It’s been quite a week for education, with the Annual Ofsted report and the “League Tables” for Local Authorities being published. How much time and energy is spent on reporting these events compared with scrutinising the potential for positive changes to our education system?
On the same day, Sir Michael Barber reported on a new International Report that ranked the United Kingdom as 6th in the world of education. This was much higher than recent PISA /OECD reports have placed the country, albeit using an entirely different measurement.
Michael Barber said that the difference between this report and others was that the Pearson Report, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, took a range of other factors into consideration. For example, there are statistics on Educational input – e.g. spending on education, pupil/teacher ratios, Educational Output – e.g. scores in PISA, graduation rates and Socio-Economic Factors – e.g. unemployment rates, GDP.
With all these factors included, Michael Barber concluded that this report offered a more realistic comparison between various countries on whose education system is the most effective.
Before we continue, we would just like to mention how ‘unfriendly’ the report is to read. The jargon, for a layperson, and even an educationalist that has spent years reading government edicts, is sometimes indecipherable. Therefore within our summary of the report, we hope to decode some of this language to make it more accessible.
The report concluded with five lessons for education that we will return in our next blog. However, we will start with the key recommendations from the Executive Summary. In bold and underlined is how they were reported. Our summary and commentary follows.
Strong relationships are few between education inputs and outputs
We assume this means that there is little correlation between educational expenditure and the measureable results. More money in doesn’t mean higher attainment. It just means it costs more for every ‘A’ grade attained. But is this really what we should be measuring? Is education always going to be judged solely on the statistical data from formal examinations? Isn’t educating our next generation greater than the sum of their collective GCSE results? What is it that we want to achieve from education? Are exams the only “output”?
Income matters, but culture may matter more
Unsurprisingly, the report concludes that if people value their education system then it’s more likely to be successful. Take note all those who consistently criticise education and teachers. The demoralisation goes far further than the workforce. This is having a significant impact upon our children and young people.
We know that we are frequently citing Finland as an example but 80% of the population in that country say that they trust their education system. Try asking a similar group of parents in Coventry that question today after Ofsted said that the percentage of its primary schools failing to provide adequate education for pupils was higher than anywhere else in the country.
If we adopted a more positive approach to education then the “outputs” may be more positive, but once more, we have to agree on what constitutes good schooling, and this isn’t just judgement criteria as laid out by Ofsted. For example, spiritual, moral, social and cultural education is allegedly inspected in our schools but is not given a grade.
There is no substitute for good teachers
Exactly right, which is why those above us in this new “league table” invest so significantly in teaching, and not just in monetary terms. In Singapore, for instance, every teacher is provided with 100 hours for free study. This, we understand, is separate to professional development provided within the school. The report says that it’s difficult to define what a good teacher is because there are no clear and agreed criteria for judgment, yet don’t most of us know what a good teacher is when we see one? Surely we could come up with some basic indicators.
It also says that educationally successful countries have clear goals and expectations and let teachers “get on with meeting these”. So how did UK get to being 6th if this was one of the criteria? In the last two decades, teachers haven’t been allowed to “get on” with anything without significant interference from national government, including having to adhere to a heavily prescribed National Curriculum and in some cases teach to test to cover their backs.
It’s really important that people do take such statements as this seriously. Trust has to be given back to the profession in order for them to do their job, and enjoy doing it in the process. The wellbeing of teachers has an incredible impact on the wellbeing of their pupils. Fact.
When it comes to school choice, good information is crucial
When it comes to selecting anything, good information is crucial but one has to ask what choices some people do have? As one parent said last night, on hearing that the schools in her area weren’t allegedly up to scratch, “What do I have to do? Move to Sheffield?”
What information are parents and carers actually given about the schools in their areas? They have league tables, of course, but this is relating to one aspect of schooling. The Ofsted reports are another indication but not always giving the truest reflection of what it’s like to live and work in a school.
The autonomy of academies hasn’t really given more choice to parents either. It’s real “choice” that is sadly lacking from our current system that hasn’t been helped in any way by the introduction of Free Schools, just as Charter Schools didn’t provide real choice in the USA either.
If we truly believe in an alternative approach to learning that fosters creativity, personalised learning and autonomy from the constraints of the National Curriculum, as parents we have NO CHOICE, unless we can dig deep into our pockets to send our children to a Montessori or Steiner school at a phenomenal expense.
There is no single path to better labour market outcomes
Essentially what this is saying is that whilst in some countries higher academic attainment equates to a higher life-long income, this isn’t always the case. Furthermore, higher academic achievement generally doesn’t necessarily make a country wealthier or people more employable.
Look at the situation currently regarding the level of unemployment in this country for graduates. They are no longer able to automatically jump out of academia into a comfortable job for life. As has been pointed out, the majority of jobs in the future haven’t even been invented yet.
Referring yet again to the CBIs “First Steps” report, what businesses are looking for these days are core skills of communication, collaboration and creativity from would-be employees. Is our current education system, steeped in examinations now and apparently in the foreseeable future, going to provide businesses with what they want?
We really must be careful not to be complacent with this 6th in the world label we have recently acquired. There is still so much to do, so much to change, and so many better chances available for our children and young people.
A global index can help highlight educational strengths and weaknesses
It’s interesting that the two countries cited in this section of the report are said to have diametrically opposed processes for learning. Finland test their children once in their years of schooling, whereas, according to this South Korea have a stringent examination system. Yet there are similarities. Both countries have vocational studies. In both countries, teaching is seen as a significant and important profession. Both countries see their education systems as going beyond the academic, with an accumulative “Student Activity Record” for Korean children highlighting the need for “moral development” and psychological and health service provision in Finland.
This report says that it is difficult to compare such differences but this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from the successes of others and build it into our own system.
There’s so much to learn from other countries in the way that they look at educating the whole child with a focus on learning rather than teaching. In England, our policy makers look at “teaching” first with “learning” as an outcome rather than the other way round.
This is probably one of the key features of our system that needs to change.
What this report does highlight is a fundamental need to look at what we are trying to achieve in education. Is our system or the one that Michael Gove trying to put in place really fit for the 21st century?