The DVD recording of my graduation ceremony came today. That was a very emotional day – undoubtedly one of the happiest days of my life – and I am glad we got the DVD to commemorate it. Such things serve as anchors, fixing us to the past. I look at the photos and remember, with great fondness, what has been; yet they also make me wonder what is yet to come. Not just for me, but for those like me.
University, as I have said before, was the greatest experience of my life, and with luck it will continue into my masters. Yet I was lucky. If my parents had left it to school, I would never have done GCSEs, let alone A-levels. Well, to qualify that, they would have put me in for the foundation GCSE, where the top grade is a D. they would have described me as incapable of doing anything higher. My parents, of course, thought otherwise, and the DVD downstairs, as well as the photographs of me in my cap and gown, are testimony to their confidence and bloody mindedness.
I hope dad doesn’t mind me writing this, but I think it fair to say that my father did not like my headmaster. As I wasn’t at all the meetings, I cannot relay all the details, but the discussions over my future apparently got quite heated. Neither of my parents liked school, and always maintained that I wasn’t being pushed enough. Indeed, my brothers referred to Hebden as ‘day-care’. As much as I protested at the time, I see now that mark and Luke were just about right. Schools like that virtually are day-care: holding places for disabled children. Staff were caring enough, but they didn’t push kids. They did not foster any kind of motivation to learn quite the opposite, in fact. We were just allowed to play.
It was all bullshit. Kids were pushed into doing these so-called vocational, ‘ASDAN’ qualifications at post-16. according to the aimhigher website, ‘It is the principal vehicle in the ASDAN Aimhigher HEFC national project for raising attainment, developing more independent and autonomous learners, and widening participation amongst the national priority target groups….The certificate has been calibrated by DFES as an equivalent to a Grade ‘B’ GCSE at level 2 achievement (46 points), as an equivalent to a Grade ‘E/F’ GCSE at level 1(25 points),and as an AS level equivalent at level 3. This means it can contribute to raising schools’ average points scores.’ (source) now, in itself this appears to be okay – ordinary schools might use such qualifications to supplement more mainstream qualifications. I see no problem with this. however, it was all Hebden was using. Such certificates, in my experience, are totally lacking in academic rigour. In terms of such rigour, it is often seen that the A-level is closer to bachelor than GCSE level; qualifications like ASDAN are the opposite. Indeed, the way school ran them, they were simply an exercise in copying and pasting, seeing how little work staff could make the kids do. In fact, I do not recall any student on that course having to do an extended piece of prose. Thus, while I was going to Woodford lodge, trying to do my English lit A-Level (and making a hash of it I must add for the sake of fairness) the guys in my class as well as the one above us were doing this asdan bull and drinking coffee.
The guys with md were doing GNVQ art, mind, which is a bit better, but it was still taught in the same half-assed way, lacking in both passion and rigour. In the bungalow, lessons were squeezed between coffee breaks. I think that is why I struggled at macc college: when I finally got into a proper educational establishment, where students were expected to work, I didn’t cope well. I was also completely unaccustomed to the academic mindset, with argument and counter argument. I liked cold, hard facts rather than models and hypotheses. Hebden had not prepared me at all for that.
Special schools foster neither a thirst for knowledge, nor ambition. You are simply supposed to accept one’s place in life, and let staff delude you that they’re giving you a good education when they aren’t. I’ll have to go into the reasons for this at some other time, for they are complex and manifold, but nowI have a DVD to watch, again.