An education fit for purpose

How can we build a school system that is suited to today’s modern world? Jo Golding visits The Education Show to find out

The Education Show took place alongside Bett this year and was the perfect place for teachers to come together and discuss ideas to improve the education system. One of the main themes IE picked up on was looking at the education sector in new ways.

It was Lord Jim Knight, chief education adviser at TES Global, who went as far as to say, “our school system is no longer fit for purpose”.

He addressed visitors to The Education Show in a talk about some of the challenges that the education sector faces, as well as things it does well. “I think currently the best curriculum in the world is the IB because it has got really good rigour and a bit more breadth than the slightly mad narrowness of A-levels – the IB gives pupils balance and more choice.”

Some of the problems Knight mentioned included STEM not being taken seriously with technology and engineering falling by the wayside, as well as an English Baccalaureate that is narrowing the core curriculum offer.

“Could we build a different talent pipeline into the world of work that nurtures a lifelong love of learning in every child?” he asked.

Knight continued: “I am inspired by private schools such as Bedales School and Sevenoaks School. They have abandoned GCSEs and A-levels and developed their own qualifications. If universities support and trust these schools to deliver reliable students, as their reputations are on the line, then we wouldn’t have to test them so much, which would save a lot of money. This country spends a billion pounds a year on testing its kids at schools – couldn’t we save some of that money and time to do some learning?”

We should get rid of GCSEs at 16. They’re a total anachronism, and a waste of time and money

Bedales School replaced its GCSEs with its own Bedales Assessed Courses (BAC). With several cohorts of Bedales students having received offers from UK universities, the school has demonstrated the support its BACs have from universities. For Sevenoaks, it is their Sevenoaks School Certificates (SSC) that were launched nine years ago that have allowed the school to introduce distinctive elements designed to elicit a strong sense of personal engagement with them.

Knight says: “We should get rid of GCSEs at 16. They’re a total anachronism, and a waste of time and money. A head of department from a leading private school said to me a couple of months ago, ‘What we really need to do is to get our kids to do the minimum amount of tests to get to the next stage so we can free up the time and money for learning.’ I completely agree.”

When it comes to university, people are starting their journey in the working world with thousands of pounds of debt. The solution? Knight suggested: “What about a subscription model of around £300–£500 a year throughout a student’s working life as a subscription relationship to a university.

Go to a university for a shorter time to begin with, have that important life stage of independent learning and building a social network but don’t take three years and don’t spend all that money. It’s a great recurring revenue business model for a university.

“Do shorter courses that have more utility in conjunction with an employer and if you have been to work first, maybe the employer will be happy to pay with you for that university education. Or it might be that your employer has a subscription relationship with the university.”

While this was just one of the topics of discussion at The Education Show, it is an important one nonetheless. Things are no longer black and white, and that is an exciting prospect.

The Education Show will return in 2020 from 22–25 January. Find out more

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