4          Participation Rates

It is widely held in the SEE, by spokesmen for industry (though not always by industry itself) and by other bodies with a vested interest in large numbers of students, that the more young people who stay on at school post-16 and indeed enter higher education, the better.  As usual Britain is shown to be the worst in the Western world by this criterion and our alleged economic weakness is held to be a reflection of this deficiency.

As indicated above, it is not time spent in school which matters, but the more subtle three-sided matching of pupil abilities to pupil ambitions, of ambitions to jobs and of teaching to abilities.  A comparison with Western Germany (pre-unification) is instructive.  Government expenditure on education as a proportion of GNP is almost exactly the same in both cases (about 5%) and as the bulk of costs is accounted for by wages and salaries, the real resources expended will be about the same.  Table 3 sets out the relevant data.

Education years to 18 Germany  UK 
Years of compulsory education 9(6-15) 11(5-16)
Years of pre-compulsory education[6] 1.1(<6) 0.1(<5)
Years of post-compulsory education 2(16-18) 0.9(17-18)
Total exposure up to 18 12.1 12
Entries to higher education full-time as % of age group 20 (approx)(1987) 21.2(1988)

Table 3: Education Exposure in Germany and UK

The total exposure on average in the two systems is thus only trivially different.  It might be noted that in German terms we already have compulsory nursery education.

The principal reason why the German school system is seen to give better results than the British in some areas – though not all – is not through more participation or resources, but the fact that the German system matches teaching to abilities much better than Britain does and does so moreover with conviction.  In essence the British system, illustrated in Figure 2(a), with its profoundly egalitarian philosophy, tries to hold the population to a common path against the gradient of abilities and inclination, whereas the German system works with the grain of human nature and achieves better results, particularly for that majority of the population which manage procedures better than the analytical thinking implicit in (C).

Figure 2: Comparison between Britain and Germany in (C) and (P)

Figure 2: Comparison between Britain and Germany in (C) and (P)

It is clear then that the British system requires a change of philosophy above all: further resources would merely push British education further down the wrong path[7].

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