A FORMER Hampshire teacher and education officer has spoken out about failings in the UK education system.

Eric Macfarlane was one of the county's education officers, working in Winchester, having also worked for 18 years as a principal of a sixth-form college.

Now he has written a book entitled Who Cares About Education? which takes a critical look at the problems students and teachers are facing.

"At 85, I was surprised that I was putting myself through the writing process once more," he said.

"My motivation stems from a deep sadness at the priorities and principles that currently dominate the UK education system and a conviction that we are, as a nation, failing to meet the needs of young people faced with the challenges of the 21st century.

"I'm also aware of the strong political pressures on those working in the public services to conform to the prescriptive routines imposed on them, rather than to put their careers at risk by expressing their concerns.

"Throughout my career, I frequently compromised my principles to keep my job as a head-teacher. In retirement, I no longer have to button my lip."

He said the most of the current problems in Hampshire's education system come from an unbalanced focus on traditionally academic subjects and test results.

"The driving force in our schools is competition - constant pressure to obtain good marks in very narrowly-conceived tests and exams. The consequence is an increasingly arid learning experience and a marked increase in mental illness among young people," he said.

"League tables acclaim the schools that do well on the single criterion of exam results, and shame those that do badly. In this game, little or no account is taken of the enormous differences in schools' resources, facilities and catchment areas."

Speaking about solutions for the education system, he continued: "The curriculum and the ways in which it is delivered need a thorough overhaul.

"Breadth of educational experience should replace early specialisation. We need to build a culture in which different routes to certification - creative, practical, vocational and academic - are respected equally.

"We have to put an end to the 'football-premiership' culture of competition - the absurd and meaningless scramble for test marks and exam grades, the pernicious league tables that set school against school and distort the criteria by which educational establishments are evaluated.

Let us commit ourselves to the reality, not just the rhetoric, of a fair, just and equitable society."

Eric's book is available at Waterstones on the High Street and in The Brooks Centre.