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Please enjoy reading the article which Mr Cross has written for this week's Educating Oxfordshire Column of the Oxford Times

Posted on: 07/11/2019

As the Director of a Sixth Form that offers a ‘traditional’ academic curriculum, I find I am often asked a variation of this question: ‘what’s the point in learning about [insert A-Level subject] when it’s all on Wikipedia?’ Luckily, I am a teacher, and therefore have learned the value of repeating myself. Let me explain…

Our school leavers today are faced with a dizzying array of options: A-Levels, T-Levels, BTECs, level 2 apprenticeships, level 3 apprenticeships, employment with training, traineeships, and more. Many of these offer courses that didn’t exist when I left school. How about a T-Level in digital business services? An apprenticeship in app development? A BTEC in fitness instructing?

They are qualifications that prepare students for the present, and there is real value in that. However, it is worth nothing that these qualifications have responded to a present need and have not predicted the future. Although unlikely, they could be preparing young people for jobs that might be as obsolete as a newspaper typesetter, switchboard operator, or milkman in another ten years.

Meanwhile, a student of Mr Pythagoras’ in the year BC 520 would recognise a reasonable amount of what is taught in Maths classrooms today. Equally, there is evidence to suggest that a student in 1730 would probably have learned that, due to his impatience, King Harold received an arrow through the eye during the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

A better question, perhaps, is why do academic subjects have such staying power, even with the advent of free, abundant information at our fingertips? Why is this knowledge so durable?

In my view, the answer lies in the truism that ‘knowledge is power’. Research suggests that our brain’s raw ‘processing power’ is determined fairly early in life, and that there isn’t too much we can do to change this. However, this isn’t to say we can’t become cleverer - research also suggests that by filling our long-term memories with powerful information and complex thoughts, we have the ability to think more broadly, more flexibly and more deeply. You might have the fastest brain in the world, but if you haven’t given it much to this about, then a well-furnished brain will beat it hands-down.

It would be foolish to suggest that every young person should study A-Levels once they leave school. However, for those who could, choosing an A-Level education opens far more doors than it shuts, and furnishes the mind at the same time.

That’s why, at Didcot Sixth Form, we are committed to delivering the most exceptional A-Level education that we can, across the broadest range of subjects, in a focused and stimulating learning environment. We are ambitious for our sixth form, and for our students, whether they are applying for Oxbridge or a higher- or degree-level apprenticeships.

Wikipedia, though powerful, will tell you that tomatoes are a fruit. An academic education won’t only lend the wisdom that tomatoes don’t go in a fruit salad, but make you question the definition of a salad in the first place. In turn, challenging convention in this way brought us innovations as diverse as the iPhone, vaccinations and, ironically, Wikipedia itself.

Mr Cross

Director of Sixth Form

Written by Mr J Cross
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