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Peter Tait Education

A New Paradigm of Education – and how to get there

Education Posted on Tue, July 16, 2019 12:30:01

‘State schooling both today and when I was a child seemed stuck in a Victorian-era paradigm . . of becoming a good worker and getting a good job.’Akala

The hardest part of deciding on a new paradigm of education is in questioning and, where necessary, jettisoning what we have always held to be sacred and undeniable – the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge, the need for a curriculum divided into subject domains, for a requisite body of skills to be taught, of rigorous and regular testing to sort and filter children according to ability; of schools and the teacher to be at the heart of education; of an adherence to IQ and a belief that significant deviations are abnormal and need special interventions; and a belief that what we do in our schools is equitable and delivered without bias. Added to that is the insinuation that social media is pernicious and dangerous and the mobile phone is the frontline in a battle with today’s youth and we have the perfect storm.

So where to start? How about the statement that our education system is founded in the need for social control and conformity and rewards those that mimic it; that today’s schools and our whole education system is profligate and wasteful of talent; that our education benefits the status quo by rewarding the same outcomes as the previous generations; that social media and the internet is not the bugbear it is frequently portrayed, but an opportunity in waiting; that there is no need for selective education just more opportunities; that education, as offered in our schools, is serving the needs of a decreasing number of children; that deciding how we access knowledge and what we choose to learn is more important than ever; that technology must be used rather more smartly than just enlivening the education experience through immersive teaching; seeing why we must replace an adherence to GDP by an ethical understanding of the world we live in; and why education needs to be life-long, not adversarial, but desirable and available for all.

The current system is failing. Its goals are wrong, its premise driven by competition and accountability, by vested interests including teachers’ unions, a system directed towards, and determined by the requirements for university entry even knowing that most will not go there. The social stratification of education that sees BTecs and vocational courses pushed down the order as more rigorous testing and accountability determines schools’ offerings. True, many subjects don’t need to significantly change other than in the way they engage with students, but others such as History need a complete overhaul. Nor do we need to eschew high expectations, a good work ethic, memory, even repetition, because these are implicit in all learning. We need to guard against bias and the best way of doing that is to ensure a new paradigm is diverse and fluid, that it embraces e-learning and changes in the way we teach. We need to open our minds and think anew.

A root and branch review of our education system needs to be delivered not from within the current paradigm, but from without. After all, of all the many impediments negating change, the education industry with its numerous splinter theories, books and courses to sell, detox clinics to market and conferences to populate is not going to let unfettered change happen without a fight. We need to look at what has changed in our world and respond accordingly: a pending environmental meltdown; an obesity epidemic; a mental health crisis; the doubling of information every year; rapid advances of technology; new areas of knowledge; a changing workplace; disintegrating communities – and respond appropriately.

In the end it comes down to the age-old question I have used throughout my career in education as a teacher, head and now as a trustee of a multi-academy trust and school governor: namely, ‘what is the best education we can give our children in preparing them for their world and how do we achieve it” We just need to think of how best to answer it – and I don’t think we can do so staying in our current paradigm.

Common Era or Common Entrance: A Talk to the Oxford Group of Prep School Heads, 24th January, 2019

Education Posted on Sat, January 26, 2019 13:08:44

I must say I am surprised to be back talking about Common Entrance. It’s thirteen years since I spoke to the Senior School Academic Deputies and Directors of Studies about Common Entrance at their conference in Lisbon in 2006 and various conferences thereafter. Although I was a director of ISEB – embarrassingly when I took my own school out of the humanities which I felt were dry and simply asked children to regurgitate knowledge without any analysis or thought – I couldn’t help but feel that significant reform was needed – and I am pleased to note since then, most subjects have had a thorough overhaul and it is a different examination, albeit with the same constraints.

But in the aftermath of the decision by the three schools, Westminster, St Paul’s and Wellington College that led to this discussion today, please indulge me for a minute while I offer a reminder about senior schools and the use they made of common entrance when it suited them to do so.

They really had it good! They didn’t have to prepare papers, supervise exams, justify their marking of exams, pay for any of the costs and, along with GSA and IAPS got a cut of some 80k, money taken from prep school parents and schools for their convenience – what a service!

But that wasn’t enough. CE didn’t evolve quickly enough, some subjects were content laden and soulless so that despite the convenience of what CE offered them, despite the wonderful bargain it represented, senior schools started to get edgy about filling their lists and hence looked at new ways of assessing their intake through entrance tests and scholarships that got earlier and earlier so they could get the jump on their rivals. It had nothing to do with education and complete disregard of how prep schools were structured. The action of three schools was no surprise, only disapponting in that the school decided to make a story out of it for their own ends. The irony is that it has taken this long after the conference in 2011 on Common Entrance: Fatally Flawed or Fighting Fit at Wellington College in 2011 at which Sir Anthony Seldon was hugely critical of Common Entrance for Wellington College in particular, to move. But we shouldn’t get hung up on their decision.

After all, is Is there anyone here on any of the Boards of those three schools?

And How many prep schools are even acknowledged when the these august schools get their raft of Oxbridge places, due in large part to your work in prep schools pushing them close to, or beyond GCSE level on arrival?

Deciding a new curriculum isn’t about Common Entrance –it’s about what is the best education that we can give to our children. So forget senior schools. They are so constrained by exams, so desperate to retain their league table place, under siege from the Charities commission, the press, defending IGCSEs, establishing schools abroad etc they don’t care. . . . nor should you think they act in our interests because they don’t. If they could get all their intake from primary schools they’d do it as it would tick more public benefit boxes. If their roll drops, they lower their intake to Yr 7 entry as had happened in parts of London without any discussion – or if they may go to co-ed from 11. Either way, when times get tight, self-interest rules.

All of which can be very liberating if prep schools use this freedom to ask the bigger question of ‘what is the best education we can give to our children?’ and place it inside a bigger question, which is how do we survive in a new marketplace without our traditional raison d’etre?

Before answering the question of a new curriculum, however, I do want to acknowledge the work being done at ISEB to widen consultation and to lead change.

I appreciate that many here will want the status quo albeit as an exit exam not an entrance exam – in which case an examination that will require common marking – something I’m sure ISEB will pick up on. And also that talking about Common Entrance is akin to talking about Brexit with its various constituencies. But we should be happy that CE has a future for those schools who want it. On the other hand, I hope that ISEB may look at what it is examining by working with prep schools to help influence a curriculum that sets prep schools apart, is more relevant to our needs and gives our children an intellectual robustness, new attitudes and values that will help them in a brave new world.

So what form would this new curriculum take? It would need to be more than tinkering. More than adding a few new trendy subjects. More than the Prep School Baccalaureate offers. Some schools have already looked at History, Geography and Theology and added some of the human sciences such as psychology and economics, but more than that. More than bringing in languages or public speaking and debating. More than creating extra-curricular clubs or activities to diversify the offering.

None of that would be enough to create a curriculum that would be truly distinctive, bespoke to prep schools, relevant to what is going on in education while also embedding environmental and social responsibility into every subject.

Yet here we are in 2019 with the opportunity to create a different curriculum

When I began looking at what a new curriculum could look like from age 4 – 19 years I started with something that resonated with me in an article on what children wanted to be when they left school and the two most popular answers from the children were rich and famous. And I reflected on the alumni of the independent sector and the way they represent us and wonder ‘are we teaching our children how to think ethically and of others rather than self – of community or the planet rather than GDP and wealth? And when we consider the growing influence of infotech and biotech, of nanotechnology and unbridled social media and technology, of the need for ethics in weapon and medical research and of the ethical vacuum in politics, in industry, in law, in financial services, whether we are doing enough to make good citizens, as a sector, let alone as a country (i)

As a response to my own question, at present, I’m involved in producing a curriculum for Years 7&8 predicated on ethics and sustainability, and as a trustee of a charity www.operationfuturehope working in environmental education and re-wilding school grounds, giving talks to schools and thereby teaching children to think about their world and their future in a more ethical way. In that curriculum we ask some fundamental questions including:

1. What are our human values?

2. How do we make decisions? Designing a flow chart.

3. Fake news and critical thought.

4. What is philosophy

5. What is anthropology

6. How well do we know our world?

7. Trees and birds – know our own world

8. Climate Change

9. Setting up and running a weather station (P)

10. Making our own power through solar panels (P)

11. Economic models and the economic doughnut

12. Responsibility

13. Re-wilding

14. Conservation – our responsibilities

15. Our local environs

16. Animal conservation

17. What can we do? Activism is a dirty word.

18. History and myth

19. Financial literacy and business ethics

That way, we can encourage children to see themselves as part of a family, but not centre stage, to get them to think about their communities and their part in those communities. We should encourage them to be thinking globally, from a young age for that is the future. Without denigrating the huge impact of ‘Every Child Matters’ in safeguarding, sadly parents took the maxim to mean ‘ my child matters more than anything or anyone else’ thereby placing the child at the hub of the family rather than as one of the satellites moving about lunar parents. While I might agitate that ‘Every Pensioner Matters’, the truth is a better message would have been ‘every person matters’ or in extremis, ‘every sentient being matters.’ We’re not quite there yet! But this generation are up for it and want it to happen.

Clearly we don’t want to throw out what works or jeopardise what we do well now and that is our academic and wider education offering, those subjects we do particularly well, our core subjects, classics and languages, but we should see if we can use our independence to create a curriculum that is more relevant to the issues that affect us all – and most important seek to change the attitudes to learning, to the environment and to each other.

We cannot join just extend what we do, and add an extra language, a few human sciences, more drama and art and music, debating, coding, a little technology, and call it a new curriculum, because it’s not about adding new content or replacing old with new. Last year there were 213 suggestions in the press about what should be included in our curriculum – the largest groups being in health, finance and technology – and we all know the curriculum is the dumping ground for new ideas. But on the other hand, when we look at a list of some of the most advertised jobs in 2018 – Data science manager, engagement managers, senior mobile developers, Cloud solutions architect, strategic sourcing specialist – and the skills they are crying out for: creativity, critical thinking, flexibility –we do have to ask what we are teaching and why. For instance, we all know about ox-bow lakes: my father was taught about them as was I – and those I taught had more of the same. When we look at the various domains of Geography, a subject which has expanded in recent years in all its domains: human, economic, spatial, physical, environmental – we realise we have to make decisions about what to keep and what to off-load knowing it will still be there at the end of a google lifeline. The sum total of knowledge is doubling every year and we cannot keep expanding our curriculum by adding more. In any new curriculum we have to choose who inhabits the framework and ensure that it is better / more relevant / more appropriate than what it’s replaced.

In writing a new curriculum, we should consider how we should respond to the four biggest challenges facing us: Artificial Intelligence, climate change, terrorism, mental and physical health. Ias as ector, I worry about our conservatism and our hypocrisy as educators, pushing our children harder and harder and catering for burnout by employing counsellors, force-feeding information into children so they grow up content rich, but unable to process all they know. I am a believer in knowledge and skills working together – one cannot exist without the other – but not of front-end loading that happens in GCSEs and A Levels. Less can be more and prep schools should focus on understanding and utility of knowledge rather than the amount.

I wondered what David Attenborough would suggest as a curriculum? Many here no doubt promote forest schools and Green School awards, but we can get children thinking differently about green issues – one reason why the conservation and environmental education of operation future hope with its focus on regeneration attracted me. How many children live their school values in their behaviour and attitudes and in their day to day living? And how many will continue to do so after they leave? Ask those at Canary Wharf, consumed with careers and the acquisition of wealth and weep.

Getting the framework is key as is determining the purpose and function of a curriculum. It may well be a curriculum based in greater part on the human sciences and the creative arts, but it has to carry parents and senior schools by ensuring they are getting more, not less. So the packaging is important.

There are so many ideas out there: promoting languages / lectures / Lamda courses for a year group, ESB, Grade One Music Theory for a year group / courses in critical thinking, more focus on Oracy, especially debating; studying the Human Sciences such as anthropology and psychology; Tackling health issues like Obesity through exercise; Climate Change; Artificial Intelligence, fake news; understanding Biotech and infotech / coding, literature / economics / Art History / Doughnut economics, how to use technology to advance rather than enhance learning (and area where we all follow like sheep); looking at our school grounds as learning environments through re-wilding, labelling trees, ornithology, expanding the creative arts: drama, music, art, technology, TED talks, e-learning and so on and so on. The challenge is how to present a new offering into a manageable whole with a sound rationale while protecting what we already do well? What will this curriculum look like? And once the premise has been established, can it be rolled out across prep schools like a smorgsbord with various options from the preceding list, but all grounded in the same premise.

And if we choose to proceed, how do we embed the values we teach; how do we reduce the content, but increase the levels of thinking and understanding; how do we get away from the addictive algorithms and an education mindset wrapped up in binary debates; how do we give children a better understanding of the world they are inheriting so that when the tech giants – Amazon and Google launch their own on-line schools – 5 years 10 years at most is what I’m told – we are already there, with children who can think ethically about the world and act accordingly.

Which takes us back to the question ‘What is the best education for our children’– not what would senior schools like which would improve their results at GCSEs. Recent polls suggest parents do not believe schools are equiping their children with the subjects or the skills they need in life and want more attention paid to soft skills, coding, and finance skills. Nor does industry think we’ve got it right. Nor universities. We should listen more closely and take a lead.

It’s not about doing more, it’s about changing a part of what we do and doing all of what we do, differently. Listen to senior school teachers bemoaning the content-heavy syllabi, schools criticised for starting GCSE preparation in year 9 and rejoice that we don’t have to go there!

Years ago, I wrote to every one of the Russell group to ask what they looked for and they were all that they said – independent and creative thinking, ability to write coherent paragraphs, communicate clearly attainable at prep schools. We can market ourselves on the fact that we do what senior schools are patently unable to do. My New Zealand experience was that if you have had a good prep school education you can handle everything, in spite of senior school! Perhaps that is what we should be striving for? And marketing ourselves on?After all, schools don’t need the validation of baccalaureates, endorsements, certificates? Years 7&8 are the best years to teach and they can handle high-level thinking. High expectations, a good work ethic and a pupil buy-in can move mountains, but it needs to ensure that what is learnt is going to offer children a future.

It will take cooperation amongst prep schools, but that should be happening anyway – after all, prep schools are an endangered species – and changing the public perception of what a prep school education is able to give children might be the way of securing our future. We would keep our standards, and raise our expectations while promoting those things we do well: teaching children to listen, to question, to respect other opinions and the natural environment, to show manners, to become independent learners, to develop memory while seeing the world globally from a premise not predicated on GDP, but on community, service and ethics.

Of course, we have the hoary old chestnut that is assessment. Perhaps because it is my experience from New Zealand where there were school exams, but no entry exams, that I realised that motivation to learn doesn’t rely on the threat of exams, but the joy of learning. Idealistic? Not in my view, but in the UK it would require an enormous change of culture. Perhaps algorithms will help us out by measuring what is currently immeasurable. Perhaps ISEB has some ideas?

But this is an opportunity to do something prep schools have been too reluctant to do – celebrate their independence without craving the validation of CE or anything else. And by answering the question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children in the here and now?’ prep schools could become exemplars for other schools that have neither the courage nor the opportunity to do the same. And it could start with the schools gathered here who decide to make prep schools the first choice for parents, not the last.

Of course, all the above entails a great deal of work. It needs a structure. It needs a premise. I have given over considerable time looking at what a new paradigm of education would look like and also, a new curriculum on my website. It is a work in progress and is on my website for anyone interested.

It would be an opportunity lost if, in creating a new curriculum, we do not look at changing how children think and feel about the world and their place in it: to teach children more about community than self, about the importance of making choices ethically rather than through self-interest, of seeing themselves as sentient beings, looking after their own space. Then we can put together a curriculum that challenges children and extends their knowledge, strengthens their core subjects and repackages others (like History and Myth) while embedding a whole new range of skills necessary for their life after school.

Imagine if prep schools became known for the fact that children who attended them had an international perspective on the world, that their education was predicated on an ethical view of the world, that they were independent, curious, practical, community minded and creative human beings ready to lead us in another direction. Then a prep school education would be known not for a meaningless set of grades or for feeding exam factories, but for producing children with the skills and values that society needs more than ever.

(i) See previous blog ‘Changing the Paradigm: Education for an Ethical World Leweston Lecture Autumn 2018

Why Intelligence is over-rated

Education Posted on Tue, August 14, 2018 14:31:07

Exams as a measure of Intelligence

With A Level results
coming out this week, just what will they tell us about the intelligence of
those children coming through our schools? The answer – not a lot. They will tell us how hard they’ve worked and
how much they have learnt, but their marks will not define intelligence. Part
of the fault is the exam itself. Criticised by teachers for excessive
prescription and content, by universities for not developing independent and
critical thinking and by industry for failing to nurture initiative, problem
solving and communication skills, students soon learn that to do well, they have to play the long game, and follow
the rules laid down by teachers the best of whom are the skilled at teaching
to the test. And if you are one of those curious souls who wants to go off
piste, be warned, you will be told there is no time for that. After sitting A Levels a former student with
offers to Cambridge and Harvard spoke out in frustration and anger against its focus
on memorisation, ticking boxes and ironing out childrens idiosyncracies.
Arguably her A levels results were one measure of her applied intelligence; her
perceptive comments about their limitations, quite another.

to the criticism of universities and employers, (and A levels should not
necessarily serve either master) there is the deleterious effect
of Ebacc on creative subjects when Artificial Intelligence is already telling
us it is the human related and creative jobs – nurses, carers coders and so on
that we will require in the future. As a means of measuring students, A Levels
leave large numbers of our intelligent students on the outer, including those
who don’t see university as their desired destination. And yet although we shouldn’t
ignore the impact of good schools and bad schools, the effect of tutors for
those who can afford them and money in general, we shouldn’t belittle the efforts of students
and their achievements, for A Levels, IB and, at a
stretch, the Cambridge PreU)are the best measures we’ve got. But let’s avoid talking intelligence which is one of those loaded words, a mere lump
of clay of a word , useless until worked. What is important is applied
intelligence. How do we recognise the intelligent child who is brilliant at a
single talent? coding? Music? Chess? Or the intelligent, but bored, frustrated
child who is completely unmotivated by a curriculum that they cannot engage
with. How do we recognise these other intelligences?

an examination system which predicates university as the final destination what
of the 14% of SEND students who we continue to measure by assessing them
through the very medium they struggle with. Or second language students? Or
students in areas where university is never an aspiration and A Levels an
irrelevancy? One hopes, as AI develops we will have different tools to measure
intelligence, that will grow rather than diminish horizions, but at present our
one size fits all model ignores a diminishing number for whom A Levels are a
distraction as much as a barrier.

are also those who are simply not ready for exams, for readiness applies as
much at eighteen as at five. Or those who are creative, but whose skills and
talents are not easily measurable and there are numerous examples of those who
failed at School and yet excelled afterwards, even in academia. Amanda Foreman
comes to mind as one who failed her A Level English and again at a crammer, had
to go abroad to do her undergraduate degree and ended up with a Doctorate from
Oxford and the Whitbread Prize for literature

course, outstanding examination results come from hard work, organisation, good
teaching and applied intelligence, but as a rule, in education, intelligence is
a word to be avoided, for its bias, its reliance on data, its intellectual
snobbery and what it does to expectations. We should celebrate examination
results, albeit being mindful of their cost in mental health and the influence
of the school experience, but not muddy the waters by telling us that they
define intelligence.

(An extended transcript of an ITV article / vlog, 16 August, 2018)

Intelligence is a word often misused – especially in schools.

Education Posted on Mon, August 13, 2018 19:02:01

Intelligence cannot be defined by exams

highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average
intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way
the car is driven.
” – Edward de Bono

Each year at
this time, the pressure cranks up in the race for school and university places,
as SATS and A-levels prepare to feed another raft of league tables. As these
help determine our standing on the world stage, through the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA), our obsession with measuring children
takes centre stage.

Confident in
our system of public examinations, that is broadly designed to separate those
more ‘intelligent’ from the less ‘intelligent’, we can feel content that we are
filtering out our most able for higher education and all the opportunities that
entails. Sounds simple enough, if it was really that easy.

The problem
lies with the word intelligence. The common definition, that of possessing ‘a
quickness of understanding and an ability to apply knowledge and skills to a
high level’ – should give us pause to ask how well equipped our current
examination system is to deliver?

‘intelligent’ students, so identified by the data emanating from various
intelligence tests (which incidentally too often reinforce teacher
expectations), are frustrated by papers that trot out the same questions in a
different garb. These allow for little or no original thought and even actively
discourage creative thinking and intelligent responses.

stated, measuring intelligence through examination is, inevitably, as limited
as the examination itself. Whilst it might prove a reasonable sieve – perhaps
even the best we can provide – it will not identify many of those we
instinctively know to be intelligent.

There are
simple reasons for this, apart from the failure of examinations to measure
divergent thinking and creativity (due in part to the need to keep marking as
objective and, therefore, as inflexible as possible to remove any room for
subjective judgment).

The problem
of measuring intelligence per se is that it is an inadequate guide to human
capability, and that many of the ways we use to measure working intelligence
are woefully inadequate. Surely those we should be seeking to identify and
nurture are students with the capacity of effective or applied intelligence,
those who can do something with what knowledge and skills they acquire?

Too many
‘intelligent’ children, often bored by conventional learning, slip through the
net. Others just think differently to the straitjacket dictated by ‘one size
fits all’ exams. For instance, the list of those luminaries with learning
difficulties who found it difficult to express themselves in conventional
examinations makes for sober reading.

This poses
the question as to just how many are badly served by traditional examinations,
despite all the assistance offered through extra time, reader-writers and the
use of technology. We only have to reflect on some of our leading public
figures who dropped out of school and have ended up in prominent positions in
public life to know that the traditional system of assessment was not capable
of measuring their particular abilities, their sense of purpose, work ethic and

There are
also many ‘intelligent’ people, as measured by our schools, who have the
historic indicators of intelligence, viz. a quickness of understanding and the
ability to perform cognitively at a higher level but are painfully deficient in
other aspects.

These people
can lack initiative, the ability to ask difficult questions (and solve them),
EQ, cooperative and communication skills and the organisational discipline
crucial to make intelligence an active, rather than a passive, trait.

Because our
perceived definition of intelligence is so closely linked in with an ability to
be measured by exams, many intelligent people are disfranchised.

Our measure
of who is intelligent depends more on giving expected and appropriate answers
rather than showing any initiative or creative spark, this is probably the
reason for the clutch of third class degrees accumulated by such luminaries as
Michael Morpurgo, W. H. Auden and Carol Vorderman.

By measuring
intelligence this way, we get some of the crop, but not all, and those that
fall by the wayside can be the most important of all. Hence while
neurosurgeons, judges and nanotechnologists emerge from the current system, one
only has to look at the vast numbers of highly successful – and intelligent –
people who failed to shine at school to see how random our measure is. As
Winston Churchill aptly demonstrated, it is possible to win the Nobel Prize for
Literature despite a mediocre school career and no tertiary qualifications.

Part of the
problem may be how we value and reward intelligence, as identified through
traditional testing. The word ’intelligent’ has a cache that other words, like
‘industrious’ do not. For instance, we richly reward those whose appointments
are based on their academic qualifications; judges, diplomats, bankers and
brokers, financiers, consultants, senior bureaucrats and the like. However,
those people who make create, who tinker and take intellectual risks, are
scantily rewarded in comparison.

We might well
ask, are our schools guilty of promoting a passive form of intelligence, asking
‘what do you know’ rather than ‘what can you do’ simply because of the
limitations of assessment? We might also pause to recognise that many
‘intelligent’ people may lack the very qualities we need from our leaders, be
it emotional intelligence, wisdom or even common sense. Ability, talent,
intelligence on their own are lumps of coal – they need setting alight to have
any value.

Of course we
need our most able to fly; we need an intelligentsia to keep challenging us and
leading us forward. And they will probably still come from the traditional
route until we widen our criteria and improve our tools for identifying talent,
although when I read that 7 per cent of Oxford’s student population are receiving
counseling along with 728 postgraduate students, I wonder how too much focus on
academia can stunt emotional and social development. As a society, we benefit most
from those with effective intelligence, who are able to channel their
intelligence and use it, rather than merely parade it in the safety of
institutions and selected professions.

We lose too
many talented and intelligent people by defining intelligence through tests
that are wholly inadequate and constricting. We need to look wider and
encourage the entrepreneur, the inquisitive, the creative and the downright
cussed in our schools to make the most of who we are and to bring out the
richness and diversity of thought and ideas in our society.

Unconditional Offers

Education Posted on Thu, July 26, 2018 11:31:05

Of Course it’s the Money, Stupid!

The increase
in the number of unconditional places being awarded at universities from 2985
in 2013 to 67,195, an increase of more than 2100% threatens, in the words of Sam
Gyimah, the universities minister to ‘undermine
the credibility of higher education’
. While he is right to feel concerned, perhaps
he might also take time to reflect on the causes of such an implosion: the
fault, after all, doesn’t lie just at the
doors of the universities, but is symptomatic of a system that has long
predicated university as the culmination of an school system based on a
competitive business model governed by supply and demand.

was always thus, no doubt, but in recent years, with the decentralisation of
schools and funding cuts, all education institutions have been compelled to exercise
much tighter control over the supply of money and seeing their business as,
first and foremost, results driven.

schools, historic charities but more often these days hard–nosed, business
operations with boards packed with
influential alumni and successful businessmen who have been running their
schools with this mind-set for ages, riding out the storms, working on
efficiencies and replacing a slightly flagging Old Boy network with facilities
superior to any competitor. Their very existence depends on getting students
through the door in an increasingly hostile climate. But state education was never a business, depending on academic
results alone. Trying to replicate the independent sector, with the
growth of free schools and academies, but without the wherewithal and freedom
to do so effectively does not work, especially when real-term funding is under
constant pressure. Yet the measures applied are much the same: academic success,
schools are told, depends upon results and consequent roll growth. Between 2000
and 2010, the education budget doubled without producing a commensurate
improvement in results. Since that time, we have entered a time, epitomised by
league tables that has embraced results as the be-all and end-all without
sufficient focus on what the system provided for those not suited, by aptitude,
ability or inclination, by such an economic
model. Instead, the drive for results has led to a burgeoning education
industry that has responded to the pressure placed on staff and schools to get
the best results for students, whether the subjects chosen, or the pressure
applied, is in the best interests of the children or not. The results have
been growing incidences of cheating and
malpractice and examination boards, all of which are profit driven (not just
Edexel which is owned by the publishers, Pearsons), persuading schools to shop
with them; or by any of a growing number of panacea that schools are tempted to
buy into. As a result, the number of
students being tutored has skyrocketed, as have exclusions, while the incidence
of stress and depression in the young has also continued to increase under the
threat of league tables which continue to persuade schools to make decisions
that are at best expedient, yet more often than not working against the best
interests of children. Academic performance and the accumulation of data from
Key Stage One onwards is directed unwaveringly at A Levels and university
entrance. It may have made schools lean and more business like, but at a huge

part of education is now full of bindweed, of contrary advice, of
administrative overload. Teachers and parents are assailed by an educational
publishing industry (‘here’s ten must-read books for your summer holidays’) or
examination boards, driven by profit and loss; whether it is heads, ignoring
experienced and well-qualified teachers because they add too much to their
staffing costs or worse, driving out older teachers on trumped up capability
charges, the purpose is the same, to drive down costs, even if the salaries of
some ‘super heads’ makes a mockery of
such intentions. Or else it is the effects of a burgeoning advisory and
conference industry, set up to improve staff by offering courses in
professional development, but run by independent providers and consultancies,
each squeezing their piece out of the education grant.

is fine, but not when it is driven by the need to produce grades required for university
admission rather than a wider, more balanced curriculum; nor when it is to do
with universities simply trying to stay afloat and maximise their income; nor,
even more pointedly, when it compels schools to act against the best interests
of children. It is sad when it is the creative subjects that are squeezed out
by the demands of an avaricious exam system that needs data to graze on.

universities are responding in their own way to an education system that has
been made excessively competitive, excessively market-driven, with all the good
and bad that that involves by looking after their own interests rather than
those of the sector – or the students; perhaps that is the real issue that needs