When I think about education in this country, the first question I ask myself is: what is it for? This is a very important question: one that we really should be perpetually reassessing. But we are not. This question has got completely lost in a system that does not know what its purpose is.
This question is very important to me. As someone who attended a below-average comprehensive school this question was thrown around a lot. However, it was never something I asked myself – the children who regularly asked ‘What is the point of school?’ and ‘When will we ever need this in real life?’ were usually low achievers and/or badly behaved. At the time I shrugged the questions off – I thought they were stupid and unnecessary; we have to go to school so why question what the point of it is? It is only after entering higher education that I have realised how significant these questions really are.
The British education system seems to me to be fundamentally flawed. Now I am conscious at this point of sounding like an irritating old man who thinks that things were much better in the ‘good ole days’; but I assure you I am not that guy. It is just overwhelmingly clear to me that we have lost our way. We need to forge an education system that has clear goals and constantly searches for the best means to achieve them.
We need to remember that education is a process – recently I think we have got far too interested in what we can get out of education and not what education can draw out of us. The obsession with results, statistics and league tables in our current system seems to be profoundly detrimental to the quality of it. If our system is not first and foremost creating articulate sceptical human beings who are intellectually curious: then what is it doing?
Many academics have argued recently that there is a steady decline in literacy across the board, Professor Sarah Churchwell stated on Question Time that she had seen a decline in essay writing standard over the last fourteen years. She seemed to believe this was down to exam based education. We have neglected the importance of a well-rounded education – we need to remember education is not a commodity that we can buy or sell – a GCSE grade is not a representation of any value; it is a rough indicator of the level of intelligence in this field by a particular pupil.
We must give teachers the freedom to actually teach. Just because you can get through an English Literature A level by reading a handful of books does not mean that this is the way in which you should approach the course. The oddest thing about attending a Russell Group university – as I do – is the feeling that all the pupils who attend, attend in spite of exam based education – they all gained their passion and knowledge for the their subject through extra curriculum reading and research.
We need to move away from exam based education – teaching needs to be seen as a process with an outcome that cannot easily be defined. One well-educated youngster can differ tremendously from another, and we need to acknowledge this. I personally do not even believe in a national curriculum, but if we must have one I think it should be a fairly short list of guidelines compiled by an independent committee of head teachers and university academics – and not the Secretary of State for Education.
I truly believe that the enforcement of these principles would leave us in a much better position. An education system that prides itself in these values will produce much more well-rounded, intellectually curious citizens who will be much more able to solve the problems that our country and planet will face in the future.