Review – Stuart Ritchie – “What’s The Point Of Going To School?”

“We don’t need no education…………………………Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone”.

Well do we and should they? This was the topic discussed by Stuart Ritchie at the Banshee Labyrynth on Wednesday night for Skeptics on the Fringe.

Stuart had broken down the subject into various sub headings, and with the audience acting as a topic selection device he looked at questions such as – do different learning styles have an effect?; does class size matter?; The effects of Grammar School education and more. We were taken through the various studies carried out into each area, which made me think that I should find some twins to rent out as it seems twin studies are commonly used in questions of educational effects (my cousin has twins – hmmm).

Stuart has a rapid presentation style (our photographer found it hard to get a shot where his hands weren’t blurred through furious gesticulation), and after a fairly quick run through the first 3 or 4 topics it was feared that we could reach the end of his talk in about 20 minutes flat but he paced himself well and he kept his audience’s attention right to the end, leaving not much time for a Q&A although some questions were followed up in the bar after. Stuart was a very entertaining speaker and I thought his talk flowed very well, he was also the first one of the run to be able to reach the whole room without the aid of a microphone (and without needing to shout).

So what conclusions were made? Well in some areas, such as class size it appeared that despite the drive for ever smaller teacher to pupil ratios it doesn’t actually have that much effect. Grammar schools had a positive effect on those from poorer background with high IQs but the negative effect of Secondary Moderns makes this not quite the success story it sounds like. It seems that whatever the studies show there will always be ‘fashions’ in education for the politicians to latch on to and promote to parents desperate for the thing that is going to make their little cherub excel.

However the final question was “Does going to school make you smarter?”. Being the final question Stuart had almost run out of time to answer it but apparently the answer is yes it does (on average a 4 IQ points increase for every year spent at school), so we can debate about how schools should be run, how big the classes should be, what effect good/bad teachers have and so on but it seems that, although it may currently be out for summer, school as we know is part of our educational landscape for a while yet.

Diane Waugh