What’s Happened to Our Education System?

Originally published on tmrw at: tmrwmagazine.com/whats-happened-to-our-education-system/

With Ofsted’s annual report coming out earlier this month, it reminds us once again how schools centre what they do on getting the trophy ‘outstanding’ rating. Student pass rates and exam results are constantly scrutinised. Pupils seem to have become a statistic over individuals, with schools under enormous pressure to meet performance targets. These pressures simply gets transferred to students, who suffer through endless testing. As someone who recently finished secondary school, I’ve experienced this pressure first hand. I got 79/80 on a psychology test, so my teacher told my headmistress, who replied with ‘next time try and go for 100%’. I’m sure she thought she was being her own special brand of funny, but in reality this is what a school environment is like now.

Nicky Morgan, our Education Secretary, announced last month that secondary schools would have to have 90% of gcse students doing English Baccalaureate subjects, which is when students achieve 5+ a*-c grades in English, mathematics, two sciences, a foreign language and history or geography at GCSE level. This is because these are seen as the traditionally academic subjects, with Morgan having previously dismissed the value of vocational subjects. We seem to be finding more and more ways to confine students. I did the EBACC, and it has made no difference whatsoever to my life. Some students had to drop creative subjects like art and textiles as they were told to take up humanities – but all that happened was they had to slog through a subject they didn’t enjoy for two years. Learning should be something that excites and engages students, but it is the students who are being forgotten.

Morgan praises the value of the EBACC, saying how she is often told “the EBACC isn’t right for those children” which she sees as “adults writing off children, deciding what they can and can’t do”. I wonder if she can hear her own hypocrisy? Morgan funnelling children into academic subjects through implementing the EBACC is an adult deciding what children can and can’t do. Academic subjects suit many students, but vocational and creative qualifications also have immense value.

Adults seem constantly to be dictating what it is children should be doing. Everyone criticises the spoon fed approach that is often found in schools, but this isn’t the choice of the students. It’s what’s needed to meet those all-important targets. But the government choosing how children learn, as well as what they should be learning, stops any chance of them becoming an independent learner – something universities claim they love. With all these differing demands on students, it’s no wonder they feel pressurised.

A strict curriculum has little chance of actually engaging pupils, with my experience of endless assessments destroying my previous love of school. Adults always said to us to enjoy school as it will be the best time of your life. We’d respond with prayers that this can’t be the highest point in our lives, because that would make some truly depressing lives. Morgan said it’s up to schools and parents to “manage” pressure. Parents have enough to do without having to act as full time counsellors, and many aren’t even there to do this. Teachers are also under immense pressure themselves, so how are they meant to help the students?

In the same way the schools have league tables, Britain sees itself in a league table with other countries, constantly comparing itself to those markers where we fall below China. Everything, at every level, has become about results. No one cares how they happen, just that they must. Our school children aren’t factory workers churning out results; they are being stifled by an unbending curriculum and copious amounts of pressure. Why is education in a state of crisis? Because it’s no longer about education.


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