End false choice between academic rigour and individual development

Last ever GCSE date must be ‘circled in the diary’ by end of parliament

CBI Director-General John Cridland, will warn that a decades-long battle between two opposing camps on how education is best delivered – rigour versus personal development – has been a false choice and is harming the prospects of young people.

In a speech at the Festival of Education at Wellington College he will call for an education system that delivers for all, with the focus on helping set young people up for success in life.

John Cridland will say:

“For too long the education debate has been a ‘battle’ between two opposing camps. False choices between academic achievement or vocational skill, between the right marks or the right mentality. A false choice that we have all allowed to determine the course of the education debate. By 2020, I want a system that doesn’t just work for some young people but all of them.”

Study Books (PD)He will call on the Government to set out a vision that encompasses both sides of the debate and that the focus cannot be on reform of exams and school structures alone.

While the goals behind the government’s reform programme are in many ways laudable, Mr Cridland will say:

“Education reforms over the last parliament have only gone so far and the new Government must focus on the system as a whole, and not just exams and school structures. We need curriculum reform, not just exam reform.

“Debates about school structures and exam reform are sterile if they aren’t linked to outcomes for young people. We should stop using exams as a tool to influence education rather than merely to accredit it. The Government must make a start on a full review of 14 to 18 education by the end of the summer.”

Among the measures the CBI is calling for are:

• Giving teachers real freedom to innovate, within a clearer set of goals for schools and a radically reformed Ofsted accountability approach

• Overhauling careers education, delivering high-quality advice and work experience to ensure they can make informed choices

• Delivering a new and stretching curriculum for our 14-18 year olds which has the space for a personalised approach mixing key academic and vocational options, rather than endless exam reform

• Supporting this new focus on achievement at 18 by retiring GCSEs and delivering gold standard qualifications for all at 18 years of age

• Getting more businesses engaged in schools to help inspire, advise and govern, especially at primary school level where too few are currently involved.

Mr Cridland will say that teachers need to be given the freedom to innovate from day one:

“We must give great teachers in classrooms the freedom to deliver innovative teaching, harnessing new approaches and technologies. At first glance, the Government’s instincts on this seem right. And in part they are. They seek to deliver a clear idea of what they want from schools, and are trying to use the academy programme to move power closer to the professionals.

“But ultimately success will mean two things – ensuring each young person gets the outcome right for them and that schools feel free to deliver that long-term outcome, not focussed on meeting short-term demands. If we are honest, the system is not yet able to deliver that and the Government’s reform programme is unlikely to do it either.

“In this Parliament I want to see the Department of Education deliver their proposed devolved model. They should set out goals for the education system covering rigour, but also the attitudes and aptitudes necessary for work and life.”

But he will warn that without reform Ofsted is driving schools to act in fear of inspection rather than the interests of young people:

“We need to assure quality throughout the process, rather than just inspecting it at the end of the production line. In weaker schools, fear of Ofsted drives behaviours which lead to perverse outcomes, instead of better ones. All too often, it’s only the data which matters. And in stronger schools, rebel head teachers succeed in spite of the system, not because of it. Innovation still means rebellion, and it shouldn’t.

“Devolving control to schools could drive innovation and personalised learning, but the inspection regime too often means that teachers and heads don’t believe in these freedoms. This week, we’ve seen Ofsted take the first step in the right direction, in terms of a new approach to inspection, but there is more to do. Reforms should go further and faster than some of the welcome steps thus far, transforming our approach to quality – and how to deliver it – by 2018.”

And he will call for an overhaul of careers advice:

“We also need to give every young person access to quality advice about the choices open to them and from an earlier age. That’s advice, not a website. Young people can access all the information they need on their smart phones. It’s a steer they need. And the best information young people can get is from ‘test driving’ things first-hand.

“In Germany young people have multiple encounters with employers throughout their education, with even stronger links in vocational schools. And in Finland, yearly work experience from ages 13-16 comes ‘as standard’.

“Only about a third of firms we spoke to who engaged with schools have links at primary level and that’s not good enough. At secondary school, young people need careers advice when they’re 12 and 13 – before they make life-changing choices about what to study.”

And Mr Cridland will call for a new stretching curriculum that gives young people a real choice from 14 years old and the creation of vocational A Levels:

“For too long, we’ve just ‘pretended’ to have a multiple route education system. In reality, there has been only one path the system values – GCSEs, A-levels, university.

“Expecting them to wait until 16 to make a choice and then offering a restricted, unloved range of options is a social and economic own goal. I call on government to level the playing field and create vocational A-levels.

“High-stakes exams at 16 are from a bygone era, we have to face up to the uncomfortable truth that – internationally – we’re the oddballs. In France, Germany, Sweden or Japan, much of the assessment which takes place before 18 is school-based – whether exams set and administered by schools or marks based on continuous assessment. By the end of this parliament, I want to see the date for the last ever GCSE circled in the Secretary of State’s diary.

“Let’s clear the way for a new 14-18 curriculum, based on personalisation. We need an Individualised Learning Plan for every young person, aiming at high quality outcomes at 18, whether academic, vocational or a mix.”

And he will conclude by issuing a rallying call for more community participation in education

“I want education to be everyone’s business, involving parents, teachers, business and the whole community. Schools shouldn’t be places where businesspeople drop their kids at the beginning of the day like they drop-off their dry-cleaning. Businesses should lead by example – sponsoring academies, engaging with curriculum design and supporting employees who act as school governors.”

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