It’s difficult to know where to begin with this post, other than continue from the previous one.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has released a report on the state of education in this country and its lack of fitness for purpose.
That’s quite a statement, and was so significant it was reported on the BBC and in every major newspaper and media outlet throughout the country this week. This is a voice that everyone should listen to. The CBI is an organisation that has enough clout to get both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to attend its annual conference on the same day. This is an organisation that is quite independent from the many educationalists whose often strident opinions describe the way into the future. This is a report that is objective in its views, without undue influence from politicians or bureaucrats. This report contains recommendations that see things from both ends of the educational spectrum but is absolute in its statement that, despite three decades of significant economic investment, education is failing our children, is unfit for purpose, and is consequently failing to meet the needs of businesses in the 21st Century.
For those who are interested, you can read the report in full from the link below, or you may be more inclined to read the Executive Summary.
The report is called “First Steps: A New Approach for our Schools”.
What the CBI is saying is that as a nation we need to rethink the purpose of our education system, which has become too narrow in its perspective and its approach. It criticises the exam culture and indeed the fixation that currently exists, and the mentality of teaching to tests which prevent children and young people from developing the core skills that are needed for life and for the workplace; from developing skills that we highlighted in our previous post such as communication skills, the ability to be innovative and to use imagination, the aptitude for working independently and also collectively, and knowing when and where it’s right to do so. In addition, they want young people who are highly numerate and literate.
They concur with the government that decentralisation is the right way to progress with education, ensuring that trust is placed upon the professionals within education to provide a localised curriculum that’s appropriate for the needs of young people whilst simultaneously adhering to and being guided by a set of standards in numeracy, literacy, science and computer science.
They disagree with the government on how this can be achieved, and suggest that there should be a complete abolition of national 16+ exams, not a revived and divisive O-level equivalent that the government proposes. They suggest that trust and funding should be given to the profession to further develop the excellent practice that can already be found in using formative and summative assessment.
3DI Associates welcomes this innovative and thought-provoking intervention by the CBI, and we’ll be delighted to contribute to the discussions on how to implement these recommendations. As John Cridland says “There is no more important issue facing this country than education”.
We would also politely provide a word of warning. There have been some excellent reports on education over the years, including the Working Group for 14-19 Reform, chaired by Mike Tomlinson, and the Cambridge Review of Primary Education chaired by Robin Alexander. Neither of these documents, and others besides, were implemented or even properly considered by successive governments despite their significance and range. Other ‘initiatives’ have come and gone; ones that could truly have made an impact in the manner in which the CBI expresses as a necessity for our schools, such as the Extended Schools Programme, Healthy Schools, and Creative Partnerships.
We cannot allow yet another report to be archived by the Department of Education or left on bookshelves collecting dust.
We need to act now, and the government needs to carefully consider whether their current approach is fit for the 21st century. Whilst they’re at it, they may like to consider how and where some of these core skills for life and work might be learned – through PSHE education for example (which should be as embedded in each lesson as English ought to be).
Please note that we use the expression “core skills” rather than “soft skills” and will continue to do so. There is nothing “soft” about being able to communicate, empathise, intuit, create and improvise.
They might also consider the 2006 Education Act, which irrespective of the needs of businesses in the 21st century commits schools to promoting the wellbeing of their pupils – another issue that has resonance with anyone wishing to employ a young person in the future.
Below are some of the recommendations from the report with a brief 3Di Associates commentary.
“Development of a clear, widely-owned and stable statement of the outcomes that all schools are asked to deliver. This should go beyond the merely academic, into the behaviours and attitudes schools should foster in everything they do. It should be the basis on which we judge all new policy ideas, schools and the structures we set up to monitor them.”
School improvement goes beyond the taught curriculum. The management of education within schools should go beyond schooling in national and international tests. Looking intelligently at new approaches to learning – with the emphasis on learning rather than teaching – is the right approach. Singapore’s “Teach Less, Learn More” approach should be the model here.
“Adoption by schools of a strategy for fostering parental engagement and wider community involvement, including links with business.”
It’s vital that we are working with parents and carers to guide and support them in their learning too. For decades we’ve had an education system that concentrates on and prioritises academic capabilities rather than the holistic needs of children and their families. This has to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“Use decentralisation to give teachers greater freedom to tailor their teaching and structure the learning each child does.”
Free education. Give education back to those who understand it. It isn’t possible to depoliticise education for the reason that it’s so integral to the growth and development of our society, but pedagogy and content that is appropriate to both the child’s needs and interests has to be in the hands of educationalists. This is not an opening to a free for all where teachers teach what they want. This is a direct means of developing a personalised learning programme for children that operates under a stringent and cohesive set of agreed learning outcomes and assessment thereof.
“Removal of the currently over-specified and repetitive national curriculum from primary schools in favour of clearly defined goals on literacy, numeracy, science and computer science.
These targets should be more stretching than the current national curriculum sets out, and would be judged by Ofsted.” [Or their decentralised national equivalent – could the CBI commit to a further decentralisation of Ofsted?]
There is a problem here. The government has stated that it wants a slimmed down National Curriculum and yet the first draft of the English curriculum for Primary Education contains over 50 pages of very prescribed content. Further reams of instruction are to be found in the draft proposals for Maths and Science. A much smaller document is going to outline some bullet points for inclusion in other curriculum areas, thus freeing teachers to make sensible choices as to what is taught.
In fairness to Mr Gove, we are not convinced that he wants to eradicate all arts and humanities from school and we believe him when he says that he is committed to a holistic education as far as which subjects are taught. What he fails to understand, though, is that we have generations of teachers, who, whilst perfectly capable of being innovative and creative within the current straitjacket, have never had to create a themed approach to learning where they choose the content. We could get a situation whereby if it isn’t written down, it isn’t taught. This is exactly what has happened with the EBacc; subjects that aren’t included by default become second class.
The CBI is right to promote quality learning in these areas but a primary curriculum must be broad and balanced, if we are going to develop those core skills and the love of learning that is the entitlement of every child.
“Move the focus of our exam system to 18 and develop clearly rigorous and stretching standards for both academic and vocational A-levels, with maths and English retained until 18 for both.”
This is very much in line with the Finnish model. All children maintain their work on English and Maths throughout their schooling. The same happens in the United States and other countries. It makes sense. What the Finnish system has managed is to avoid a two-tiered system developing where there is a hierarchy of academic versus vocational. (Just as an aside, this is an interesting differentiation in itself, as we both feel we went into education as a vocation.)
Finland formally examines its children just once in their school careers. It is worth repeating: once. Their results are continually at the top of global comparisons and within Finland the teaching profession, and the results from Finnish schools, are respected and valued by their society.
With the raising of the school age of leaving to 18, there is no point in a 16+ leavers exam. It is an anachronism.
Another recommendation by the CBI stresses this point:
“A move [away] from GCSEs in the middle of this decade, but the development of a more rigorous and diverse assessment approach that helps better decision-making by young people at the key points of age 14, 16 and 18 rather than simply substituting GCSEs with a more rigorous exam at 16.”
Our point entirely.
“Greater focus of early years spending on parenting support and structured childcare provision in areas where educational performance is low – government must accept an element of differential funding and target the budget on provision in the most disadvantaged communities.”
Our colleagues in the Early Years have excellent established practice, particularly in observational assessment, and in using this assessment to channel and develop the learning experiences for their children. This is an area whereby all sectors within education in this country can learn about the positive aspects of assessment as being more informative than a single examination or even a series of coursework activities.
But this issue is about catching them young. Too often, children enter our schools with such a lack of skills and abilities that they never make up the gap. Sure Start and the Book Start campaigns were absolutely the right way forward, if managed correctly. Significant investment is needed to narrow the gap at the earliest opportunity rather than react to the gaps once they are too large to do anything effective about them.
There are other recommendations within this report but time and space don’t allow us to comment further. We will shortly be adding to this piece on our 3Di In Focus page on our website if you’d like more of our opinions and thoughts on the report.
If you are interested in education quotes, there are some wonderful ones used within this document (see link above) including some from some rather surprising people.
All in all, this has seemed like an incredibly progressive week and we are feeling the warmth and the passion of our colleagues both in and out of education to make those changes and make a difference. Some amongst us have been walking these “First Steps” for too long, or at least trying to. Let’s work together to take the next steps until we have an education system that empowers young people, gives them precisely what they are entitled to, and narrows the gap between those that have and those that haven’t – once and for all.
See also previous 3Di Assoicates posts on the CBI