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Headmaster's Blog

There is a groundswell of desire for educational reform

I have been advocating a review of our current education system for some time now and there seems to be a growing momentum for change. One might excuse the government for not taking action because it has been understandably preoccupied with the pandemic but the reality is that it is the pandemic that has highlighted just how in need of reform our education system has become.

Too many people seem to be fixated on the disparity in recent GCSE and A Level results between the State and Independent sectors and in the process they are completely missing the issues that really need to be addressed.

Increasingly the discussions I am having with parents are about the value of the courses that are being taught in school. Are they really preparing them for the next stage in their lives? I am not going to question the value of English and maths as fundamental to every child’s progress and neither are the parents with whom I am having these discussions. The issue is the style of teaching and the expected outcomes assessed by an archaic system of exams.

If we can take anything from the past two years, it is that exams in the traditional sense are an outdated form of assessment. They do not reflect the world into which we are sending our children for whom the ability to look up information, understand what they are looking at and knowing how to apply it are far more important than learning dates or formulas. Yet, frustratingly, I have to say to the parents that we are constrained by the requirements of exam boards and governments that insist on these systems even when industry and business is calling out for something very different.

In the past, the criteria for success was how well you could regurgitate the information you were taught in the classroom. That is no longer what employers are looking for. They want their employees to be capable of thinking creatively, of being able to work collaboratively so that they can bounce ideas off one another. Exams assess individuals but they do not see how well you can work with someone else or one’s ability to draw out initiatives from one another and that is what we have to be focusing on.

The lead is going to have to come directly from schools because, at the moment, the government is preoccupied and we cannot wait for them to take the necessary action. Schools and business need to be increasing their levels of collaboration to ensure that the pupils are engaging with their future employers at a much earlier stage and recognising what they need to be able to do.

Schools need to adjust their thinking on what and how they are teaching. Enrichment programmes need to feature much earlier so that they are not being constrained by the national curriculum and can allow the pupils to be thinking much more openly about a range of topics that are crucial to their preparation for life beyond school, whether it is learning about finance and investment, politics and how our voting systems work, current affairs, cooking, mental health and resilience, coding and use of ICT that has practical application, or similar such activities. Alongside this they need to know how to use the research tools available to them to their full potential and how to use social media effectively and responsibly. Communication skills should be at the forefront of every class so that the pupils can stand up and effectively communicate their ideas or be prepared to challenge the ideas of others and work with one another to find solutions.

There is no denying that schools need more input from business as to what they are looking for in their future employees but I hope they can see that there are a lot of schools out there looking to embrace such an opportunity to work with them. When teachers enter the profession they do so, for the most part, because they want the very best for the next generation and take great satisfaction from playing a part in our society’s evolution. However, it does preclude us from always knowing what new skills businesses are looking for and this is why collaboration between schools and business is so crucial in the next stage of education.

I do believe businesses are open to this collaboration; by way of an example, having read one of Sir John Timpson’s articles in The Telegraph recently, I wrote directly to him to see if he might be able to help with a new scheme we are looking to introduce at my school. I had a personal reply from him 7 minutes later and a further reply from one of his staff just an hour later. To say I was impressed would be to put it mildly but it just goes to show that there is that desire for engagement and for hugely successful entrepreneurs to help schools.

Exams have had their time. If we really want to prepare our children for the future, let’s open our eyes to the world we are living in today. We have the technology to provide all the information we need in a heartbeat so there really is no need to test children’s memory of what they have learnt. If we are going to assess the pupils, let’s make it a valuable undertaking done over a period of time and where the practical application of what they have learnt can be seen with tangible and real outcomes.

Let the government crack on with what they need to do but let schools and business work together to do what they need to do as well, so that our children really are being prepared for tomorrow’s world.