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TV's role in dumbing down exams raises questions; AGENDA.

Byline: BRENDA BULLOCK

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the working classes finally emerged from the shadows and demanded a new place in a new society, several working class writers and film-makers produced a rash of ground-breaking dramas that gave society a new perspective on a group of people whose very existence had hitherto been ignored by the Establishment who ruled Britain.

However, along with these "kitchen-sink" dramas, with their working class heroes such as Osborne's Jimmy Porter and Sillitoe's Arthur Seaton, came a curiously uncritical attitude to working class life and ideas, a sentimentalised view of the working class, which they viewed through rose-tinted glasses.

Encouraged by this new illusion that everything bourgeois was wrong and all that was salt-of-the-earth working class was admirable, the new reformers of society took the attitude that anything the bourgeois can do we can do better and set about dismantling what they saw as the hallowed bastions of privilege that had for many years kept the working classes in subjection.

Since education was a field in which the class divide was seen to be at its widest, the reformers started with that.

With proselytising zeal they laid siege to the grammar schools, public schools, the "old school tie" attitudes and privileges of the elite and decreed that all children whatever class must go to community, comprehensive schools, where working class children to whom education for generations had been viewed as merely an inconvenient intrusion into real life, would emulate their middle class classmates, go on to further education and a place in the top echelons of a new, fairer society.

To this end, exams, which before had been the exclusive property of an elite minority of children brought up to take them in their stride, had to done by all, and there could be no fudging with the brightest children doing different exams from the less able.

They all had to do the same exam and they all had to succeed.

Hence, we had a gradual lowering of standards: unacademic subjects, watered-down syllabuses and childishly simple exam questions, because it is a matter of belief, not fact, that all children have the same abilities and will fare the same, given the same opportunities.

Now, of course, the erosion of standards has led to thousands of children playing truant, angry at a system that treats them like cretins and has led to the Royal Society of Chemists to confess to feeling amazement at the "extraordinarily simple" questions of the 14+ SATs science exams.

They quote the question, "what does a riding hat protect?" and comment that the exams have more to do with reading ability than science.

Perhaps we should have been warned by Albert Finney's working class hero, Arthur Seaton in 1960, who railed against the system that kept him slaving in a factory and yet, come the weekend, with money in his pocket and beer in his belly, was quite content with his lot.

Of course, he couldn't have got off his lazy behind, gone to evening classes and got the qualifications that would have taken him beyond the factory could he?

It just wouldn't be working class, would it, and furthermore, it would have ruined a top-grade film and excellent propaganda for the view that the ill of the working classes come wholly from the malice of the bourgeoisie!
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 23, 2008
Words:560
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