Please take a few minutes to read our summary of the executive summary of this important new report.
A report from an Independent Advisory Group
chaired by Professor Sir Roy Anderson
3Di’s Response – some initial thoughts
1. It should be stressed that these proposed changes will also benefit the learners themselves – enhancing their capabilities as individuals who have a personal and private life, and not simply develop learners as future workers, entrepreneurs or professionals.
2. It should be stressed that these proposals should be applied across all phases of education – that they are applicable to early years, primary and lower secondary, as well as throughout lifelong learning – the emphasis should be on a broad and balanced approach to developing our multiple intelligences and life skills as well as knowledge acquisition, creativity and thinking skills.
3. We take great exception to using the term “soft skills” when we’re actually talking about a number of intelligences that are essential to success in life and in work which are far harder to develop than simple memorisation of factual information.
Our summary of the Executive Summary:
In 1987, Professor Sir Gordon Higginson was invited to review the A level (advanced level) system. His reviewing committee, taking evidence from industry, commerce and education, recommended increased breadth in the subjects taught and suggested a move to at least five subjects. The report won wide support from professionals. However, the government could not countenance tampering with the ‘gold standard’ of A level. Higginson predicted that it might take another 15 years to broaden the subject range taught to 16-to 18-year-olds.
Today, students typically take three to four subjects that are taken of the ‘gold standard’ qualification, resulting in a high degree of specialisation when students leave school for employment or further/higher education.
What is much debated, however, is how best to prepare young people to . . . have a productive and enjoyable life. Do they need different skills from those offered by our specialised A level system?
The content of this report aims to contribute to the debate of whether the ‘gold standard’ of A level be broadened to include both more academic disciplines and teaching on the so called softer skills, such as communication and team work, which are so important in employment and university.
Our work specifically focused on a number of key issues:
• the setting and governance of education policy in England to meet the country’s long term
economic and social needs and, more specifically:
• whether a broader curriculum than that offered by A levels is desirable
• whether the teaching of the so called ‘softer’ skills alongside academic skills is essential
• articulating the skills in terms of the needs of employers and universities
We . . . hope that education policy in the UK can be formulated via cross-party agreement to develop long term strategic education planning to better prepare learners with the skills for success in the future while supporting the country’s economic growth and social well being.
The creation of an independent body is recommended representing all key stakeholders (the teaching profession, the employers, higher education and political parties). The role of the independent body would be to provide wide representation and consistency, and mitigate disruption associated with the frequency of change in the role of the Secretary of State for Education, an appointment that has changed regularly over the past 25 years with an average time in post of just over two years. Advice from the independent body should be strategic, for the long term, and must reflect the social and economic ambitions of the country.
The A level system should be slowly changed to a baccalaureate type system in which a broader curriculum (including core English, mathematics and the Extended Project qualification) which meets the requirements of a designed framework for key competences as outlined in recommendation 3, is provided for all post-16 learners.
England must, as soon as possible, formally adopt a framework for key competences guided by recent international developments (such as the European Framework), which includes: communication in English and in foreign languages, competence in mathematics, science and technology and digital competence, learning to learn individually and as part of a team, personal, interpersonal and intercultural competence, including an understanding of codes of conduct and the importance of business ethics, a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, creativity and cultural awareness. These competencies must fall under the inspection framework and should be embedded throughout the curriculum and associated qualifications.
Project work evidenced by the Extended Project and other qualifications should become a key requirement for university entrance.
Non-cognitive skills and attributes such as team working, emotional maturity, empathy, and other interpersonal skills are as important as proficiency in English and mathematics in ensuring young people’s employment prospects. Assessment should reflect this reality and so investment is needed to support assessment experts in finding ways of reliably evidencing these skills.
A national careers service should be created and its advice aligned with the areas of the government’s growth strategy, to gear the education system more clearly towards the areas that support the country’s economic strategy and ambitions.
An exchange of staff between schools and employers is essential to enhance teachers’ engagement with the worlds of business and industry. Employers and employer representative groups must collaborate with school and college leadership groups to design and implement a national scheme to promote this exchange.
Access to high quality teaching and learning is currently unequal – technology offers a way to resolve this – at least in part. Government should investigate virtual learning as a way to improve the quality of provision and make it more consistent for all students in public and private sectors.
The roles of BIS and DfE should be reviewed by government to ensure much closer working relationships, and a shared set of objectives for the education system as a whole. The case for placing all education responsibilities, including apprenticeships, within one department should be examined.
We should learn from curriculum design and content initiatives in high performing
countries, as judged by international rankings (e.g. PISA), commission further research to investigate why England’s performance has stagnated and other countries have improved, and implement policies to increase our performance relative to other countries.
Greater focus on the quality and recognition of vocational learning for all students is necessary to increase understanding and acceptance of the diversity of routes available to learners, and to enable them to acquire the skills necessary to support progression to further or higher education and employment.
In association with our second recommendation for a broader curriculum, the cognitive skills of application, analysis and evaluation should be delivered and assessed in all qualifications, in line with the methodology adopted for mathematics in the current A level reform programme.
Government should continue the development and promotion of programmes to encourage the most highly qualified graduates to enter the teaching profession.
The Confederation of British Industry has already published a radical critique of the UK’s current approach to education: First Steps: A New Approach For Our Schools.
The CBI’s report similarly says 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 on attainment in tests that currently exists, and the mentality of teaching to tests, which together prevent children and young people from developing the core skills that are needed for life and for the workplace.
Our current government is disinclined to listen to educationalists who have been saying similar things about education in this country – some of them for more than 50 years. The rest of the world (i.e. most of the world’s best systems of education) have been listening to and acting upon these ideas for some time – which we’ve commented on in previous blog posts.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how our government, and for that matter how the Labour Party, responds to this new report. Can politicians who seem fixated upon 19th Century approaches to pedagogy and achievement continue to hold out against the huge weight of powerful professional, business and academic opinion now calling for change?