Towards the end of the 19th century and increasingly into the 20th and 21st, politicians and intellectuals became convinced by the idea that they could run the country through central planning than the individual decisions of each and every person acting in their own interest. In this climate of control they usurped and marginalised private schooling, planning centrally what had previously occurred spontaneously. In time the “bog standard comprehensive” came to be the model for all but the richest.
Tony Blair used the term “bog standard comprehensive” in a conference speech, which was coined by the now repentant Peter Hyman. Perhaps it is discourteous to the many talented professionals working in the toughest schools, but its popular usage attests to the fact that it captures the essence of the state we’re in. The “bog” evokes images of stagnation – and this is exactly what has happened under a system directed centrally by the government. While freer industries have thrived in conditions of competition and innovation, centrally planned schooling has languished behind.
Schooling is long overdue for a shakeup to release the talents of the students currently stuck in the quagmire. As an industry, teaching methods are firmly entrenched in the past. For example, most children don’t learn to speak a language despite spending their lives sitting for hundreds of hours in a classroom attempting to do so. Even those with top grades can’t hold a basic conversation. As the language expert Paul Noble points out: “Students realise that even if they do get a GCSE in French, they still won't be able to speak the language”. In contrast, private companies guarantee that business people will learn more than this in a couple days.
This is not a call for another revision of the national curriculum and a new national strategy to push all children into intensive language lessons. This would entirely miss the point. Instead we need to free schools, and the first way this could be done is to allow them to run for a profit. As with any service industry, experimentation would become the norm and best practice would be copied where appropriate. Education companies abroad are ready to invest, while there are many companies in the UK currently teaching adults various skills that would be able to add immense value to teaching children. Without this change, most will be left mired neck-deep in an unwholesome bog standard education.