Chinese School and Testing Factories

Just when you think our media can sink no lower in its coverage of education in Britain the BBC comes up with a new series it calls “Are our kids tough enough? Chinese School” – to be screened from 9.00 pm this evening. Where to even begin with this?

Five teachers from China take over the education of 50 teenagers in a Hampshire school.” AKA Five Go Mad In Liphook.

“Take over”? How is this going to work? Education? What kind of ‘education’ are we really talking about here?

Most of us understand that in order to teach successfully it’s important to know your students – their strengths and weaknesses. But apparently after only a month of “strict discipline” and “long gruelling days” they were expected to achieve “notable results”.

It seems Neil Strowger, headteacher of Bohunt School, concluded, “It is abundantly clear to me that Chinese parents, culture and values are the real reasons that Shanghai Province tops the oft-cited Pisa tables rather than superior teaching practice.”

But then we knew that already.

Let’s hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised and enlightened by what seems like a stunt and a shoddy piece of ‘entertainment’ for the silly season.

The BBC, OUR BBC, is in enough difficulty already without laying itself open to further charges of wasting its resources.


This article by Simon Jenkins on the Guardian’s website today is well worth reading:

China’s schools are testing factories. Why is Britain so keen to copy them?

This evening the BBC will carry forward the great myth that Chinese education is “better” than Britain’s. A documentary comparing Chinese and British teachers in a Hampshire school will show Chinese teachers appalled at how disruptive, challenging and idle British pupils could be. That, by implication, is why Chinese children do better, far better, in international tests.

All this tells us about is tests. Only exam salesmen and Whitehall officials believe this has anything to do with education.

The irony is that, as Zhao writes, the Chinese are rushing in the opposite direction. They want to know why their pupils may be good at rote learning yet seem so enervated thereafter. Chinese parents crave the British private schools being set up across China. Chinese students cram into US and British universities. They can see that a dragooned, mechanically competitive schooling is no path to creativity, challenge or happiness in the long run in a dynamic economy and a critical open society.

Basing education on testing is as mindless today as when Dickens ridiculed it in Hard Times. Yet its appeal to British governments – from the days of Lord Baker to those of Michael Gove – is relentless. The reason is simple: it holds the easiest means of central control. It is the dictatorship of number. The Chinese are realising this, but not the British.


See also:

Simon Jenkins on Education in England – A Devastating Critique

Some 45,000 English pupils are now resitting their GCSE exams after the latest fiasco in Britain’s descent from education into testing. Reactionaries may cry that children should be taught that “life is full of reverses”, but they have elevated the exam to make it the be-all and end-all of secondary education. It is they who treat academic measurement as an exact science, as they once did “selection by intelligence”. It is they who have made the core curriculum the ark of the covenant of wisdom. They are the dunces of illiberalism.

The GCSE curriculum, with its cores, foundations, inspectors and examiners, is a Victorian archaism on a par with the House of Lords and the Church of England. Education remains the most conservative of professions, because nobody quite knows what it means. A fixed curriculum is accepted because it exists. Like military discipline, past generations suffered it and the present one had better do so, too. It has become a useful tool of state dirigisme. While exams are restlessly reformulated, their subject matter is stuck back in days when “maths and science” were totems of economic fortune. Any other vocational or life skill was for “secondary moderns”.

The collapse of educational progressivism in the 1980s and its replacement by “teaching to the test” was a real tragedy, caused largely by a sloppy overlay of political correctness and the reduced status of teachers. While the ideas of John Dewey, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Rudolf Steiner took hold in America, infusing much of the charter school movement, in Britain a “good education” is still identified with a juggernaut curriculum, nationally dictated, measured and moderated under stern ministerial audit. Michael Gove’s mechanistic centralism is not so much socialist as Soviet.

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About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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1 Response to Chinese School and Testing Factories

  1. lovelyjo says:

    I just watched this programme and I am hoping that others who have watched it too will take away from it some of the good points of the current British style of education compared to the Chinese style. The Chinese approach shown here of “teaching from the front” made no allowances for different learning styles or abilities, not to mention those students with SEND. I could say a lot more about what I just watched but without wanting to go on, I see no reason why British teachers would want to emulate this particular teaching style of rote, teacher-centred learning. I hope that this programme highlights to others the advantages of a teaching style which is more student-centred, relevant, exploratory and suited to a range of different needs and learning styles.


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