The Brit Tory Party was once proud to call itself stupid in comparison to the smart-ass Laborites who inflicted so much harm on the Brits. But the current debate over grammar schools shows the Tory party really is stupid.
Some context. The UK is a mid-sized nation that’s prospers on value-add: trading, manufacturing and engineering. In the late 80s, it was a role model for the Japanese, having produced almost half of the world’s technological innovations since the end of WW2 – everything from DNA testing to the LCD.
That preeminence was based on an education system that selected the smartest 10% of kids at ages 11 and 13 and gave them an academic education at what are called grammar schools. The rest of the kids went to vocational schools of one sort or another – the Germans have a similar system.
Then a string of Socialist governments adopted a system similar to the US, in which selection is by neighborhood rather than ability. And whereas the US was easily able to compensate by importing smart immigrants, the UK is less attractive to smart people, so has lost engineering competence.
Now Rolls Royce can’t find enough Brit engineers, a simple modification to an Israeli UAV takes 5 years, deploying C-RAMs to protect our troops in Iraq has taken 3 years, and Brit software projects are a standing joke in the world’s computer industry – always late, and vastly over budget. That leaves the Brit economy hanging by the slender thread of financial services.
So, you’d expect the Tory party – the party of business and growth – to reintroduce the grammar school. Instead:
An education policy designed to offend no one was what David Cameron, the Tory leader, announced yesterday.
Out go the two great totems of the last two elections, “a grammar school in every town” and, most recently, “the right to choose” backed by an education voucher that parents could spend where they pleased.
The Tory rationale is given here by its so-called intellectual heavyweight:
…middle-class parents invest far more effort in raising their kids than they did a generation ago. My parents didn’t spend time driving me around to tennis coaching or music lessons (and I didn’t love them any the less for that).
Nowadays, middle-class kids get all that and more, and probably extra tuition to help them do well in the exams at 11.
The rest of his argument is similarly lightweight.
In fact the grammar school selection process measured IQ, and although kids can be trained to take the tests, it’s impossible to improve their results by giving them tennis coaching and music lessons.
So if the Tories don’t plan on providing specialized schools for smart poor kids, what’s their plan? Well, they want to introduce ability streaming in schools.
But that needs very gifted teachers – consider my subject, Physics.
Kids at and below the median IQ can only handle the old ray tracing model of light propagation. Whereas kids in the top IQ quartile can use the more useful Fourier transform.
So the teacher has to teach Physics from both the 17th and 19th centuries, and that needs a rare and talented individual. The average teacher will fail down, so smart kids won’t get to learn modern Physics.
Thus the Tory party’s smartest man is a fool, its educational policies will speed the competitive collapse of the UK, and poor Brit kids like I was won’t get to be Physicists.