Sex, Drugs, Rock’n’roll and Mathematics

Posted by Phil on Feb 16, 2016

When you think of it, Western world societies have a somewhat strict guideline for which legislation is drawn up to govern behaviour. In the UK, there are legal age limits for sex (arguably strange that heterosexual is not the same as homosexual), limits for smoking, limits for listening to certain types of music and the education system is set up predominantly on age categories. In schools, children will have a variety of assessments which will ultimately aim for GCSE’s at the age of 16, with further learning optional. There will no doubt be a number of pupils who will have the ability of reaching GCSE at an earlier age, and indeed there is growing debate as to whether more emphasis should be placed on the ability of the child as opposed to their age, something that Ken Robinson briefly mentions in his “Changing Education Paradigms” short video. This method has been adopted, and with some success, in parts of Asia and Latin America, however I would argue strongly that there is a compelling case for the system to keep it’s age structure.

I am not disputing either the merits of an ability based system nor the argument that the current educational framework, evolved through phases of industrial development, is somewhat dated but there are important considerations.

It should first be stated that a school is not only a source for academic learning it is also an environment to learn the majority of their social skills ahead of life as an adult. It is of vital importance that an individual child is learning in an environment in which they are at ease, something that is certainly more evident when amongst peers of their own age group. The concept that a child could be moved into a higher year would mean that they would be mixing with a group of children who would potentially be significantly more socially mature, and equally a child who would move into a lower age group would have to adapt his or her potentially more mature social skills to that of the lower age group, which would arguably harm their own process of developing such skills. In reality, it would be unlikely that a child is moved in isolation but a group of higher or lower ability children.

As it stands I am a firm believer that a diversification of ability within a class acts as both a deterrent but more importantly a goal or an idealistic potential that a child can strive for. For a child to see what can be achieved through hard work and determination is very much a tangible target and something that would carry more belief to a child.

I agree that the current system is dated in parts, and the successes and indeed failures of ability focused styles should be used to help create a system which reflects the world in which we live and challenges that we face, but this should not be at the expense of the advantages which we currently benefit.


  1. Ray
    22 February 2016

    You make a good argument, with supporting reasons, as to why the education system should retain its’ age structure.
    If our brief had been to write a longer piece, it would be interesting to hear your views on standardised testing , collaboration and how to foster understanding and enjoyment in the study of maths.

  2. ajf29
    22 February 2016

    What a great title, it’s very out there! You’ve picked on an interesting point to discuss about streaming according to age and ability and in some countries students are held back if they don’t meet required standards. It would be interesting to investigate how this works for the system as a whole and the individual students that are affected. A great debate for exploration.

  3. Charli
    23 February 2016

    Nice piece Phil. I agree that the grouping of children based on age seems like the only viable solution due to the other variables in place. Children taking their GCSEs early is a dangerous decision. According to current legislation a child can only take their GCSEs once before they leave 11-16 education, I would wonder where students with the ability at an earlier age would go from there- the A level content would be too complex and the GCSE too easy!

  4. pepsmccrea
    23 February 2016

    Very balanced piece. You have clearly synthesised Robinson’s arguments and have begun to look at how they might play out (something he fails to do!). I’d like to have heard more about your thoughts on Boaler’s ideas, and the links between the two pieces.

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