Think long and hard before ripping up the schools system

Education can, to the untrained eye seem more fraught and fractured than ever before. Employers and celebratory commentators routinely call for our outdated, ‘Victorian’ system to be reformed and for schools to focus on so-called ‘21st-century skills’. With the relentless increase of automation and the gig economy, traditional jobs will no longer be available and so the education system must somehow prepare children for jobs that haven’t yet been invented. The Big Issue reports

Twenty-one years ago, Tony Blair told the nation that his three priorities were education, education, education. In the intervening years almost twice as many people go to university, but with the increasing burden of tuition fees many feel higher education is beyond them. At the same time, teachers and teaching unions report being choked by meaningless paperwork, perverse accountability demands and dubious data. Added together, does this create a perfect storm in which the old must be scoured away to make room for a shiny new techno vision? Frankly, no.

First, why do we think our school system is ‘outdated’? Various reformers would like to do away with classrooms, desks, books and even teachers talking to students. Understandably, these efforts have met with some resistance. Why, reformers wonder, are some teachers so resistant to change? In fact, teachers, like everyone else, tend to embrace change as long as it’s positive. What we tend to hate is loss. Consider a scenario in which a school informs its staff that they are all required to work one less day a week for the same pay. Will anyone resist the change? The truth is that most of these ill-conceived ideas add considerably to teachers’ workloads. 

While it’s true that our access to information is unparalleled, there is no substitute for storing information in our brains. Knowledge is a function of organic tissue – information only becomes knowledge when it lives and breathes inside our minds. Any attempt to substitute a more traditional approach to the school curriculum for a focus on trendy-sounding generic skills will only impoverish children and those that are most disadvantaged will suffer most. In addition to all this, the claim that most people are now doing jobs that weren’t invented 10 years ago is bunk. The top ‘in-demand’ jobs in 2014 included mathematician (at number one), university professor, statistician, actuary, audiologist and, curiously, dental hygienist.

But what of student debt? Isn’t the marketisation of higher education strangling working-class children’s access to university? What puts people off attending university is not debt, but the fear of debt. The fact that many students borrow up to £50,000 is meaningless, what matters is how much they repay, and what you repay depends entirely on how much you earn after getting your degree; those who land fabulous jobs will repay a lot, those who earn little will repay nothing. Essentially, tuition fees are an equitable way to get those graduates who benefit most from going to university to subsidise those who benefit least, all without increasing the tax burden on those who don’t attend at all.

Finally, whilst the burden of unnecessary workload no doubt blights the lives of very many teachers, it’s important to know that both the DfE and the government watchdog, Ofsted, have told schools in no uncertain terms that they ought to stop generating so much pointless paperwork and abandon the delusion that collecting ever more data will solve anything. The only reason teachers continue to drown in meaningless administrative tasks is down to the ignorance and short-sightedness of individual headteachers. 

Read the full article Think long and hard before ripping up the schools system

Please tell us your thoughts in comment or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Employment, Leadership, Learning, Primary, Secondary, Teaching, Technology and University.


  1. Anonymous

    ‘The only reason teachers continue to drown in meaningless administrative tasks is down to the ignorance and short-sightedness of individual headteachers. ’

    Ridiculous comment. An attitude which allows the disingenuous DfE and OFSTED to continue to claim that the admin burdens on schools and teachers aren’t a result of their data driven, league table, punitive systems.

  2. Thanks for your article! I have read through some similar topics! However, your post has given me a very special impression, unlike other posts. I hope you continue to have valuable articles like this or more to share with everyone!
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