Friday, 12 February 2016

Schools and creative thinking: The failure of neoliberal education policies.

Today a marketing company advertised for an employee saying only dyslexics need apply. This is a new departure in advertising for employees. Although some people have suggested but it might be illegal, this kind of positive discrimination is in fact perfectly legitimate and within the law. However many people seem to be missing the most important issue here. The reason for their seeking a dyslexic employee. 

The advertising company needed to recruit not specifically a dyslexic person, but a person who is able to think creatively. In in their advert they talked about Richard Branson and Steve jobs as examples of the kind of people they would like to employ. In fact, you don't have to be dyslexic to be creative and to be a creative thinker. The implications of this advert are far more wide ranging and profound. It represents concrete evidence of the failure of our education system, in particular our school system.

The Education Reform Act 1988 began a process of turning our schools into the exam factories that they are today. The first OFSTED inspections and the introduction of league tables, ever more meaningless SAT tests and exams, with teachers and headteachers increasingly held responsible personally for forcing children through these meaningless hoops. Now, academisation has turned our schools even more into exam factories, depriving our children of the skills and attitudes need to survive in real life as these mincing machines spew out identikit children able only to memorise large quantities of random facts for very short periods of time, as Mary Bousted showed with the new key stage two tests in grammar,  punctuation and spelling. The likes of Gove, Baker and Blunkett have combined over the years to produce a neoliberal dystopia in our education system which is now harming children, not merely in terms of their mental health but also now in terms of their employment prospects.

We have now arrived at the ridiculous situation where the creative thinking vital to most businesses and industry has been knocked out of children by this increasingly centralised, authoritarian system. The damage caused not just to our children and young people but also to our economy, is potentially incalculable. Michael Gove’s and Nick Gibb’s fantasies of all children learning grammar by rote (as though in some mythical 1950s grammar school) materialised in the form of these dreadful tests for primary schoolchildren; at the same time destroying children's motivation to learn, turning them off school and distracting from the real qualities needed to survive, thrive, prosper and enjoy life in the 21st-century.

Industry now has so little faith in our education system that it has to go to these more extreme lengths to ensure that they get creative thinkers, problem solvers and people who can look at things in different ways. This can only be regarded as a profound indictment of the neoliberal education policies which have caused so much damage in the last 25 years. It is of course very positive that neurodiversity is being recognised positively by employers at last, but the assumption that the majority of pupils coming through our education system will not be able to think creatively demonstrates the failure over education policy in the last quarter of a century more graphically than anything.

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