A week can be a long time in politics and education, and a blog I was writing calling for Michael Gove to slow down the pace of examination reform was overtaken by his decision to do exactly that. The Secretary of State has attracted the usual political ridicule for his ‘U-turn’, but the criticisms for the ‘EBacc-track’ are a little unfair. Politicians deserve some credit when they swallow their pride, listen to advice, and reverse a decision for good reasons. EBaccs were a bridge too far, and their introduction would have detracted from the government’s genuine attempts to raise educational standards.
My blog that never was had no impact on Mr Gove’s examination decisions. However, given the Secretary of State seems to be in listening mode I will chance my arm again with some advice to Her Majesty’s Government.
The focus of education should be talent maximisation. The duty of schools, heads and teachers is to realise the potential of each and every child. Potential comes in various academic and vocational forms, and no one type of potential should trump another. We need brilliant brain surgeons and outstanding plumbers, amazing art historians and wonderful customer sales assistants. As a twin I have first-hand experience of how UK education treats different types of potential. My skills lay in the academic rather than practical spheres, and despite once being called a “chimpanzee” by my woodwork teacher my academic achievements were praised and my confidence soared. My twin has the opposite ability profile. His considerable practical skills were ignored and he was criticised for his academic failings. He lost confidence at school and his educational potential went unrealised.
Too many children suffer a similar fate, and it is telling that a current radio commercial for Army recruitment is based on the premise that the Army will recognise and develop skills in young people that schools miss.
So how to realise the potential of each and every student? The answer is simple – recognise talents wherever they lie and invest more in schools to ensure talent maximisation.
You get what you pay for. The average independent school spends significantly more on each pupil than the average state school because they can. This higher expenditure funds outstanding teachers, vibrant learning environments, smaller classes, the latest digital technology, a wide range of extra-curricular opportunities and supportive pastoral care. All of this adds up to a considerable educational advantage which of course is why parents pay independent school fees.
Increasing the amount the UK spends on education will be difficult but worthwhile. An increased investment in education today will result in a better qualified workforce tomorrow. Economic growth will accelerate and welfare spending will fall; the resulting economic returns will be handsome.
This is why we should be spending more money on education, starting with Cambridgeshire state schools who receive the lowest per capita funding in the country.
We need to think again about how we finance education and how the cost burden can be shared between all interested parties – the state, employers and parents. The state may be able to deliver more through higher taxation, or switched priorities within government; private companies may contribute in an effort to boost employee skills and productivity; and more parents may be willing and able to contribute financially to their childrens’ education if there were tax incentives for doing so.
To raise the potential of every child we will need to spend more and spend well. To achieve this we must think outside the current political box and find creative and sustainable ways of investing more in education to enhance the skills and knowledge of the next generation and build a better future.