Friday, 20 October 2017

Restricted Access to A-Levels

It is all very well to talk in abstracts, but perhaps a closer, more concrete take on the issues at hand is needed. Although The Trash has often spoken of Hampstead's obsession with league tables and results, the excesses of this obsession are multiple and varied; so much so that it is often difficult to know where to begin.

Regardless, we must begin somewhere. Beneath the surface of "amazing results" and a "commitment to progression", Hampstead kicked out almost 40 students between Years 12 and 13. Although it is made fairly clear that students must "re-enroll" for the second year, the situation is not as simple as a contractual agreement between two participants (the students and the school). To absolve themselves of responsibility, a first claim the school might make is that "students are responsible for their results, and Sixth Formers should behave more like adults than children". In spite of what truth it might contain, accepting this view wholesale and in isolation leaves us with an incomplete perspective, and ultimately relies on the masses and masses of unspoken rhetoric about "the real world", "toughness" and "facing up to reality" to make any sense at all. For one, the vast majority of Sixth Formers at Hampstead were also at Hampstead throughout secondary school; it ought to be asked where exactly they acquired whatever traits are supposedly responsible for their poor performance at A Level. Equally, where does Hampstead somehow cease being actively involved in the life of one of its students? "You have been here for 6 years, but now, I am afraid, we must throw you to the wind."

We are told that there is a magic line separating GCSEs and A Levels. No such thing truly exists. It is plainly true that a lot of things (must) change as one transitions, but (in Hampstead at least) many things do not. With their strictly enforced codes on uniform and tucked in shirts, their constant watching presence, “planners out all lesson”, and other assertions of power for the sake of it throughout lower secondary, the Management refuses to allow independence, and leaves even the possibility of independence foreclosed. To do well at GCSE, students are largely better off mindlessly swallowing all the mark schemes and factoids they are ceaselessly fed than they are trying to understand, let alone develop a genuine interest in, a subject. Five years of this treatment hardly work wonders for "personal development" or "flourishing", or any of the vapid euphemisms that serve to conceal the fact that those subjected to such a destructive system actually have to live with it. So without independence or interest, students start their A Levels. But if they fall short, it is seen as their fault for lacking the very things of which they have been systematically deprived; a chance to be independent, and a wide space to pursue and develop interests.

When it comes to shoving tens of students out, perhaps a case for the ruthlessness of bureaucratic management is not so clear.

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