to squashing criticism of those brave, upstanding scientists whose funding is only assured as long as they promulgate catastrophic global warming. His pitch seemed to rely on the idea that the scientists were not communicating well enough, rather than the shortage of any real evidence for the hypothesis - which is rather at odds with what normally passes for scientific method, let alone what is written over the RI’s door.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Generally I...


    My only concern is that expanding the number of A-levels out from 3 as standard will just involve watering them down even more than they currently are.

  37. Dazed and Confused

    Too late by secondary school?

    My eldest started secondary school last September, according to his sats scores he is well ahead of the curve in terms of maths but he still seems to have covered very little. Maths at primary school seemed just to be arithmetic. He's now starting to look at the topics my primary school was teaching when I was 9, so more than 2 years behind already. Maths seemed to have been taught as a boring but mandatory subject that the primary school just had to do.

    Of course the only way to get more mathematically and scientifically able teachers into all levels teaching to to improve pay and conditions. Without this why would anyone want to take on the job?

  38. mickld

    Like many, I didn't attend university to get a job

    This article reflects a sadly common outlook on the role of universities in today's society. While feeding industry with young people trained in appropriate skills is *a* function, it certainly isn't the sole function. To a large extent the point of a university system is to pass the collective knowledge of mankind (yes, fluffy Arts as well as science) from generation to generation, as well as growing the collective knowledge through research.

    This modern post-Thatcher habit of focusing solely on industry's needs risks killing the university system in the long run.

    Obviously many, many young people do undertake a degree with the sole purpose of getting a job at the end and that's good - but it is wrong-headed to force this 'apprenticeship' model onto all undergraduates.

    I worked very hard for three enjoyable years on an Arts degree (English/Philosophy) which to this day enriches my life. I had no idea before starting the degree what kind of career I wanted. When I graduated in the early 90s into the teeth of a recession, I still had no idea what career I wanted. A little life experience pointed me toward IT as an interesting industry - I went back to uni for a vocational one year conversion MSc which resulted (with a little blood, sweat & tears) in an interesting and comfortable career as a software engineer.

    If I knew then what I know now, I would definitely choose the Arts route again rather than a CS undergraduate degree. And when I retire/win the lottery, I will probably return to do another Arts degree for the sheer pleasure of it.

    It would be helpful to occasionally acknowledge that our universities are not just conveyor belts to jobs in industry. That's a valid role, but not the only role. If it's just a conveyor belt we want, then why pay for a university through taxes - just let industry pick up the tab?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      good point

      but you forgot to mention that another reason for sticking with the arts route, is the totty.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    "boffinry institution"

    or boffinarium, if you will

  40. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. SirTainleyBarking

      And this has been the case for at least the last 20 years

      Graduate Chemist in case you wonder, worked in the Pharmaceutical industry on the cutting edge anti HIV drugs.

      Now sits in an office poncing about with marketing idiots paid twice as much as me. At least now I can pay the mortgage. I wouldn't be able to do that if I was still at the (Rapidly being relocated and outsourced) bench or fume cupboard.

      Its the "techies are just over promoted spanner monkies" approach which has killed large swathes of industry in the UK

  41. blah 5

    A really confused Yank here

    The U.S. educational system is different enough from the British one that I frequently have a hard time understanding some of what you Brits are talking about. However, the one underlying theme (besides what sounds like a truly messed up bureaucracy) that strikes me as really odd is the way that compulsory education seems to stop two years earlier than ours. In the U.S., graduation is after 12th grade at 18. Secondary school (grades 7th-12th) is typically broken down to 7-8 and 9-12. Only the latter are considered to be vocational or college prep.

    To this Yank, terminating two years earlier sounds like it forces kids to specialise way too much way too early. I would argue that instead, what is really needed is a much, MUCH more rounded education that prepares kids for a broad range of careers.

    Here, you need a minimum number of English, Math, Science, Art, and what we call Social Studies (civics, history, economics, etc.) to graduate. It's possible for a kid aiming at a job as, say, a diesel mechanic to get by with some pretty minimal classes if s/he wants to. Nothing prevents kids from mixing things up as much as they want to, though.

    Take me as a somewhat extreme example. I went through high school 30 years ago. I packed on a pretty full load my last three years because I was bored and love learning new stuff. Minimum number of credits necessary to graduate was 15 per trimester. Each class was 3-5 credits, I think. I carried 16-18.

    I took Honors English, Honors History, Honors Math, Honors Physics, Honors Chemistry. I also took Small Engine Repair, Fundamentals of Flight (satisfied the coursework necessary for a private pilot's license and we got to actually pilot a small plane twice ourselves), Woodworking I, Basic and Advanced Electronics, a year of Computer Programming, Debate, 3 years of Spanish (my dad taught that while another teacher taught German), Basic Typing (hey, it's where all the cute girls were!), Biology, Art, Physical Education, and some other odds and ends that I can't recall at the moment. Just about every vocational track available had enough classes to allow a high school student to step into a job like junior mechanic, carpenter's apprentice, or lumberjack.

    My last two daughters are going through high school right now in the same state but a different school district. Yes, things have degraded some, but not as much as it sounds like they have in the UK. My kids have a choice of Advanced Placement or basic classes in English, Math, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. For languages, they have a choice of Spanish, French, and American Sign Language. As I mentioned earlier, they are also required to take a few classes in Social Studies, Art, and Physical Education. Both of my daughters are participating in the school's string orchestra to meet the Art requirement. One of them is a all year athlete (cross country, cross country skiing, and track) so she doesn't need to attend the Phy Ed classes.

    Among other things, this school also offers Woodworking, auto body repair, woodworking, and electronics. It's clearly still possible to get a really well rounded education if you wish to, or even just concentrate on preparing for a trade.

    Now, here's the real kicker: Neither of the two example schools that I cite is all that unusual here. The first school is in a small town in northern Minnesota while the second is in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Reading the comments as well as the base article suggests that only the Scots have anything like this kind of school available. Is this really the case?

    1. Campbeltonian

      Re: A really confused Yank here

      "Here, you need a minimum number of English, Math, Science, Art, and what we call Social Studies (civics, history, economics, etc.) to graduate."

      Those mirror the requirements in a Scottish Standard Grade pretty well, at least at my high school. English, maths, a social science, a language, a science and an art were all required, leaving two timetable slots to fill with other subjects. Standard Grade takes place in the third and fourth years of high school (we have 7 years of primary school and 6 years of high school), before we take Highers. I believe your perspective is skewed slightly by the fact that the article discusses Highers and A-levels almost exclusively, at which point some specialisation kicks in (to a greater degree south of the border).

      Students that decide to leave school at the age of 16 (after completing Standard Grades, usually) almost always go on to study a vocational course at a further education college, so it's not like they're dumped out of the education system at that point.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      As a Brit in the US

      I'm a Brit currently living in the US and considering starting a family. My biggest concern with this decision is the cost of sending my kids to school in the UK because the US education system is so badly screwed up.

      I do part time tutoring for American kids through a charity and the depth that the kids get to in the subjects they do at High School is far too low. This ends up meaning that undergraduate degrees are watered down, and many of the things I consider standard from my degree and Masters are put off until PhD level. This is why US universities still have structured taught courses at PhD level, and still require you do basic subjects at an undergraduate level.

      I want choice from my education system. If my child is a great generalist, I would want them to do something like an International Baccalaureate. If they turn out to be far better at Sciences than Arts (like me) then I want them to be able to choose to specialise far earlier. Personally, I chose to drop most Arts subjects at the age of 14. Dropped the remaining ones at 16. And was concentrating solely on my chosen subject by 18. It meant I got far further ahead in my chosen subject, and I haven't suffered at all as a result.

      By the way, you need to correct your impression of British Schools. Education is not compulsory to the age of 18, but it is free to all until the age of 18. These days the majority of kids study through to 18 at school. But Britain also has the advantage of universities being a lot cheaper than the US (at least at the moment), and subsidised for poorer families. This means that everyone has a chance to go to the best universities regardless of background. Very different to the US.

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Is this really the case?

      [slowly] Ho ho.

      It is just possible that one or two of the independent schools in the UK (the ones that charge 5 figure sums each year for fees) actually even have the range of facilities you imply. (I'm not sure they do, but it is possible.)

      There's not a snowball's chance in hell of such a broad education being offered in a state-funded school. As the article notes, we don't even offer science lessons everywhere.

    4. stu 4

      quite the opposite imho!

      Lets face it - 50% of folk are of below average intelligence.

      the bottom of the bell curve there sucks up most of the time and effort of teachers - If we were smarter about filtering out the window lickers at 12-14yo like they used to do when you had to do entry exams for secondary school, maybe we could free these resources in the education system to teach people who will actually benefit from it....

      If yer going to spend yer life changing tyres/working in mcburger/working in tescos then why the hell keep em in school part 12 years old - how long does it take to teach the thickies to use a cash register and learn how to say 'do you want fries with that?'....

      Of course, that would require the admission that 'some folk are smart, and some folk are thick' - something that seems to be accepted less and less by governments and parents....

      Q) if you have kids: are any of them thick ?

      Q) have any friends of yours admitted that their kids are thick ?

      30-40 years ago the answer would have been yes - it wasn't a stigma - there was a realisation in the laws of nature - which seems to have been replaced by everyone being dyslexic, having TDD or any one of a number of other 'conditions'* rather than admitting they arn't the brightest tack in the box.

      *read carefully please: not ofr a moment suggesting these conditions are not real for some - just suggesting that its an easy label to attach to the 'ralphs' of the world.

      Oh and to the Art grad: I have no problem with you going to university for universities sake - be my guest. Just don't expect me to pay for it.

      I'd make uni fees based on the countries need of each subject - updated every year.

      Shortage of electronic engineers: make the course free for those that start that year.

      Expected shortage of travel agents ? - make art degrees free for folk that start that year...

      otherwise - you pays full price.


  42. Barnsey123


    Start Violin music: I came from a poor background and attended a secondary school "comprehensive" in the 70's that could be politely described as "rough". There was drugs, knives and, I sh*t you not, pitchforks! All the bad things that happen in schools today we're happening then, including the constant dicking around with the curriculum, trendy teaching methods that always failed, overcrowded "mixed ability" classes, streaming poorly applied, then cancelled, then poorly applied again. Having to stand in a seperate queue and even at seperate tables (like lepers) if you had the misfortune to qualify for "free" school dinners. Teaching to the exam was common and just as ineffective.

    I left school with Grade B's (O Levels, not A's) in Maths, Physics and Chemistry and a CSE GRADE 1 in Computers (we had one teletype machine and punched cards! Yay). Somehow, I've managed to carve myself out a decent career in IT (after doing a BTEC at college - they paid me 25 quid a week to do it 50% went to mum and the other third [joke] went on beer and SPACE DEFENDER). End Violin music.

    The POINT is, you can still succeed DESPITE our lame education system (and it's been lame for over 30 years). I'd have KILLED to be allowed to do A-levels and go onto university and I get so angry when I see "students" wasting their opportunites to study complete gash like "media studies". I'm angry that "soft" subjects are taught at university at all. The world (not just UK) needs to select the very best people (from an early age) and encourage and exploit their scientific capabilites. for it is SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY that will solve the problems of the world and not our capability to make documentaries about it or expressing ourselves through th e medium of dance. I'm rambling. Hang all politicians (especially Shirley Williams, remember her?)

    Grenade, coz we're all gonna need one soon.

    If you are wondering about the pitchfork, some kid bought it in and attacked a PE teacher with it, didn't see it myself though.

    Oh, one more thing...Religious Education should be banned in schools. It destroys the mind (which of course, is it's purpose).

  43. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

    Gymnasium in Germany

    Here in Germany "soft skills" have been all the rage ten years ago. It turns out that the hard skills are what matter. Anybody who is not a complete idiot can acquire the soft ones "on the job".

    This is a (probably not completely accurate) curriculum for a Technisches Gymnasium (up to class 13 (nominally 19 years-aged pupils at completion (Abitur)):


    If you want to study for a engineering job, just must be able to do simple engineering jobs like designing a transistor audio amplifier *before* going to Uni. You must be able to calculate a Standard Deviation of 1 million numbers with a Delphi program. You must know how to harden a steel instrument (ab)using you mothers kitchen, while she is at the barber shop.

    You have to know how to make explosive cotton.

    Those who don't learn this for whatever reason must drop out. No excuses, no "high potential kid" rhethoric of parents accepted. Lawsuits are to be addressed to the state, not a teacher. Problem fixed. Hard skills matter. Talking is done in Germanistic or Anglistic studies, even though I have to say my English teachers were quite good.

    1. bill 36

      Just to explain

      A German Gymnasium is not the same as an English one :>) It doesn't mean that the Germans do back flips in the history class.

      In my experience as a native English speaker and living in a German speaking country, the standard of education amongst young people here, is way higher than the UK. In fact i am quite shocked at what some young Brits don't know.

      It should come as no surprise to anyone that Germany leads the field in engineering and while Britain still has its boffins they are becoming scarce.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    The students aren't daft

    Of course they know that with a science degree all one can hope to be is a techie.

    On the other hand, having an arts degree or a pseudo-degree makes for one being the boss no?

  45. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

    England Probably Discovered This

    Funnily there is no English Wiki page on it. We had to learn and understand ẃhat happens when temperature and carbon content is changed in steel. Didn't english engineers discover all of that ? Then, there was "Härteprüfung nach Vickers" or "Härteprüfung nach Rockwell" (testing hardness).

    German industry needs qualified enginers to sustain the development and production of high-quality metal-based machinery - from cars to the A380. There are lots of jobs for proper engineers and technicians here. Our wealth ultimately depends on ingeniuity, as our only natural resources are wood, grain and salt. German Coal is not competitve by an order of magnitude.

    I assume Magaret T ("there is no such thing as society") bears a lot of responsibility for all that.

    See this:

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    mindless drones

    "develop into useful high-skilled citizens of the future as opposed to mindless drones qualified in the humanities or other soft studies"

    so studying all about transistors, bits, regression testing or particle physics will not produce any mindless drones. Whereas people learning about human nature, dynamics of social interaction or – heaven forbid – politics and principles of justice will inevitably turn into obedient monkeys.

    Yes, utterly logical.

    I wonder what constitutes a mindless drone. Someone working in the IT-industry all her live, with a comfortable income, but unable to understand or relate to other ways of viewing and living life?

  47. misterPaul
    Thumb Up

    sometimes I read these comments..

    and I wish that government policy could be defined by the comments on these types of article with the most thumbs up.

    Wouldn't that be nice?

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know when you're in trouble when your schools repel knowledge.

    Huggy-feely brigade takes over schools. Makes sure nothing is "too hard", obviously "for the children". Science-y teachers all run. No kids learn worthwhile subjects. Some of them go on to education school. Freshly taught teachers believe the huggy-feely stuff is actually worthwhile to teach. After all, they're so ham-handed at teaching "hard" stuff it turns off the pupils, permanently. And so it goes.

    Honestly, school shouldn't be "teaching" the easy bullshit stuff at all. School shouldn't even be easy. It should be worthwhile. There's a difference. I say that having done both in school; slacking off, dropping levels, and finally getting kicked through hard by a (very different) school where the teachers actually wanted to teach something useful.

    And then finding other people with comparable intelligence but the privilege of a better school system had still managed to pick up about half again as much in the same time. Work hardest of the entire school, top-tier in the national scheme of school-y things, and do so for a couple of years, only to find I've seen nothing yet. I can tell you, that was a bit of a bummer. Have I just wasted all that time and effort?

    In short, too easy a school isn't doing the pupils any favours. At all.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Way back when...

    ... well before my time, even, but maybe it still happens, there were teachers that didn't start out teaching. They started out as something else entirely, and upon retirement filled a couple years with teaching. A retiree foreman or staff sergeant is not likely to have trouble keeping order. A civil engineer or scientist isn't going to have trouble explaining what you can do with all that math, physics, chemistry, and so on.

    As they say: Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach. And now we've made that a specialism. The words "results" and "predictable" come to mind.

  50. Robert E A Harvey

    Primary schools

    The initial graphic was about Primary schools. I think it was pretty shocking, but it is not the biggest problem in that sector. There are still plenty of people in education who think it 'inappropriate' for men to teach in Primary school.

    Do you think that people that far up their own agenda are going to give a stuff about mathematics or future employment or the good of the country?

  51. Johan Bastiaansen

    It's the same all over Europe

    The same thing is true all over Europe.

    Ask yourself this simple question. Why would you take the hard route and study to become an engineer or scientist? If you take the easier route and study management and other bs, you'll be able to manage the engineers and scientist.

    There is no appreciation for technical skills, nor for the people that actually get things done. And that is the biggest threat to the western world.

    1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

      I disagree

      There are quite a few highly successfuly German corporations who have CEOs with engineering degrees. Some of them (such as Mr Piech or Mr Zetsche) can actually design and build something else than only an Excel sheet.

      Mr Piech built VW (and all its european elements) into a serious competitor to Toyota, which is #1 in automotive.

      Warren East of ARM is educated as an engineer, as are many of his colleagues:

      Angela Merkel has a Physics PhD.

      Google: Two engineers/computer scientists at the top.

      Intel: Founded by engineers, still run by engineers.

      It is true that many engineers have trouble dealing with "social" issues in the widest sense. But it is also true that other professions have trouble dealing with "reality", in the widest sense. See 2008/9 financial crisis.

      Engineers need to mingle with people instead of isolating themselves. When they do, they will quickly realize there are so many opportunities to improve the state of affairs and what the weaknesses of other professions are. Also, experience and learn the nasty tricks. Experience the "heat in the kitchen".

      If you are too lazy or too cowardly for that, please do not complain.

      Some pictures of engineers:

  52. Someone Else Silver badge

    OK, for those of us in the Colonies...

    WTF is an "A-Level"?!?

    Lewis, you *do* realize that you have an international readership. don't you? Sheesh!

    1. jake Silver badge

      @Someone Else

      These things don't translate precisely, but ...

      An O ("ordinary") level education is roughly the same as graduating high school here in the USA.

      An A ("advanced") level education is roughly the same as an AA degree here in the USA, but instead of getting it at a Junior College, you do the extra couple years in your local high school.

  53. Crellin

    Need more teachers?

    Theres something I've encountered, as a graduate (possessing a B.Sc (Hons) in mathematics), which I don't know how widespread it is.

    I would like to go into teaching, I have attended open days at University's, obtained all the flyers, leaflets and booklets on the courses. But theres a problem, to go and study for a PGCE I need (or at least according to all the institutions whose courses I've browsed the requirements for) at least 1 days classroom observation. Now thats the hard part, schools and colleges won't even bother replying to you, let alone consider the request. Which means I can't study for a PGCE, which means I won't go into teaching.

    I can understand that schools/colleges have a moral and legal duty to protect their pupils/students from outsiders, but surely its overkill if you don't even respond to requests, instead of responding and getting a check on the applicant. I mean, if this problems nationwide, then maybe its not a shortage of candidates but a failure to even consider the applicants and an application process that is self defeating (you must have classroom experience to be a teacher, but you must also be a teacher to get classroom experience).

    It seems to me the majority (well actually, all the teachers I know) come exclusively from the SAS program (where undergraduate students spend time in schools) and outside of that the way into teaching is barred (or at least heavily barricaded to dissuade potential teachers).

    Perhaps the real issue isn't the lack of teachers, but the failures of the current recruitment system?

    1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

      Please Contact

      A) your MP

      B) your education ministry

      I am sure this will help.

  54. deadlockvictim

    Leaving Cert.

    If you're academically minded or just good at exams, I like the Irish system for Junior (at 15) and Leaving Certificate (at 17/18). Points for university qualification are based on the 6 best honours subjects. pupils in school typically do 8 subjects and allowing for pass Irish (Gaelic to the rest of the world), that gives some leeway.

    Maths, Irish and English are compulsory but it let me take Latin, French and history to complement chemistry and biology. I would've taken physics but I really didn't like my physics teacher (before I'm flamed as a fluff).

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Go into teaching? No chance!

    I think that the real issue that others have raised is why very talented, enthusiastic and knowledgable people will not go into teaching.

    I have three friends who are teachers, who teach in a complete variety of schools - one of the new academys, a faith based Catholic school and a bog standard comprehensive and all of them are seriously considering leaving the profession. The reason: The rediculous amount of completely irrelevant and unnecessary paperwork, which means that nearly every night they are working, unpaid, until about 10pm. Everyday of the week, plus weekends and holidays.

    They love the teaching, imparting knowledge and working with the pupils, but the paperwork is the killer. It's all so that the govenment (of whatever political flavour) can be 'seen to be doing something'. 'Look', they say, 'teaching standards are improving, here are numbers!'. And yet the way these numbers are generated inevitably decreases teaching standards: teachers are spending more time off sick, leaving after a year or two, focussed on teaching to the test and people who would make really good teachers won't touch the profession with a barge pole.

    I would love to go into teaching - I currently work as a volunteer youth worker in the evenings, so I'm used to working with kids, some of whom are challenging. I have over 10 years of industry experience. I'd be happy to take the pay cut while qualifying and starting out. But there's no way that I'd currently consider it until there sheer amount of useless, bullshit paperwork is reduced and teaching is just that - teaching. So I'll continue to work in a fairly non-challenging job, making OK money looking after build servers and writing the abomination that is InstallScript. But at least I can go home at 5.30, have a social life and retain my good physical and mental health.

    It's also worth noting that that when my friends are complaining about the job, discipline and pupil behaviour is way down the list of complaints.

  56. Tron Silver badge

    Are all Reg education articles written by trolls?

    "very few forced into teaching".

    Yeah. Forcing people into a job always makes them shine with inspiration.

    You don't think very highly of non-scientific subjects? Stop watching TV, DVDs and films right now. Because the folk who write them, direct them and perform in them get their qualifications from non-science subjects. Consuming (and enjoying) what they produce without respecting their abilities makes you a hypocrite.

  57. Sam Therapy

    Education, bleah

    My experience was that most teachers didn't give a damn and the ones who did care were usually too wet to get anyone's attention. I did well despite the teachers I had, not because of them.

    Much of my time was spent arguing with teachers because many of the things were either dumbed down to the point of uselessness or plain wrong. Don't think dumbing down is a new thing, either; this was in the early 70s.

    From my POV, there's been no serious shake up of education in years. By that I mean a definite approach to the quality of teaching and the subjects taught. Everything - at least since 1970 - has been window dressing, with a grab bag approach of styles more suited to the mindset of the average corporate wonk.

  58. david 12 Silver badge

    or more of them would be willing to become teachers.

    Dunno what it's like in the UK, but in most of the world you have to pay to do another year FT before they let you loose in the schools.

    Complete rubbish of course, the actual required content fits into a couple of days, plus two months supervised teaching experience, but the requirement serves to restrict entry, and to employ more staff in the universities.

    The rest of the course you spend writing essays, a well known and critical skill for Math/Science teachers.

  59. John I'm only dancing

    They've dumbed down education

    At a parents evening seven years ago, I asked my daughter's maths teacher in year ten (the one before GCSE), when they would be covering, differentian, integration and solving quadratic equations?

    She replied, we don't do that, that's A level. Well, that was all part of my O-level Maths in 1976 so it didn't surprise me that kids are now getting 11, 12 and 13 GCSE's with A*.

    In my time at school, we covered eight subjects to O-level standard and received a very good grounding in each of them. Now the school day hasn't got any longer but now they cover 12 subjects. That suggests to me they are devoting one third less time to each one to squeeze in the others (unless my maths is wrong).

    Education needs to go back to basics, get rid of the continual assessment, where if the mark is not up to scratch, the kids redo it so that it is, and teach the essentials, Maths, English and proper sciences, not this namby pamby, half-baked double award.

  60. Tom 13

    Anybody who majors in astrophysics and

    expects to be employed in the private sector is not as bright as they think they are. I know, its what I started in. Granted the US system is different, but when I started I knew full well that after 4 years for my major, I could look forward to another 2-3 for a Masters, and then another 2-3 for a PhD before I would finally start fighting for a job work at a university.

    Along about the end of the third year it finally penetrated my rather thick skull that arithmetic and I don't get along well and that while some logical thinking and geometry could get me through most of calculus it wasn't going to get me through differential equations, matrices, and vector calculus. At which point I transferred to my "get me the hell out of here" degree and went into technical writing. Did a stint as a desktop publisher and now work full time supporting computers.

  61. Jay 2

    The path less trodden

    W-a-y back in the late 80s when I did my GCSEs, we had to do maths, english, physics, French and RE (yes forced to do a religion qualification) and then we could choose 3 other subjects, I did electronics, chemistry and CDT. Even back then for some strange reason i knew I wanted to do computer stuff. Though if the teachers concerned didn't think you were up for the choice subject, then you wouldn't be able to take it, hence why I wasn't allowed to take IT. Meanwhile the float-along attitude that I had naturally assumed that I'd bounce from GCSE to A Level to degree as long as I got the results.

    Anyway flash forward 2 years and once again choice time for A Levels. And once again the teachers could use veto to allow you in/out of a subject, plus use the choice of GCSEs for/against you. So I took computing, electronics, industrial (business) studies. But we also had to take general studies and in the 1st year take GCSE science in society (whatever that was).

    The lack of A Level maths did stop me applying to some places for a computing degree which required it, but I managed to get a few offers. Ironically "generally not accepted studies" (as we called it) probably helped my cause a bit as my electroncs result was a bit below par.

    Admittedly I hit maths a few times during my degree, and I did find it a bit of a struggle. But I'm still sure that I would have failed A Level maths miserably.

    So it all worked out for me, and I'm now a sys admin. But I can see how though a variety of reasons if the 'wrong' subjects are taken in secondary school then potentailly it could mess things up later on. And as at least one other person has mentioned, who honestly knows what they want to do at 14?

  62. Anonymous Coward

    A classroom refugee

    Posting anonymously as it would not be fair if the school was identified. It was better than most, and a lot better than some.

    I am part of the Maths and Physics teacher shortage. I did 25 years at the chalk face reaching head of Physics and Electronics and Deputy Head of Science in a large comprehensive at about the time that the national curriculum was introduced. First the Head of Chemistry retired with stress related illness, then the Head of Biology. I spotted the signs and gave up the head of department. After a couple of years it became clear that I was not going to recover properly if I remained in teaching so I changed career and took a pay rise of about a third.

    So what caused the stress? Well 2 or 3 hours an evening trying to compensate for lack of text books and lack of equipment was part of it. Like many schools the head had a theory that we didn't need both books and equipment so we got the same money as books only subjects. Discipline was good in that school but that didn't stoop the unremitting day in, day out, grind. There was the ever present threat of allegations. There was the ever present threat of a new secretary of state. Within a few weeks, months if we were lucky, there would be yet another initiative to be implemented in our free time and with nothing to pay for new teaching materials or equipment. Need more beakers? How about jam jars? I am not joking, that was a serious suggestion.

    Science in primary schools? In the main best left to the secondary schools. It is much easier to teach it right if you don't first have to unteach what has been taught wrong. It is also much easier to interest kids if you are not reteaching the same stuff.

    With the national curriculum practical work changed to entirely coursework and it became a travesty of both science and assessment. We got very good results. How? We gave the kids a tick list and told them to make sure that they did each of the things listed. Don't worry your little head about what the words mean. If this happens use these words and get the mark.

    Q: Sir, why are we doing this?

    A: Because you won't get the marks unless you do. The system was so obscure as to make any further explanation near impossible.

    Practical skills were almost completely abolished by the National Curriculum. Which is really more important for a lower ability child, to write down words that they don't really understand because that will get them marks or learn how to use a ruler?

    For most of the kids it was totally inappropriate. For those for whom it was appropriate it was so artificial and divorced from real science as to be a turn off. It became a jumping through hoops exercise but that got results, that pushed the school up the league tables, that got parents to send their children too the school, and with luck it would reduce the hassle of Ofsted. Don't get me going about Ofsted. We were doing a good job, but the paper work required to prove that we were doing a good job was absolutely horrendous. If it couldn't be measured then it didn't matter.

    Health and safety was another problem area. I taught a few lessons which really were dangerous compared to science lessons, and which really did have serious accidents (not at the school I was at) from time to time. Guess which ones did not require a risk assessment? Swimming lessons of course.

    As for CDT (Craft Design Technology) that was an even worse joke. Craft skills were not taught, well not to any worthwhile level. Design was taught, even if totally inappropriate to the ability and aspirations of the pupil.

    1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

      No Text Books ??

      Are you writing about Zimbabwe ?

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