Britain Education Politics Scotland

CS Lewis comments on 2021 Education and Examination Results!

Scotland has got so much smarter over the pandemic.  At least according to this years school exams where ‘A” s were 20% higher than in pre-pandemic times.

Somerville’s Land of Milk and Honey (and correct pronouns)

In the fantasy world inhabited by some of the Scottish Government – where everything they do is milk and honey and everything bad is from the evil ‘Westminster’ – this is attributed to real success. Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said pupils had delivered “a strong set of results, achieved under extraordinary circumstances”.

I was amazed listening to a BBC Radio Scotland programme about the latest exam results – when the ‘journalist’ and guests spoke about people daring to question the reality of these results,  as doing harm and hurting the feelings of the young people.

Dumber England?

Meanwhile in England, the pupils are not as bright – with the increase only being a few percentage points –

Blair’s Error

In addition to this, Tony Blairs son, Euan, has declared that his father’s aim to get 50% of young people into University was ‘outdated’ and ‘unfit for purpose’.

““When you look at the 50pc target, the belief was the more people go to university, the more people can access great opportunities, the more we would transition people fairly from full time education to full time employment. It has not worked out that way.”   When Blair decided that education was about training for jobs and not education, is where it all went wrong.  What’s wrong with education for education’s sake?

Lewis on Education

C S Lewis, as with so many modern trends, saw this coming.  These are his prescient words from Screwtape Proposes a Toast’ –  incredibly published 64 years ago in 1957.   Screwtape observes:

“The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be ‘undemocratic’. These differences between the pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done on various levels.

At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power [or wish] to profit by higher education or not.

 At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and  elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase-  ‘parity of esteem’.

An even more drastic scheme is not impossible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by  being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, , and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON THE MAT.

In a word we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you as fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

Of course this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will.

(Screwtape Proposes a Toast – p140 of the Folio edition of the Screwtape Letters).

C S Lewis and the War against Coronavirus



  1. Thanks for this David,

    This spoke to me – “Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind.”

    And as a result the overall average performance goes down while artificially appearing to be higher. It is stifling to creativity, frustrating to talent and making the overall student population dumber. It is patronising to those “others” because by avoiding such “trauma” it is setting people up to fail in life.

    There are always people who are willing to work hard, are good at working with people and have talents and skills that can benefit others. For anyone not to be enabled to reach their potential by the education system is a failure of the system, not a success.

    The government needs to be real about the education system as it is, and be of service to the country not manipulate “results” as a political football in the name of “freedom”.

  2. When I was a teacher, every year the SQA would produce psuedo-statistics which purported to indicate how well each school had performed compared to some nebulous expectation based on the previous performance of the pupils in the school. It was then ‘possible’ to compare how well each school had done in comparison with all other schools, not on the basis of raw results but on the basis of this ‘expectation-actual outcome’ comparison. I wonder if in the brave new world where pupils are suddenly so much better-educated, these statistics are still produced. And if pupils are doing so much better at a time when they have been spending less time in school, what does this tell us about the schools? Or are these exam results just another example of pseudo statistics? Incidentally, in the good old days the SQA knew who were the lenient markers and adjusted their marks downwards.

  3. I think there’s a naive assumption among secular utopians that human progress can only ever go forwards, not backwards, therefore there’s no need to pursue excellence or even competence to make sure everything we’ve invented and built up to this point continues to function. Those things are just taken for granted. True happiness is to be found in increasing one’s self-esteem through whatever means, no matter how superficial or imaginary.

    Of course, this can’t last – our technological comforts will last only as long as there is a sufficient number of competent people around to maintain and fix them. One can only speculate just how deep into a dystopian nightmare the West will have to sink (if Christ hasn’t returned to earth by then) before the secular utopians are cured of their delusions.

  4. C S Lewis really nailed this one. I am astounded at what my 24 year old granddaughter does not know. She is very intelligent, good at maths and accounts and is now in a managerial role, but her knowledge of history or literature is hopeless. I suppose this is about national borders being demolished ready for the global new world.
    Schools are now about feelings and not education. Goodness me we can’t have someone winning something, it might upset others!

  5. Given today’s huge expenditure on Education , isn’t it time that an honest Education Minister proclaimed that there are now no ” bad schools” , just “bad pupils.”

    When was the last time a teacher blamed poor exam results on pupils’ lack of intellectual ability ?

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