Time to re-think secondary education

Time to re-think secondary education

As politicians, teachers and parents study today’s secondary school league tables and play the comparison game, isn’t time we changed our archaic way of educating?

The whole basis of today’s league table is how much academic progress and attainment schools have achieved for students.

Of course, striving for the best academically should be a very important part of our education system (as you know, I’m an advocate for selection so the most clever students can reach their full potential) but it should not be the ‘be all and end all.’

It is because we have this unrealistic expectation that every student should reach a certain level academically that we have such soul searching and hand wringing every time the league tables are published.

Meanwhile, the UK is desperately short of engineers and those who possess the technical skills needed to keep this country flourishing economically.

If we’re going to thrive post-Brexit, we need to stop tying ourselves in knots about the percentage of students getting Grades 9-5 and instead have a proper balance between those who are academically qualified and those who have been vocationally trained.

Already we have a small number of University Technology Colleges (UTCs) and Studio Schools but their numbers are far too small to make a real difference.

And, unsurprisingly, these specialist colleges are shown to be on average below the academic floor standard in today’s league tables.

To me, this perfectly demonstrates that just focusing on academic success does not paint the whole picture of what is needed in this country.

Does it matter if those students are not academic high flyers if those schools have equipped them with skills that will make a real difference to the workforce?

All our total focus on academia has achieved, thanks to Tony Blair’s unrealistic goal that 50% should go to university, is to create an army of unemployable graduates, many with meaningless degrees.

The result is an increase of around 60% of debt-laden university graduates working in low-skilled roles.

It has also left us with a massive skills shortage within the technological, engineering and vocationally orientated sectors.

During an interview with Andrew Marr in November last year, James Dyson highlighted that the UK is ‘hundreds of thousands of engineers short at the moment’ and will be ‘two million engineers short by 2022’.

To combat this, Mr Dyson established his own engineering university.

But many people following a technical engineering route do not require the academic rigour of a degree – but where is the training for them?

In Germany, children who are less academic pursue a vocationally and technically orientated curriculum from the age of 14. The success of their economy speaks for itself and strongly suggests that a similar educational approach should be implemented in the UK.

We too should be giving our children the opportunity to maximise their potential in secondary education.

This means ensuring every child receives a solid and strong education in the basic skills at primary level, followed by a more divergent approach at secondary level from Year 9.

Those who are not academically orientated should still receive instruction in the core subjects of English, maths and science but, in addition, attend a specialist school that develops practical skills, such as IT and engineering.

By doing so, we will reduce the number of children who are ‘punished’ for being more technically skilled.

We will also give every child the opportunity to understand where they have the most potential and allow them to confidently pursue this career path.

Although league tables are a necessary benchmark on academic success they certainly do not paint the whole picture or give our children what they – or the country – needs.