One of the main reasons for my chosen transition out of the classroom into other areas of education has been the retrograde changes in education policy such as the move away from developing independent learning towards a focus on assessment performance. I feel developing independence is central to an education system that prepares young people for the future. 14-19 Diplomas and their emphasis on thinking and learning skills were not perfect, but certainly heralded a step in the right direction. It seems, however that the government has run thirty steps in the other to compensate and in this blog I will outline why this is a dangerous mistake.
Firstly, I must make clear, It is not that I am opposed to change, in face much change can be good, but basing change on historical and anecdotal experiences is not the way to make progressive change, nor is changing things without talking to the professionals whose job it is to work with the change. In 2011, In their book entitled From exam factories to communities of discovery, Frank Coffield and Bill Williamson constructed an excellent argument as to why the educational system we have and the goals that tweaks in policy attempt to reach are deeply flawed. They argue that the system is not in need of repair, but by replacement. One of their primary arguments is that it is too simplistic to believe that having a ‘world class’ education will automatically improve the education system. I want to extend this argument and examine it in terms of some of the recent changes in Govian policy making.
There was much noise in the media surrounding England’s recent fall in the PISA tables whilst countries such as China excel in these measures of education. As a result, it seems that many changes have been proposed to teaching and assessment to address this in hope of securing a higher position in the rankings, but for what? So that it can be said can say that England has a better educational system than other countries? Whilst this may re-assure those in power, what use is this to those students going through the education system? After all, it is not their success in testing that is important, but how education prepares them for their next steps in life.
It is no secret that the world is very different to that of a post war Britain. Jobs are no longer for life and occupations are very different to those of even a generation ago. It surely, must be a primary concern of schools to build initiative, resilience and a love for life long learning then to help them continually retrain and up skill for all those future jobs. Seemingly, in the eyes of policy makers, no. They would much rather we developed the ability of our young people to excel in tests and as pools of facts and knowledge. When I came into education a few years ago, I was excited to see how much had changed in the classroom, the emphasis given over to thinking and learning skills and the encouragement of interdisciplinary working. It comes then, as a disappointment that these are exactly the things that changes in policy are weeding out of education due to their limited utility in preparing students for testing.
I have already seen at the coalface what this does for the starting point of many children in Secondary education. They spend so much time in Year 6 preparing for their SATs in English and Maths that often other subjects are marginalised or given cursory time in the curriculum. Yes, some have scored that hallowed level 5, but that’s about where it stops and often the curiosity and excitement of learning has been drilled out of them for a fill in the blanks approach to learning.
My true worry is what these retrograde steps will mean for the futures of those entering into a landscape of learning based predicated on success in assessment. Will they have the independent learning skills needed for university, The life skills for employment, or the resilience to face repeated employment change through their lives?
Coffield, F. and Williamson, B. (2011). From Exam Factories to communities of discovery, London: Institute of Education