Time to end ‘one size fits all’ education

Time to end ‘one size fits all’ education

The government has recently announced a raft of measures to improve our country’s industry – with education playing a key role in this.

I have long argued that what we need is as varied an education system as possible so our children’s individual talents are best harnessed.

As well as raising the academic standards for the brightest, we also need colleges that give children the technical and vocational skills needed to run industries.

It’s a system that works very well in Germany and our government seems to be making the right – if small – steps to mirroring our more successful European neighbour.

Focusing on improving the core STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) by opening new technical colleges is, in my opinion, the key to making our economy prosper. This must start with a fundamental rethink of technical education in the UK.

For far too long, technical skills have been downgraded in people’s minds compared to the value we give to academic qualifications.

Pushing people in an academic direction is not necessarily the best thing and many young people would flourish in a more technical and practical skills-based environment. A less academic route would still require good numeracy and literacy skills but would be blended with ‘hands-on’ approaches to prepare young people for the jobs market and a more practical-based career.

This would, of course, include Information Technology as there are many students who display extraordinary abilities in this area but would find it difficult to write a coherent essay.

Ironically, the comprehensive system has made this problem worse with its ‘one size fits all’ approach. The government’s Green Paper not only recommends the ending of the grammar school ban but also affords more choice to multi-academy trusts.

Julian Drinkall, CEO of the country’s largest trust, Academies Enterprise Trust, said he welcomes this and would consider opening schools with some form of selection. This could open the doors to a more varied education offering to cater for the needs of individuals, but there is a proviso.

Multi-academy trusts must also consider opening technical colleges as good alternatives to grammar and comprehensive schools – technical colleges that are properly developed and not seen as a place to go to if you fail.

The comprehensive system’s ‘one size fits all’ approach has been largely academic and many children find this extremely difficult; for some, it is totally unsuitable.

In a more extreme example, I remember back in the 1990s when the then Conservative government decided that every pupil should learn a modern foreign language up to GCSE. This had disastrous results in the school I was working in. Many students needed to work on their literacy and numeracy skills instead. We faced the ridiculous situation of youngsters who could barely communicate effectively in their own language being forced to struggle with a foreign language right through to GCSE.

And today there are children who still need to work on their basic numeracy and literacy skills undertaking academic GCSE subjects that are not necessarily giving them any benefit. This leaves them bored and frustrated.

Instead, they could finish certain subjects at age 14 and take more practical- or technical-based subjects from then on, invigorating their interests and preparing them for work. This is what happens in the highly successful German model.

In Germany, they have the Gymnasia, which are very similar to grammar schools. Children who are academically able can move to these schools at age 14. Students who are more technically able go to vocational training schools, but continue with literacy and numeracy as core subjects. There is no first or second class for students but simply a choice of what is the best pathway to success for that individual.

Even though grammar schools select at age 11 in Britain, it would be possible to adopt a more open approach and operate assessments at 12 and 13 years old to ensure children are on the right path.

Instead, the vast majority follow the same system up to age 16 and either succeed in it (get a clutch of good grades at GCSE) or fail in it (end up with poor, below C grades at GCSE) with no monitoring of progress along the way.

This ‘one size fits all’ yardstick is a reflection of the system it represents – a ‘one size fits all’ comprehensive system of education. If we are to succeed as a country in the future, we must design a system that does not fail 75% of the population of school children. We need to test children in the areas in which they can succeed.

The vast majority of children will feel they are succeeding if the form of education they are receiving actually meets their particular educational needs.

We all know of certain people who have succeeded in life and whose success only began when they were able to throw off the shackles of school where they were deemed to have failed miserably.

School should never be a disastrous experience for children but should instead be a place that opens up a world of possibilities.