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 …
Teaching? In Britain? F*cked up like a budgie?
Gosh, when did this happen?
as if i *really* didn't think this was sarcasm
that would be under the labour leadership in the 70's
...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
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.
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.
"...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"
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.
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.
"*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.
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.
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.
4-5 years ago? Have Universities /ever/ counted General Studies? And I mean proper Universities, not re-badged Polytechnics.
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.
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.
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.
@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?
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.
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".
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.
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.....
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.
"never having to really put much effort into your working life"
Spoken like someone who really has no idea how much work is involved in being a teacher of any age group.
A question of perspective?
In all the companies I've worked for, the IT guys have been the ones turning up early, leaving late, working through the weekends etc - from their perspective, my job and those of all my colleagues would appear to be relatively easy too. Doesn't mean our jobs are easy.
And despite having had plenty of experience working out in the real world, for companies ranging from the tiny (8 employees) through to the massive (80,000) , I still don't think teachers of any age group have an easy life. The first-hand experience of seeing what just one bad day in the classroom would do to my mum, seeing how much of her supposedly free time she actually spent working on school-related things, and the stories she and her colleagues could tell, makes me realise just how lucky I am to have carved out a career in embedded systems R&D. Oh sure, on paper at least my job might look harder, but I wouldn't swap it for a teaching role even if it meant I could double my current salary.
Sorry but your opinion there is greatly counter to reality...
My mother being a primary teacher and all I've seen the ridiculous workload she is under.
I work in IT and she does many more hours than i do. Marking homework, writing reports and arranging lesson plans and tasks well into the late hours of the night and even working on weekends.
Admittedly from what i see of her co-workers she is somewhat of an overachiever but not that far from the norm. Most teachers work more hours than most other professions, they do it from home for the most part, where you wouldn't see it.
The longer holiday periods pretty much make up for the extra hours they put in outside of school time and quite a few of the "middle of the year" holidays are spent working as well.
You've just shown a great lack of knowledge of the actual primary teacher workload which negates most of your opinion.
Teachers are painfully underpaid even primary ones. While agree high school teachers should be paid more (danger pay if you will, those students can be obnoxious to say the least) you shouldn't discredit the hard work of primary teachers.
We'll just have to agree to disagree then
Clearly my personal experiences of seeing how much work my mum did outside her "working" hours, plus the comments elsewhere from other teachers saying much the same thing, haven't persuaded you that the amount of time you see a teacher actually teaching in the classroom does not come anywhere close to the total amount of time that teacher will spend doing their job.
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.
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.
Obvious, simple and useful.
and therefore unlikely to happen.
(If only we could teach science as well as we do cynicism)
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.
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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...)
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
@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.
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."
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.
OK, well done A/C 10:37
If you have achieved your goal in life with the gaining of the degree that you wanted, then congratulations. I too worked hard for my degree and post-grad diploma. I'm not lazy and do take exception to the ad hominem attack.
What I have tried to do in my couple of posts is to say that even with the best will in the world and trying till one is blue in the face some peoples' brains are not wired up in a way that maths makes any sense. Do you critisise someone for not being a good painter or writer? No, probably not. So why dive in mouth first and slag off others who hold a different view on the value of different skills?
"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.
"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.
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.
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?"
> You're pushing this idea that you can be inherently not good enough at something to be able to do it at all, as I've said, that's completely and utterly false.
Ah, well your saying it has utterly changed my mind. Don't bother to offer evidence for your assertion, will you?
"... I know full well if I worked and practiced hard enough I could do them to graduate level easy enough"
I call bullshit. Being confident you can do something is not the same as doing it. I'm confident I can drive the M1 at 150mph and not get pulled over at all. Clearly my confidence will protect me. Oh, hello officer.
"maths actually has a compelling reason to be learnt as it's applicable so widely"
English lit. and art have wide applications, just not in engineering / physics / chemistry. If you wanted to do something based on art would that 'compelling reason' to study maths still be present?
"There's no reason anyone ... can't do maths up to degree level if they try hard enough"
So people who fail are just not trying hard enough. Spoken like a true wanker. I don't care that you've done it: The fact that you did it doesn't mean other people can.
"It's entirely about motivation."
For someone who's purportedly good at maths you're surprisingly dim when it comes to making general claims about learning. The fact that you had to use resources (that might not be available to some), time (that might not be available for some), brain power (that might not be available for some) should be indicating to you that it can't possibly be /entirely/ about motivation.