When I began to train as a teacher, one of the first texts I was required to read contained this old saw about the potential for logical fallibility:
All dogs have four legs;
This cat has four legs;
Therefore, this cat is a dog.
You will almost certainly recognise this sort of thinking from the climate scam: temperatures have gone up a smidgen since about 1850; the Industrial Revolution started in about 1850; therefore (appallingly desperate attempt at a joke alert), industry is causing hot dogs.
Politicians deliberately deploy logical fallibility when they want to divert us from costly structural issues. A common tactic is to demonstrate they are ‘doing something’ by tackling a made-up problem when dealing with the real problem is politically or financially unpalatable to them.
Our Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was using that tactic in a speech a few days ago when he indicated that some of the new free schools and academies were planning to introduce shorter summer holidays and longer school days. In one case, the Norwich Free School, ‘the school premises will be open for six days each week, 51 weeks of the year’ from September. It will close only for bank holidays and the week of Christmas: pupils will get just four weeks of summer holiday (staggered across the summer, hence the school’s non-closure) and a six term format.
As free schools are likely to be established by the professional and networking classes, I wonder whether the longer hours and shorter holidays are motivated more by the prospect of solving parents’ childcare problems than they are by the real educational interests of their children. I certainly do not understand how anybody with any empathy for the unbridled and truly educational joys of childhood would entertain the prospect of depriving children of their unstructured leisure time.
As is common in switch and bait exercises we are first distracted by silver-tongued banter, in this case that research vindicates the move to longer hours and shorter holidays.
Well, it would, wouldn’t it; research often finds costs while overlooking values.
The appetite for more intensive, structured education is regularly manifested by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and seems to be rooted in a Barbara Heyns’ 1978 study which purported to show that long holidays cause children to forget what they have learned. Allegedly, this has a particularly marked effect on children from lower socio-economic groups and has been avidly touted by all the usual suspects to explain away our declining educational standards. The fact that earlier, well-educated generations managed to survive the same holiday arrangements that we have now is conveniently overlooked.
Indeed, the education ‘experts’ also overlook the contrary evidence of privately educated students achieving consistently better exam results despite their longer holidays. And how is that little Lithuania out-performs us educationally? Lithuanian students are on holiday from mid-June until September. It’s not just Lithuania; we are educationally out-performed by much of Europe in spite of the fact that school holidays are broadly in line with our own (and children often start school a year or two later than they do here).
As somebody who has dipped in and out of education since leaving school, I’ll happily admit that unused academic skills may need a little burnishing after they’ve lain unused for a while (anything beyond yesterday is a personal stretch). But that’s why we all revise for exams isn’t it? Forgetfulness doesn’t only apply to holidays; you probably can’t remember those quadratic equation thingies you studied at the beginning of the term.
Don’t misunderstand me. I think free schools are a good development. I think the vague promises of abandoning the national curriculum offer the real possibility of a return to core educational values. And if free schools want to introduce longer hours and shorter holidays, that is for them to decide: just don’t let such a move be used as a precedent for state schools because its only purpose will be to further mask the politicians’ deceit that our educational decline has nothing to do with their interference.
The political manipulation of our schools, the politically correct, comprehensive, one size fits all approach, the subversion of life-enhancing educational attainment to short-term industrial needs, the disastrous multicultural experiment, the vast class sizes, the 1000+ place industrial-shed environment and the dead hand of the LEAs are all real issues that have contributed to our failed state education system.
Cats are not dogs. And depriving our children of the freedom to play and discover will not fix our schools.