Do our schools programme us to fail in business?

What is the point of the education system? Is it to prepare our young people for a productive and happy life in society? That would be nice. Is it to allow every child to be the best they can be? That would be a great goal. Is it just to keep kids off the streets (as many believe)? Sadly, it is possible that the education system has no goals at all.

But it once did have a goal. It was set down in the Victorian Industrialist era to prepare children to work in factories. That purpose was never replaced with anything more suitable. That’s why we were all educated in a room full of children all sat in rows. We were all told to shut up, don’t talk to your neighbour, don’t look to see what anyone else is doing, just concentrate on your own work and face the foreman at the front. Above the foreman was a clock and when a bell sounded we were all allowed outside and when a bell sounded again we all came in. Just like in the factory. We were given a smattering of almost useless general knowledge and the education system’s job was done.

The problem with having a goal such as this means that we were all trained to behave in a certain way in the world of work, for a world that no-longer exists. Being told that to ‘conform is good’, that to ‘keep quite is good’ and ‘not to copy is good’ all have latent side-effects. Those behaviours give rise to beliefs that strangle creativity and leave us unprepared for a changing world in three ways:

1. If you conform in business you don’t stand out. Ok, you don’t risk making mistakes, but being risk-averse means you become frightened of failure and that means you’re unable to grow. Instead we’re taught that failure is bad.

2. If you’re in business and don’t talk to anyone else you will hate networking and fail at building relationships and teams, the secret to success in society. Instead we’re taught that you should work by yourself in silence.

3. If you’re in business and you don’t look to see what the competition is doing, if you don’t copy the best ideas and improve on them you end up being left behind. But we’re taught that we have to be totally original (which is impossible) so we fail.

As adults, by realising this, we can turn back the clock and reinstate our creative selves that were persecuted and locked away all those years ago. Perhaps times have changed slightly. Perhaps there are individual schools that have greater, more honourable goals. But the ‘system’ has no such goal except to produce ‘results’ by testing and ranking pupils and schools. For our children we can and should examine how they are being educated and ask the simple question – what is the system for.

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5 comments on “Do our schools programme us to fail in business?

  1. HI Ayd,

    don’t know if you remember me- I used to share a house with you when we studied at Oxford Brookes uni many moons ago. Hope you are well. Was trawling the net and came across your site and read your article on the education system that teaches people to fail. I agree with you and wondered if you were aware of a school called ‘Summerhill’ that began in the 1960’s, which gave the kids TOTAL freedom- whether to go to lessons, what to study and gave them a say in the running of the school. Despite producing some incredibly creative people who were able to think for themselves and tended to really discover their true vocation, the school has been under constant threat of government closure since it opened. Not sure if it’s still open even, but it does bear out the idea that conventional schooling is a form of control to produce fodder for doing boring, uninspiring jobs. I work at Liverpool Uni now as a lecturer, and there are developments in education that encourage creativity. However, most secondary schools are still all about crowd control and lecturing. True learning comes when you immerse yourself in something to the point where it’s the only thing you’re thinking about.
    Best wishes,



  2. notwithstanding the legacy of our victorian schooling system, Britain still managed to produce more than its fair share of science and technology inventors and innovators, not to speak of the major individual contributions made in the arts. Perhaps the human spirit has the power to surmont the obstacles it meets along the way, and in doing so adds greatly to the individual character, enhancing the possibility of great achievement.


  3. Ayd,good article, and nice follow up from Mike Furber.British private schools rank the best in the world, I recall reading. The state sector is a different beast. This is alone is a reflection that we have not got the right balance. Parents and pupils have a huge vested interest in improving the school system, yet aside from (ineffective?) PTA’s little is done to harness that.Why not look at voucher schemes and other ways to give some power back to parents…Why must central government be the paymaster and policy maker for so much of what goes on in our schools.Keep up the good questions, Ayd…


  4. As a mother of two children who both disliked and at times hated their senior schools (schools that were considered excellent), I have spent many hours deliberating this very topic. Our schools are castrated with old fashioned ideas and are drowning in assessments that mean little to the student’s development. I thought long and hard how I could take them out of the UK to schools that thought ‘outside the box’, that only concentrated on drawing out and nurturing the quirkiest glimmers of astoundingness. And of encouraging altruism, kindness and generosity. But my efforts proved fruitless. Perhaps things will change for the next generation. I see no evidence, but I live in hope.


    • It takes a lot to change any status quo. If ‘the system’ was able to recognise that it is flawed, then we might be able to sneak a few solutions in. Part of the problem is that most of our teachers are academics who went from pupil to student to scholar to teacher. They (like all of us) can only replicate their own reflection in their students. So their emphasis is on one-size-fits-all path. My children are close to school age now. The best I can do for now is my new school creative writing programme, see


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