The current state of affairs in the United Kingdom
As in the last Quarter's edition we have left the rough and somewhat bizarre impression of the current challenges facing the constituents of the United Kingdom summarized in the GEL cartoon which appeared recently on CybaCity.com and which we reproduce below. However we are pleased to say that the Great Effects Lab (GEL) on Portsea Island updated it for us to include the latest surge of confusion.
This cartoon communicated a message concerning the past failures and accumulated outcomes of UK government policies, by using the common technique of an exaggerated image of economic crisis. However, on closer examination, and ignoring any partisan political bias, the messages contained within the cartoon's pollution cloud are, in general, factual. These details are slowly dawning on the constituents of the United Kingdom.
But the country now is facing a constitutional crisis largely moulded by politicians and political parties and their benefactors.
It is often stated by politicians that freedom, democracy and the rule of law are the cornerstones of our society and culture. However, the facts point to the gradual attrition of the constitution by political parties so that laws are becoming cornerstones for the support of groups of constituents and, in particular, political parties in power and their benefactors. As a result, we have witnessed in our lifetime the Conservative party an erstwhile "one nation" party exercising moderate policies becoming a source of innovation which is destructive to any notions of a unified nation.
The recent experience with the growth in financialization and the post-2008 financial crisis are useful indicators of just how this change has already progressed since the destructive outcomes are self-evident.
Rather than dwell on what is on everyone's minds, the Covid-19 pandemic and how to build back better, this edition focuses on a perennial problem facing the United Kingdom and which has a significant influence on the future of the country.
A considerable number of the problems facing the country and the reason policies fail is linked to the narrow perception that to make poisitive advances we have to "follow the science" or be "guided by the science". And yet in spite of such claims we have witnessed fiascos in implemenation of reactions to needs. In a lecture, given by Sir Eric Ashby in 1957 to the Institute of Metals in London, he referred to work by A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947) the English scientist, entitled, "Science and the modern world" presented by Whitehead, in the Lowell lectures in 1925 in which Whitehead stated,
The statement, delivered almost a century ago, remains a valid conceptual model of an aspiration upon which to found a useful education. On the other hand, while politicians extol the virtues of "following the science", the realization of the benefits of science are not developed nor delivered through science alone, but rather scientific knowledge, across a wide spectrum of pursuits, informs us how to build the technological systems that can deliver beneficial results, subject to people learning how to apply the technologies thus developed and progressively to improve the techniques applied to technologies.
It is notable that in a wide range of policy decisions linked to fields for which there are specific disciplines quite often go wrong or their outcome are disappointing. This relates to good ideas not being transformed into effective technologies and organizations because there are not enough people with the necessary levels of practical competence to deliver intended results. This of course is linked to the content of our general education.
In the United Kingdom schooling between the ages of 4 through to 18 and much of university training is highy academic in the sense of not being applied. This affliction applies to state and public, or private schools, and to many universities. People are taught "about things" and are not exposed to, or provided with the opportunity to practice "doing things". As a result the majority of the population lacks even the most basic notions of what is involved in carrying out practical tasks with a specific end. Such experience is gained through hobbies or DIY. However, these activities, while enabling use to build up competence, and sometimes considerable expertise in specific tasks, tend to emerge from personal and family needs or interests.
The process of transition from schooling through to universty or other forms of training and eventually employment can be more productive if school children are exposed to the full range of relevant technologies of current relevance to society. In this way they can build up an acquaintance and discover what activities interest them and be able to develop a practical engagement with these by learning how to apply them. This can help avoid inividuals opting for fields of study at university which they selected from a limited exposure or a small range of academic topics taught at schools. Concern with employment and the future can often result in such students opting for "jobs" that pay more while having no particular interest in the subject matter.
As a result the world of work becomes a question of fitting into an existing "job market" as opposed to aligning personal interests with work of particular interest to the individual. The notion of a "sense of vocation" is very much undermined by the degree to which educational systems are academic and with little relationship to application.
Medicine is one of the few areas where training does involve dissection and periods of in-house work in medical institutions.
One of the mistakes made by an otherwise rational MP, Anthony Crosland, as Secretary of State for Education, was to introduce Comprehensive Schools in 1965. This replaced the 11+ examination in the last year of primary education and the options of secondary modern, secondary technical or grammar schools depending on their perceived ability. Crosland's aim was to raise and level the playing field for children by getting rid of the 11+ and improve upward mobility. However, in general, technical schools were never widely implemented largely because of an out of date notion that they were only "vocational" schools for student who did not attain the grades required to follow the academic tradition for "intelligent" children sitting in front of gown-wearing teachers in grammar or public schools and all based on "chalk and talk". This misunderstanding of the general benefits of technical education for children of all educational abilities, came from a well-meaning but ultimately destructive image of technical schools created by the R. A Butler 1944 Education Act. This regarded technical as "vocational" schools for children who were considered not to qualify for a more academic or less applied education. As a result education was not an exposure to a more complete syllabus reflective of the world in which we live, by including considerable exposure to technical subjects,
To this day this highly academic approach bedevils UK education churning out students which business leaders find to be deficient in terms of English language and numeracy and having very little notion of applied subjects and little applied capabilities.
Working against the odds
There were however pioneering attempts to change this state of affairs on the part of individual headmasters who changed the way in which their schools operated and the range of subjects offered. Two individuals stand out in this context. One was Frederick William Sanderson (1857–1922) of Oundle in Northamptonshire, and the second, Thomas Cragg McNeill (1910-1994) of Portsmouth in Hampshire.
Long before the 1944 Education Act, Frederick Sanderson
Under his headmastership, Oundle saw a reversal of a decline from which it had been suffering in the middle of the 19th century, with school enrollment rising from 92 at the time of his appointment to 500 when he died. It is notable that the only biography written by H. G. Wells was the biography Sanderson entitled, "Story of a Great Schoolmaster". H. G. Wells admired Sanderson's approach and quoted at length from Sanderson's sermons and speeches on these subjects in his biography.
Working against even greater odds
As it transpired, secondary technical schools only developed effectively in places such as Portsmouth in Hampshire where the local Technical High School became on of the best schools in the city. Thomas McNeill, the headmaster of the Technical High School in Portsmouth, was an admirer of the approach and work of Frederick Sanderson. He arrived in Portsmouth with a young family in 1943, a city still being subjected to regular Luftwaffe air raids. Like Sanderson, it is notable that McNeill was also successful in expanding the enrollment of the school from a combined enrollment from 50 in 1944 to over 1,000 by the time he retired in 1975. By that time it had began to compete effectively with grammar schools as the first choice of parents in the city. There is no doubt that the Technical High School exceeded the provisions of Oundle but the technologies of relevance had changed since Sanderson's time. During McNeill's time the school taught all of the subjects taught at grammar schools but in addition included surveying, technical drawing and geology but also major additions were laboratories including metal foundries, wood and metal work, pottery, art, test beds for motors and pumps, chemical and physics and electrical labs, an observatory and even boat building producing the school's own class of sailing boat. The school was the first in the city to gain a computer donated by Basil de Ferranti. Many of the devices used were designed and built by students including the astronomical telescope and dome.
No matter what professional a student would follow, McNeill's objective was to exposure them to most of the critical elements and processes which make the world tick simply because no matter the profession an appreciation of such matters producing a more rounded education which helped instill an appreciation of what is involved in the execution of other professions be they of an intellectual, technical-engineering or even artisan character.
The remarkable aspect of McNeill's dedication to this project and accomplishment was that whereas Oundle was and remains an independent private school, the Technical High School was a state school, administered by the local authority.
McNeill's journey was not easy.
McNeill researched to a considerable extent the effectiveness of IQ tests making use of the latest findings by researchers in the USA some of whom provided evidence that they are "culture pattern tests" and he observed similar correlations between different categories of households of students at his school. Linked to this pursuit he also studied the limitations of having children sit intelligence tests at 11+ a single point in time because this age coincides with a period of acceleration in children's mental development and assimilation which is particularly rapid between 10 an 16 years of age. This meant that slightly slower developing children failed the 11+. McNeill helped introduce a system in Portsmouth to monitor border-line cases of children who did not pass the 11+ so that at the age of 12, 13 and sometimes later they could transfer to a grammar school or the Technical High School. He also worked with the Associated Examinations Board, based in Guildford, to introduce technical subjects to their list of approved certifications. Increasing number of students went on to university or technical colleges.
Concerning "late entries", McNeill observed that the children who entered the Technical High School having been border-line cases for 11+, some of these ended up demonstrating, further into their time at the school, a more complete set of capabilities than those who passed the 11+ at 11. In such an environment it was not difficult to make informed judgements concerning the potential of students because there were so many opportunities for them to find combinations of subjects which suited their inclinations. It is notable that vandalism by students in this school was almost unheard of while it was a constant problem in the grammar and modern schools.
When asked about the issue of individuals being able to observe a state of affairs and to come up with practical solutions, McNeill's observations were that such individuals who would appear, perhaps every other year, who found personal satisfaction in assigning meaning and value to both theory (academic) and to the relation of this to practice. These same individuals possessed a basic discipline in acquiring the practical capabilities which in all cases required some practice and patience. So the balance between recognizing some concept which might take a very short time and being prepared to take the time to develop the practical techniques to apply that knowledge, was present in a small group of students. McNeill stated that such individuals in applying their hand in practice could observe impediments which would cause them to return to the theory as part of the enquiry as to the cause. In these occasions, some would succeed in rationalizing the issue and end up improving their technique and their practical outcomes.
Others could develop this capability taking more time to get there but specific individuals were quicker on the uptake of both theory and the practice.
McNeill also observed that some students who were fascinated with theory developed a motivation to apply this in practice and became proficient. On the other hand students who at first seemed to have a bent for practice ended up with an enthusiasms to learn more about the theory and these also excelled in theory. Individuals that excelled in these processes were those who became enthusiastic because for them it possessed some meaning, either being no more than a fascinating voyage of discovery concerning how and why things work or because they saw some social or societal utilities or benefits arising from the application. There seemed to be family culture and sibling position effects influencing the latter, related to the topics concerning economic and social issues, as part of the interests of family members and, therefore, which featured in family conversations. In the case of all types of motivations, each advance in their capabilities seemed to result in immense internal satisfaction.
It is notable that these motivations were not related to desires to gains high marks in examinations but arose largely from a genuine enthusiasm and interest in the theory and practice of the issues concerned. Therefore, it is more than apparent that without a student being exposed to the range of theory and practice that can contribute to the advance of technique and innovation, the types of instruction received in academies and grammar schools cannot generate sufficient information about a student to judge their potential contribution to our future. This can only provide a partial profile that ranks student on the basis of highly academic, that is, theoretical pursuits.
It is necessary to conclude that educational establishments cannot equate any academic tests with the creative intelligence that is so vital to the advance of human wellbeing.
This country has suffered for too long, from a poor provision of primary and secondary education which fails to develop even basic capabilities in decision analysis and problem solving in an applied sense. Assessment continues to be based on ticking multiple choice answers or judging people's competence on the basis of other paper-based pursuits or IQ tests. An applied know-how-do approach to problems is lacking and this holds back the country and government's ability to deliver on promises made. This has been witnessed by all as general fiascoes surrounding the repeated promises of government "actions" and the constant U-turns or failures to deliver exactly what was promised. This is stark symptom of this lack of an applied education which has also afflicted politicians and ministers including those who passed through the "best private schools" and even "best universities". There has been a failure to better equip all individuals to project beyond the present and see what might be from a realistic perspective. There is a need for an education that provide an inner confidence for each to start their journeys to desired destinations with enthusiasm, but also with the competence to arrive successfully, no matter how choppy the seas. Telesis, an ancient Greek word, sums up what we currently seem to lack, as,
Following the science is clearly not enough. We also need to have the ability to fashion the technologies and techniques that use scientific knowledge to shape benefits of society. There is also a need to recognize the fact that it takes time for people to learn to apply new technologies and techniques so as to become more competent in their application. Based on this, through a more intimate acquaintance and deeper understanding, to identify and develop innovations.