The new president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) has called for major educational reform and an “era of opportunity” for young people.
Samantha Price, who is head of Benenden School in Kent, said we need to take a “fresh look” at assessment and the university admissions processs.
“We have just lived through one of the most disruptive periods in the history of UK education,” said Price. “We have all been forced to operate differently over the past 18 months and this has shone a light on the reality that there are parts of the education system that can be improved. We all want the best for young people, but sometimes the systems we put in place become outdated and unwieldy and stand in their way.
“I’d really like to see us take a fresh look at assessment and how we can deliver relevant opportunities to more young people. I’d like us to embrace continued and enhanced digital learning, a reformed examinations system, reforms to the university admissions process, continued support for mental health and to support young people in finding effective ways to voice the issues that really matter to them.
“Now is surely the time for us all to sit down together – state and independent schools, colleges, universities, employers and the Government – and create a new era of opportunity for young people.”
Price urged the Government and educationalists to review GCSE and A-level assessment and consider whether terminal, written exams are fit for purpose.
‘Schools should take apprenticeships seriously’
A more concerted focus on apprenticeships as an alternative to university should be adopted in schools, said Price.
“I think we have reached the point where we need to acknowledge that a traditional university degree is not the only route for our brightest and best, whatever their background.
“The extent to which universities may or may not offer value for money has been questioned for a number of years, with pastoral care and accommodation now taking equal place with teaching quality and contact time. Lingering student loan debt long into adulthood is a very real problem not only for individuals but also for the country as a whole.
“Growing numbers of young people are now considering apprenticeships and I do think that schools which have for years pointed their students towards traditional university degrees should take apprenticeships seriously. They provide immediate employability and industry training, some come with a built-in opportunity to acquire a degree or other qualification, and there is some evidence that they may provide greater financial reward to the individual in the long term.
“This isn’t a case of apprenticeships being ‘better’ than a traditional university degree. They are simply different, and it’s time we left behind a ‘one size fits all’ mentality.”
Doing away with predicted grade offers and moving to a post-qualification system would minimise the negative impact of striving for the ‘holy grail’ of grades – Samantha Price, GSA president
Price also wants to see the university admissions system reformed to be fairer and reduce pressure on pupils in their final year.
She said: “For school students with their sights on a traditional university degree course, we need to overhaul the admissions system to embrace either post-qualification offers or applications. This would be a much fairer system for all young people and would reduce the pressure on them in their final year of school.
“Instead of negotiating predicted grades and worrying about whether they will literally ‘make the grade’ upon which their university place depends, students could focus on their studies and enjoy the friendships and life-enhancing extra-curricular opportunities of their final year of school, which are just as important to their long-term futures.
“We have to recognise that there is a mental health crisis in our country’s young people. Doing away with predicted grade offers and moving to a post-qualification system would minimise the negative impact of striving for the ‘holy grail’ of grades. It would also go a long way towards levelling the playing field for all students, irrespective of background.”