Published in The Telegraph, 14 April 2015
With the publication of party political election manifestos now under way, I find myself hoping that policymakers find the courage to move away from the current direction of educational travel – one that I believe does children no favours, and that does not even succeed on its own terms.
Recent UK educational reforms have seen a narrowing of the national curriculum, a renewed focus on end-of-course examination at the expense of ongoing, in-course assessment, and an obsession with those subjects deemed important for accessing elite higher education institutions and supporting the UK’s economic competitiveness.
As part of this process, late 2014 saw maths teachers from Shanghai embedded in UK primary schools to share the methods that have seen that city dominate the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) league tables – the legacy of Michael Gove’s determination that UK children emulate their Chinese peers in order that they might effectively compete with them on the global economic stage.
Thus, Chinese teaching methods have now started to permeate the UK’s educational DNA – but does this work for children themselves, or those whose job it is to provide that education for them?
A report published recently by the University of Birmingham raises concerns as to the quality of education experienced by young people in the UK. A massive 80 per cent of teachers surveyed for Character Education in UK Schools, drawn from primary as well as secondary schools, were concerned that the British assessment system ‘hinders the development of the whole child’.
When asked to suggest a single change, many recommended the provision of ‘free space’ where students can be themselves and do things they really like without having to think about exam scores.
This brings to mind Sir Ken Robinson’s memorable observation that nobody can make anybody else learn anything, any more than a gardener can make flowers grow. Rather, the flower grows itself, and the skilled gardener provides the optimum conditions that will allow the plant to do precisely that.
By Jane Grubb, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.