Mark is a school governor and also works at Ashridge Business School. He has recently worked with young people talking about their “dream school” and what their school and education should be like. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Tell us your views!
There are over one million 18-24 year olds in the UK are NEETS – that is not in employment, education or training. This suggests that our schools may not be preparing pupils for a productive working life. Is our education system now fit for purpose?
Education is rarely out of the news. Sadly, too many are narrowly focused, obsessed with academic excellence, curriculum change, testing and league tables. Sub-editors and the Secretary of State for Education work on headlines about ‘fewer retakes’, ‘tougher exams’, ‘less course work’, ‘reading books’.
Of course numeracy and literacy are vital parts of our society and some testing is no bad thing – life sends us tests every day: bidding for work, designing and delivering new projects – our students must be ready for that. But this language feels like rolling back the clock, instead of looking forward to what we need urgently for the 21st century not the 20th.
Is anywhere near enough thought being given to whether we will have a meaningful process to equip students for the world of work, for a constructive role as citizens in modern society, for learning how to learn and go on learning, and for testing the right things?
Many of the new jobs in Western economies are being created in growth businesses that use innovative thinking in high technology environments, leveraging social networks and applying clever design. Together they have made it easier to access other people and global knowledge than at any time in our history. This suggests we should be doing more to help students develop the entrepreneurial and creative mindsets vital for the knowledge economy and doing less to cram facts in their heads for exams more suited to the old economy.
We are still examining students singly, in handwriting, testing their knowledge retention and capacity to think in one subject at a time. Is this preparing them for a world which needs people who can network, who read Kindles and iPads not books, who work in teams, know how to find and prioritise data, how to process and analyse it: and how to make connections in a complex world? In business, virtual and networking skills are becoming paramount; in public services the need for corporate leadership has never been greater and in public life the emerging concept of the ‘big society’ points to more and more collaborative working.
How are we going to prepare students for this world and - if what we measure is what we get – what will need to change in school life and school exams to deliver the workforce and social beings we will need tomorrow?
The universities who will receive them are staffed by the children of the old form of thinking – where individualism and internal competitiveness are prized, where knowledge retention is valued as much as critical enquiry and analytical skill, where individual academic faculties hold what they have and take on all-comers. How do we break into this mindset and culture of individualism and begin to think about developing wholly new ways of working that business and society actually needs?
At Ashridge, we hold a workshop each year to develop student leadership in two local state schools, bringing together boys and girls chosen to be school officials. This year we asked what they thought their dream school would look like purely from the student perspective? Their schools are already rated outstanding by OFSTED, so how could they be better?
They worked easily together and their views were thought-provoking and powerful:
1. More student involvement – in delivery, school life, teacher appointments
2. More interaction – between year groups and subjects, other schools, other thinkers about education
3. More evaluation by students of teachers’ performance to stay up-to-date, to stay in touch with students’ needs
4. Enhance quality standards using modern technology and social networks to access the best teachers
5. Governors drawn from diverse backgrounds, a Senior Leadership Team with varied backgrounds and experience
6. More relevance - less focus on the curriculum and exams, more focus on developing skills for the real world
7. More innovation – in learning, in learning styles, in use of technology
8. More outward looking – to the environment, current affairs, universities and business
9. Caring more about the life of the school and the local community
10. School should be FUN!
There are some key messages here for opinion formers including newspaper editors and for decision makers including the Secretary of State.