Former Cambs school head has answers to ‘failing education system’

John Wakelin

John Wakelin - Credit: Archant

THE former headteacher of a Huntingdonshire school has written a damning assessment of the current education system and suggested radical reforms.

John Wakelin, who lives in Elsworth, was head at Hinchingbrooke from 1965 until 1982, when ill-health forced him to retire.

He has kept in touch with what is going on in schools by reading specialist education journals, newspaper articles and listening to the radio.

Now 84, he shares his view of how 21st century schooling should be in a new book Education: Purpose and Control.

“What motivated me is the feeling there is a lot wrong with the way education works at the moment,” he said. “When I hear complaints from employers and universities about the lack of basic skills of school leavers, it seems to me this should be the top priority.”

Mr Wakelin says reading and writing, numeracy and general knowledge are not tested nowadays.

“Things started to go wrong at the end of the 1980s,” he said. “Governments have intervened in the curriculum without understanding what they have been doing.

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“When I was head, we did expect to give a general education up to the age of 16.”

He criticises privately-run exam boards whose representatives tell teachers what will be tested so they can help those sitting the tests get a good pass.

“This is terrible,” he said. “In the past, examining boards were completely independent.”

He is equally outspoken about universities and the fact they grade their own students. “I’ve seen private messages from heads of departments to say ‘Give as many students first or upper second to help the standing of the university’. This seems terribly wrong.”

Despite his reservations about the present state of education, the married father of two is optimistic about the future.

He supported the establishment of academies, which are independent of local authorities, but wants all schools to be given independence from central government. He would also like both state and independent schools to be accessible to all, regardless of pupils’ backgrounds, and uses his book to describe how both can be achieved.

Mr Wakelin also stresses that parents should be responsible for their child’s behaviour.

He said: “Increasing numbers of parents are not bringing up their children properly. It is for parents to show their children how they eat their meals, how they address other people and so on.

“Discipline must start at home and on that basis the school can build.”

INFORMATION: Education: Purpose and Control by John Wakelin, which has an RRP of £11.95, can be ordered online or from the publisher, Arima Publishing, by calling 01284 700321.