This post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.
My first experience of the education profession was around 15 years ago when slogans and mission statements such as ‘Every Child Matters’ and ‘Achievement For All’ seemed to be on everyone’s lips. From government agenda’s to individual school strap lines, we knew as a profession that education was about more than just results day. Skip forward just 15 years and that time seems like a distant memory – a black and white image from a bygone era.
The government have embarked on a radical overall of the current education system and nothing has been spared from either a wholesale change or even a makeover and paint job. Examinations, curriculum, gradings, inspections to name just a few – and all within what would be classed in historical terms as a blink of an eye. In this day and age, the only thing that seems constant in education is change.
I’m not knocking the government for trying to raise standards in education by disrupting the norm, but I do have to question if the changes are beneficial to all of the children who pass through our doors every day, or if we are failing to do what we set out to do only 15 years ago. Lots of the changes that have allegedly been put in place to raise standards and deliver a world class education system seem only to focus on the high achievers, leaving the also ran’s to pick up the scraps. As I was growing up as a child I was taught at school about the social class system in England and how we were striving to give people from any background the opportunity to break out of this strict rigidity through access and equality of education. Unfortunately, I only see that the current system is trying to once again lock the doors on social class, create the upper echelons of society and deny entry to the people who are simply not in the club.
Take for instance the new GCSE scoring system that is due to replace the outgoing grades that have been at the foundation of anyone’s understanding of education for so long. You only have to glance over a conversion graphic to see where the priority lies. At the top end of the scale, three levels (or numbers) have been assigned to what used to be one grade, the grade A. In recent years this has been split into A and A* to signify the cream of the cream, but the new system seems to want to go even further in pursuit of the very, very best. Three levels (9, 8 and 7) will now be awarded to students from A grade upwards. At first look this might not be too concerning, especially if we are challenging students to aim for the very top, but the picture changes dramatically when you look at the other end of the scale. In direct contrast to the top of the scale, three old style grades (U, G and F) are now being shoehorned into one level (level 1). So what about the students who would have felt a sense of achievement due to many educational, health and social circumstances with an G grade or an F grade? Do they not matter now? Are they now just being lumped all together with the type of care and courtesy that third class rail travellers used to experience at the dawn of the railway?
And what about the new curriculum and the government’s push to ‘make’ all schools deliver the Ebacc curriculum to every child. For years, great schools have raved about how they have personalised their curriculum to meet the needs of every child and sought out innovative ways to keep students engaged by a carefully thought out and creative curriculum offering. However, more and more schools are being ‘forced’ down an alley of offering highly academic subject offerings to every child, irrespective of their level of intellectual capacity or their desire and need for this type of educational exposure in the future. The current Ebacc curriculum prepares the modern day aspiring university student very well, but might fall very short of providing the skills and experiences that many employers are wanting from a 16 year old apprentice. Not every young person wants to go on to further or higher education and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community is a prime example of this. Young people from these backgrounds have long been early drop outs from the schooling system, choosing to work from an early age instead of sitting a string of examinations to bolster their curriculum vitae. Although this has been accepted as a cultural rite of passage, recent figures suggest that more and more Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families value primary school education but then leave the school system after being disengaged by the narrow curriculum offering at secondary school. The most recent ‘Improving Outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Pupils’ report from the Department for Education highlights that although 80% of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students make the transition between primary and secondary school, less than half of them, 38% reach the statutory leaving age. Although this only focusses on a small percentage of students nationally, it is key that this group, however small, are indicative of young people who are setting out to go into the world of work from an early age. These communities value the primary education that their children acquire in terms of literacy and numeracy, but fail to see the value of a curriculum that includes a modern foreign language and 18th century poetry.
Many studies have been written before on topics such as ‘What is the point of school’ with varied and interesting views on the true value that our educational experiences have on us. So with our education system changing so rapidly and significantly in pursuit of a truly world class provision, it begs the question, is our current curriculum really providing ‘Achievement for All’ in a time where ‘Every Child Matters’, or are our classes recreating the social classes from a bygone era?