April 14, 2015

British school teaches wrong textbook for almost the entire year


Whoops. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Whoops. (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re like me, which is to say an American, your entire conception of the British primary and secondary education system is probably from books, movies and television. And what great depictions we have to pick from! The History Boys, Skins, Roald Dahl’s Boy, If…, those cautionary books about what happens when you don’t follow health & safety regulations…all of it leaves me with the impression that British boarding schools are constant orgies of classism, physical abuse, copious drug and alcohol intake, magic, with relatively few adult authority figures.

This is probably not true, because as everyone knows, school is boring. This is why so few YA novels include long scenes of physics lectures or homework, and why so many TV shows about teenagers seem to take place during endless weekends with no papers assigned. But it appears that one British boarding school’s adult authorities were indeed asleep on the job, which came to light that an English class had been learning the wrong textbook only weeks before their A-level final exam.

The Telegraph reports the error made at Wellington College:

Teachers only realised their mistake two months before pupils were due to sit the public exam, leading the school to apologise and announce there would be an investigation into the blunder.

Pupils had been studying the incorrect text since the start of the academic year last September, and the mistake only came to light in March.

A spokeswoman for Wellington College that the school was sorry for the mistake, but added that no teacher had been sacked.

The first hint that something was wrong came when the class took their first practice tests, which contained questions on no familiar texts. The school hasn’t revealed which texts were (wrongly) included on the syllabus, which may mean they’re extremely embarrassing. Was a posh boarding school teaching laughably inappropriate texts without catching their mistake? Were students who were meant to be studying hoary classics for their A-levels actually close-reading BS Johnson and James Moffat? We can only hope.

Wellington, which costs £33,000 (or over $48,000) a year, has instituted a cramming program to get the students on track for their exam. The Daily Mail reports the students’ mood as “devastated”, which sounds about right. Rushed lessons seems like a sensible response, at least compared to how other educators have handled seemingly insurmountable state-required testing.

But for a school where tuition tops out at almost $150K, an arguably ill-prepared class studying for a rigorous exam that determines their continued education sounds less like a mix-up to be quickly fixed, and more like the seed of litigation. Though as an American, this is always my suspicion. Perhaps they will handle things differently. Maybe British colleges have a gentleman’s agreement to resolve these disputes with some combination of caning and marmite. We’ll see.


Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.