Posted on 11/05/2015

An opportunity to build a world class education system

Last Thursday the British people elected the Conservative party to govern us for the next five years. On Saturday Nicky Morgan was re-appointed as the secretary of state for Education. What would we like to see achieved over the next five years under this government from an education perspective? The aim must be to have a world class education system. But what would that look like?

First, for all schools to ensure their pupils know certain things. That they have good knowledge of history and geography and can appreciate the arts, literature and music. That they are at the very least bi-lingual and are numerate and literate. That they understand technology and science and how things work. They need to understand what people believe and why they act in the way they do. They need to be able to question these beliefs critically, including society’s values and culture, and know how to do that in the right way. Every child, in whatever school they are in or from whatever background they are from should have this knowledge so they can appreciate the world they live in.

Beyond this knowledge, schools surely need to ensure their students develop the skills to compete. I think they need to work really closely with universities, businesses and industry, global and national, to see what they want young people to ‘look like’ in 5-10 years’ time. In a global economy we need to know what other countries are doing and how their students compare when they leave school, because it is against these young people our young people will compete. Knowing what is needed and what the competition is will dictate the skills we must develop and how and what we test. Do we really need to have to ‘big’ sets of exams for pupils at 16 and 18? Is there a better way of doing it? The ‘soft skills’ – working with others, problem solving, understanding how to improve your own performance –  need ‘toughening up’ as these are the essential skills in whatever form of work students end up doing. These skills need to be properly measured and evidenced and should be embedded in everything pupils do in school.

Schools need to lead by example, continually self-evaluating and challenging themselves. We need to stop being defensive and insular and share the good we do with others, within and across our educational establishments. We need more rigorous inspection – but done in a way that schools and individual teachers are empowered to make the improvements they need, not feel got at, overwhelmed and stressed. We need consistently good teachers – and where they’re lacking, schools should be allowed to spot talent and train teachers themselves with the responsibility of ensuring they meet the highest standards. This is best illustrated with the dearth of good/outstanding Maths, Science and Computing teachers. Why not go to industry and business to find them, make the profession attractive to them and then train them up?

If we’re to have a truly world class education system it must serve the best interest of all young people.  We need to move away from the notion that everyone must go to university to be a success. Whilst FBS is an academic boys’ school, there are boys at the school who are not academic. By sending these students off to university we would be setting them up to fail. The challenge is to provide more practical qualifications for them which are on a par with and subject to the same rigour as academic qualifications, and ensure there’s a career path that respects them.  These qualifications, whilst different, should in no way be less stringent and demanding and should be developed closely with businesses and industry, national and global.

Critically, education should be fun. Pupils should enjoy school and want to attend. Whilst the work may be hard and study difficult, they see the value in it. To do this schools need to raise their pupils’ aspirations, help them overcome the difficulties they may have and encourage them to be independent. They need to see the relevance of what they are doing. Should we think about teaching maths not as maths but as solving real life problems that require maths? No teacher wants to spend every day taking horses to water that don’t want to drink! Schools need to be fun and exciting – places to get to know hundreds of other young people and enjoy their company. Somewhere a young person can discover at least one thing they are really talented in – sport, music, acting, science, writing, and art. Whatever.

But most importantly, schools must develop the character of pupils. Do they have the highest standards of behaviour? Are they well mannered? Are they resilient? Do they possess a ‘never know when they’re beaten’, ‘make the best of every situation’ attitude? Can they relate to and engage with people from all different backgrounds? Do they put the needs of others before themselves? Are they kind?

If this could be achieved under this government in the next five years I believe we would be on the way to having a world class education system. In the meantime, we will continue to build FBS with all these bricks – and aim to model how it can be done.

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