A long-awaited government White Paper on education ‘Opportunity for All’, has finally appeared. An opportunity for all to have a radical re-think you might expect, or indeed hope, in the midst of the current political, social, financial and medical turbulence.
You would be somewhat disappointed.
For parents, there is a possible upside in that some children who are currently at school less than 32.5 hours a week, are going to be there a bit longer. However, when there, children are going to be chasing higher and higher narrow exam targets – a 30% increase in national grades in English and Maths for 11 year olds, in the next 8 years is the aspiration. Yet more pressure on teachers to teach to the exam and lose any joy and creativity left in the system. Any child who falls behind, is to be offered yet more English and Maths to catch up. Another change is the organisation of schools, with an aim of making all of them academies. Does that mean a great deal to a parent or indeed any member of the general public? Certainly not in an obviously direct way.
What about the world outside education? Will the aspirations of the White Paper bring sweetness and light for employers, who have complained for ever about the dismal quality of those spewed out of the education system into their arms? Apart from a mantra that standards in education are going up because of this White Paper, again, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Children put through years of teaching to the exam are unlikely to be your most exciting, creative thinkers or even be that good at what are euphemistically called the soft skills.
Of course, we want children who can read and write (well perhaps, type might be more relevant) and have some sort of mathematical grasp (but how much really for most children?) More interesting is to think what education system might have made the pandemic any less ghastly, might prepare society for a recession, might stop the escalation of violence and the belief that violence can provide long term solutions, might make poor mental health decrease rather than increase.
And then there are schools themselves. We now know we don’t actually need to bring thousands of children together in small spaces to transmit knowledge. We can do it in other ways. We do however need parents to work in the economic world, not tied up at home supervising their offspring, as was the case during lockdown. We are no longer preparing children for a factory style work place with hours marked by starting sirens and factory floors with hundreds of passive ‘hands’ performing repetitive manual functions. As well as the curriculum, then, we need to be thinking about the physical world for learning. Not much about that in the White Paper either.
One part of the purpose of a White Paper is to stimulate debate. Let’s hope that at least happens.
Sarah Evans is a guest author for Friend Partnership and writes on their behalf about issues of topical interest and general business commentary. Sarah is a former Principal of King Edward VI High School for Girls.
Sarah has in the past worked with Friend Partnership on a unique piece of research into the challenges faced by women in the workplace.
Friend Partnership is a forward-thinking firm of accountants, business advisers, and corporate finance and tax specialists. Based in Birmingham, we act for entrepreneurial businesses and successful individuals on a national and international basis.