Radio Humberside – Post 16 Education in the UK

Well I did get to speak for a short while. I had so much to say and so little time. Here’s the gist of what I would have said if I had had longer:

  • Politicians have repeatedly interfered with education – introducing change and dogma but with little understanding. They should leave it to the professionals. What we have is a mess.
  • Post 16 education does not marry with Pre 16 education.
  • The curriculum is too knowledge-based and narrow.
  • The English Baccalaureate was a terrible move it has narrowed the curriculum too much and downgraded the Arts and Humanities. Music and Art are disappearing and even Geography and History are squeezed. This is not a balanced curriculum that will produce well-adjusted students.
  • The emphasis on knowledge has created a cram course. Students are being fed facts for exams. That is not education. It is too stressful and not what we need in the 21st century. Doing away with pupil centred education and coursework was a retrograde step. End of course exams create pressure and favour only one particular type of student.
  • Looking at international PISA tables is plain stupid. It is not an indication of where anybody is. The Asian schools are exam factories cramming information into heads but not educating. The stress is ridiculous.  Suicide levels are unacceptable. The students are not educated – they simply regurgitate information. When it comes to something unpredictable or requiring innovation or lateral thinking they are lost.
  • We need a seamless system that runs through from age 11 to 18. It should be broad and balanced, marrying knowledge with skills.
  • The 21st Century does not require memory – knowledge is available at the touch of a screen – it requires teamwork, innovation, flexibility, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, personal skills, lateral thinking and versatility – all those aspects which this government has downgraded and left out!
  • The GCSE was a good exam that was inclusive and everyone could achieve and get a pass. The top end could achieve to a higher level and if they had used raw scores instead of just grades it would have enabled differentiation of abilities. It did not lead into A Levels.
  • We need to find a replacement for A Levels which is broader, includes all the skills as well as knowledge, has room for the Arts and Humanities, has vocational courses and apprenticeships and prepares students for life – not just university.
  • Education is not just for employment. Education should expand student minds, get them thinking, engaging and enjoying learning. Education is for life not just work. It should be stimulating.
  • The 21st century has the challenge of Artificial Intelligence. Many of the present jobs will go – both the low-skill and high skill. But there will be many new jobs. We will still need plumbers, builders, electricians, leisure workers, teachers, nurses and carers of the elderly and others. They need training. That should be the curriculum.
  • We need to embrace the new technologies – make our students proficient with ICT at a far higher level and enable them to use their smart-phones positively – like they would do in real life. It doesn’t have to be a negative distraction – smart-phones can be a positive force in education
  • Britain is best at creativity and innovation. It is a shame that our politicians have suppressed that and created a cram course of winners and losers that is only about the winners who go to university. All students are important. None of them should be losers. There’s a place for everyone in society. It isn’t just about the high flyers!
  • A seamless education should work around the old GCSE model, have the width for all types of students to prosper, have the balance to marry knowledge and skills, include vocational elements and apprenticeships that are seen as having the same importance as the more academic. It should not be about rote memory but involve student centred learning, investigation, exploration and creativity. It should not always be teacher-led. There should be room for so much more!

Dump the PISA tables!!

One last thing – the key to a great education is outstanding teachers. For ten years teachers have been hammered and the best and most experienced are leaving in droves. Working a 60 hour week in a tedious and unrewarding curriculum, with the constant stress of inspections that are draconian and punitive, with pay drastically eroded after a decade long pay freeze and pensions reduced, is not good for anyone. The workload is exhausting and drains the life out of people. Knowledge teaching is tedious and boring.

If you want a dynamic system you have to pay properly to attract the best. You have to reduce class sizes, reduce workload and return to a reasonable work/life balance.

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