This week Michael Gove has made further declarations about the “success” in increasing educational attainment since he came to office. He recounted a huge list of statistics that, in his opinion, demonstrated how “standards” have improved and how the stringent, rigid, knowledge-based curriculum had reaped results – thus justifying his policy for more 1950s style teaching and “learning” in our 21st century schools.
He also said that state schools should be more like private schools – though fell short of suggesting that they have the same teacher/pupil ratio, or the same funding or the same facilities, and so on and so forth. (It must also be noted here – and we shall return to this in later posts – that some of our most successful independent schools pay enormous attention to personal competencies, attributes and skills for life – something that is largely ignored by Gove et al as a significant contributory factor to peoples’ future employability.)
Here is the full transcript of Michael Gove’s speech at the London Academy of Excellence.
Well done Mr Gove, and whilst we’re on a congratulatory note, well done New Labour for laying the foundations for this “success”. However before we become too carried away by the “success” of this, perhaps we ought to consider three significant facts that Mr Gove carefully avoided.
- Whilst there’s been a slight improvement in the last quarter, youth unemployment (16-24 year olds) currently stands at 20% – (This is 20% of those registered as unemployed) http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN05871/youth-unemployment-statistics
- In the recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills report (October 2013), out of 24 countries worldwide, young adults in England (aged 16-24) rank 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy. http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/surveyofadultskills.htm
- Two-thirds of A-level students from the independent sector gained places at Britain’s leading higher education institutions in 2010/11 compared with less than a quarter of those from the state system. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10229248/Private-school-pupils-monopolising-top-university-places.html (NB % statistics don’t always show the true proportions. Oxford has 43% of its students from private schools but doesn’t contextualise this statistic by saying how few young people attend private schools compared with state schools.)
Our posts last week about reports from the British Chambers of Commerce and the Pearson sponsored “Making Education Work”, highlighted an urgent concern in the business community that whilst there may well be “success” in educational attainment, it’s not transferring into preparing our young people for the world of work – or for life.
We therefore pose a few questions.
1. Could there be a correlation between the appalling statistics of nearly 1 million young people unemployed and the fact that their “successful” schooling hasn’t actually given them the skills and the competencies for work, despite the fact that some of them have a portfolio full of A and A* A-levels and a good “class” at degree level?
2. Is it possible that the knowledge-based learning that Gove and his followers promote is enabling young people to pass exams but not enabling young people to use that knowledge in a meaningful and productive way?
3. Is there any point in reciting a whole heap of statistics about increased exam successes when evidence suggests that such improvements are not making a blind bit of difference to the lives of the young, even the successful ones, in relation to their employability – let alone the forgotten 50% of young people whose interest in non-academic subjects is being massively ignored and/or derided as second class and insignificant?
4. Should we consider that Mr Gove and the advocates of his anachronistic policies on teaching and learning are – to quote the Secretary of State – “complicit in under-performance” that goes beyond the examination room?
5. Should we ask employers what it is about privately educated students that gives them the edge over state-educated young people – and is there a possibility that it’s more to do with the holistic education that they receive in the best independent schools rather than their academic qualifications?
The reality is alarming, as has been pointed out very clearly in the reports we’ve referred to. Our children and young people may well be attaining higher examination results but the knowledge gained is often limited, restrictive and restricting. For example, they may well be able to recite and even analyse the great works of Shakespeare, for example, with an astounding level of competence but many don’t know how to transfer these memorised items of knowledge into real life situations, be they work or play.
Our children and young people are being spoon-fed a “learning” programme to the point that the learning (in some cases) remains in the class or examination room. It doesn’t transfer to real life situations. We’re not suggesting that all learning should be instrumental or work-related – just pointing out that a great many of the facts (dressed up as ‘powerful knowledge’) that are memorised for examinations are immediately forgotten the day after the exam. And why shouldn’t they be if the learner has no personal interest in them or affective connection with them?
If we do not address this problem now, future skills reports, such as the OECD Adult Skills report, will continue to see England dropping down the international league tables. Gove’s policies are “complicit” in doing this. We’re not giving our young people a chance internationally because we are not looking at the real needs for their work and for life.