It’s always reassuring to see prominent leaders speak out on important topics, especially when they say something with which you instinctively agree.
This link leads to an article on the Huffington Post (UK) in which Tony Little, outgoing Head of Eton College explains his concerns over the “silo mentality” of the GCSE / A-Level / University-entrance model in the UK.
Mr Little is quoted as saying that, whilst individual subjects are well taught, the exam structure and the predominant influence that university entrance has over all other pathways, means that our children are educated within a system that is too rigid for their own good. This is the point where we want more students (and their parents or carers) to sit up and take notice!
It’s interesting that the Huffington Post article doesn’t quote the views of employers (this linked article is a report based on an article-yet-to-be-published. The views of employers may have been covered in the original article, however at the time of writing the original was not available).
In essence, depending on which survey of employers you reference, a worryingly large number of employers are dissatisfied with levels of work-readiness amongst first-job applicants. (To read about this, please head to our crowdfunding page which lists some employer reaction, and our employer petition which allows them to demonstrate their frustration).
Therefore, we have some evidence of teachers and employers expressing frustration about the system. The voice we can’t hear is that of the students. How satisfied are they that the “academic” system suits their needs? Sadly, this question is difficult to answer. How would they know what is most suitable for them until after the event? Many don’t know what they want to do anyway.
Whenever I talk to educationalists about the UK system, I always point out this mutual dissatisfaction with the “academic” system of career progression. The charge most often leveled at me is of “evidence”.
“Where is the evidence base?” for my comments, they ask. “Where is the peer review of this evidence?” they continue. “What were the sample conditions and credentials of those conducting the research?” they occasionally add. Without sounding excessively thin-skinned or paranoid about it, it’s almost as if any contrary view to the prevailing wisdom is discredited.
Of course, I should turn the question back on them. “Where is the evidence of dissatisfaction amongst the various stakeholders?” My own conversations over many years, our employer petition and our feedback from students tell me that dissatisfaction exists, but I don’t see it written up. I can’t claim to read every piece of research, but from those reports that I have read, very few probe inconvenient truths.
It’s worth noting that the teacher we’ve quoted here (Mr Little) is retiring from his position within the education system. Are there any teachers willing to confirm this opinion pre-retirement?
I need to make it clear that I’m not critical of schools and teachers. It’s not their fault that their long-standing system for university entrance has been adopted as the de facto filter for early career progression.
However it’s clear that some other metric is needed to help individuals plan a career, and employers to filter those they wish to engage. Modestly, we remind our readers that bizenko offers such a facility. A-levels or some version of an academic university entrance exam will always remain, but we need to try harder on behalf of other stakeholders, principally the students.
I recently sat next to a (different) headteacher at an education event. I raised my concerns about the blind faith the UK has in it’s “academic” system. I asked why we don’t just scrap two exams (GCSE and A Levels) and replace them with one single, broader examination system that might better satisfy the various stakeholders? Surely teachers wouldn’t need much encouragement to reduce their workload, I reasoned.
His answer was that the comfort of the familiar is too precious. Because everyone understands A-levels and the existing system, change would be exceptionally hard to achieve. In other words, the prospects of ever re-imagining the system are slim.
Which is a shame, because I feel sure that our future prosperity, employer confidence and the career satisfaction of countless individuals requires that not only could we do better, but that we must also try harder!