U3A co-founder suggests secondary pupils should choose if they want to go to school

Education guru Eric Midwinter, one of three men who met in Cambridge to launch the University of the Third Age three decades ago, reckons Britain’s school system is outmoded – and that it would function much better if schooling was not forced on young people. This is from Cambridge News…

The U3A, as it is known, came into existence in Cambridge in the early 1980s and has since mushroomed into one of the largest learning bodies in Britain. It provides education courses and leisure activities for 300,000 people nationwide, with branches in 870 towns and cities.

In April, the organisation will mark its 30th anniversary with a lecture by Dr Midwinter, a social historian, who is former director of the Centre for Policy on Ageing.

He will spell out his belief that “modern British education is not fit for purpose, being deeply influenced by 19th century public school literature and the 1902 Education Act” – and will suggest that schools would do a better job if attendance was more flexible.

Adults taking part in U3A courses do so because they want to, and because they enjoy it, he says.

The problem, Dr Midwinter will say, is that “British education was built by a generation indoctrinated with schoolboy public school literature – Billy Bunter, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s.

“Education has become, sadly, completely confused with training, and U3A could be the way ahead for a new order. The emphasis of all education ought to be the happiness and contentment of students.

“I would like to see a situation where schools are not compulsory – and do not need to be compulsory, because they make learning so exciting that children want to be there. Schools would work on the U3A model – and there are no truants in the U3A.

“We don’t have an elaborate education system to support an advanced economy. On the contrary, having an advanced economy means we can afford to have an elaborate education system, necessary in order to provide custody for people until there might be a place for them in the labour market.”

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