Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but we really need to stop using the term “skills” when we’re in fact discussing “intelligences” that lie beyond mere academic ability. This terminology really matters.
Peter Wilby, whose articles usually deserve proper attention, has another good one in the Guardian today:
Gove is stuck in the past. We must look beyond grades
The left once debated bold reforms that valued skills over certificates. As the row over GCSE grades shows, they are needed now more than ever
So here’s that word “skills”, and this strapline ought to read “reforms that value different intelligences over certificates”.
Mr Wilby goes on to say,
Some qualifications entail knowledge and skills of direct relevance to the jobs that demand them. Most don’t. Their content is irrelevant. Their holders may (or may not) be more cultivated, reflective and wise after long periods of study. But there is scant evidence that they make better lawyers, accountants, bankers, managers and journalists. [3Di emphasis in bold]
The main effect of increasing access to A-levels and degrees is not, as originally intended, to ensure that elite jobs are open to talent from all backgrounds. On the contrary, longer periods of education and extended hurdles of certification favour the offspring of advantaged families, with their greater financial resources, greater reserves of cultural capital and greater access to elite institutions. By paying private school fees (or higher prices for houses close to favoured state schools) and supporting postgraduate study, today’s middle classes buy prestigious jobs for their children just as elite families once bought army commissions and civil service positions.
Forty years ago, when the left still had vigour and ambition and the deleterious effects of the qualification spiral were already evident, bold reforms were widely debated.
First, it was suggested, employers and professional bodies should be prohibited from setting entry barriers in terms of general educational qualifications, such as five higher grade GCSEs or upper second-class degrees. Discrimination against the uncertificated, it was argued, is as unjust as discrimination against black or disabled people. Job candidates should be selected on specific competencies, skills and knowledge.
Second, schools and universities, instead of acting as gatekeepers issuing passports for elite positions, should introduce “achievement reports” detailing what young people know, what skills they have acquired, their personal qualities, and so on. Grades or marks should be issued for specific parts of the syllabus, not for overall performance.
The arguments for such changes, restoring educational goals to primacy in schools and universities, are stronger than ever. But Gove moves in the opposite direction: making exams more traditional and ending a recent trend towards splitting them into discrete “modules” that could form the basis of achievement reports. He prefers fighting a losing battle against grade inflation to asking if grades are needed at all and creating a system fairer to young people and more valuable for employers.
If you’re a follower of 3D Eye you may already be aware that Finland, consistently one of the best-performing countries in the world in terms of its education for all pupils, has no national examinations AT ALL until pupils reach the age of eighteen. How do you argue with that? Haters of mainstream English education and its teachers argue that public tests and exams are useful for “measuring” how well SCHOOLS achieve – which is of course complete nonsense when you consider different intakes, high staff turnover and difficulty of recruiting the best teachers in some areas, and the high percentage of pupils receiving private tuition/personal cramming in some areas.
So let’s put this whole business into the language of multiple intelligences.
You can cram children and young people for academic tests and examinations, but you can’t cram them for personal intelligence, social intelligence, emotional literacy, spiritual intelligence, instinctual intelligence, physical intelligence, creativity, curiosity, integrity, human values, virtuous behaviour and original thinking.
Of course it’s difficult to get the most wealthy and most privileged parents to accept that tests and exams shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of the school system, since they generally believe they ought to be able to guarantee academic success for their offspring, and therefore entry to the best universities, careers and occupations.
It’s therefore nigh on impossible to achieve a national consensus on these issues, as Gove and others well know. So what price “progressive Conservatism”, and how much chance is there of a Labour party led by Ed Miliband leading the arguement for getting rid of exams at 16 and putting in place a system of education similar to Finland’s where all six human intelligences are understood, valued and developed in all pupils, who still achieve highly in academic tests?
This may sound to some like revolutionary thinking, rather than merely “progressive”, but the new education revolution waits for no-one, and those countries that have already shifted their approaches to teaching and learning towards those fit for the 21st Century will continue to move ahead whilst here in dear old England we continue under the blight of Goveism and his determination to turn the clock back to the 19th Century.
It may be of help to Ed Miliband and his political colleagues to realise that the Confederation of British Industry has already shifted ITS thinking towards the abolition of exams at 16, and a broader school curriculum that develops a wider range of “skills” and intelligences – see:
GCSEs encourage “teaching to the test” and may be past their sell-by date, according to Britain’s leading business organisation.
The Confederation of British Industry warns that the qualification is stopping teachers delivering an “inspirational classroom experience” and should be replaced as a measure in school league tables by the A-level.
Speaking at the launch of a CBI inquiry into education, John Cridland, the CBI director general, argued that abandoning GCSEs could help deliver a more rounded education.
“There’s something about this GCSE funnel which produces a prescribed form of learning which seems to be teaching for the test.
“It frustrates teachers because it stops them delivering that inspirational classroom experience, and you see young people being switched off.”
“It seems to me that we’ve raised the participation age to 18 and we’re left with an education system that focuses on 16,” said Cridland.
“We need to give school leaders more freedom to motivate, to recognise, to reward high performance, and deal with poor performance, and I would go further, we need to give teachers more freedom to teach. If you have an inspirational teacher why don’t we do what we do in business, back the guy or girl that you trust to deliver excellence rather than tell them how to do it.”
- Heads demand urgent GCSE inquiry (bbc.co.uk)
- GCSE results: headteacher attacks Michael Gove over marking ‘butchery’ (guardian.co.uk)