School system ‘failing’ on multiple fronts – report

The education system is “failing” on several fronts, according to a new report.

The Times Education Commission has found that UK education is “failing on all measures”, with more than half (59%) of parents of school-aged children believing that schools are not preparing pupils for life while that 60% believe that it does not prepare them for work.

A poll also found that the majority of parents (65%) think the current school system places too much emphasis on exams, with more than half (56%) saying it was bad for students’ mental health, in a survey of 1,993 parents in April 21 -22.

The Commission’s report also finds that there are ‘shocking’ regional disparities in the performance of early years pupils, with a primary school principal in Nottinghamshire reporting that some children arrived at school unable to say their own name and that 50% of their pupils at reception and in the crèche were not clean.

The principal said four-year-old students communicated their need to drink by saying “bot-bot” and that their school had to employ orderlies just to change nappies.

The commission also heard reports of “three-year-olds unable to walk properly because their muscles had not developed after days of sitting in front of the television and of five-year-olds speaking with an accent American, imitating the cartoon characters they had been”. watching”.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, told the commission that inequalities in the system were “persistent” and “glaring” before the pandemic.

“The pandemic has exacerbated and exposed inequalities that already existed,” he said.

The Commission calls on struggling parents to receive more help to ensure that all children are ready for school, including parenting classes, home visits and drop-in centres, alongside a public information campaign, similar to the “five a day” initiative on healthy eating, to emphasize the importance of talking and playing with your child.

Teachers should have more training on how to identify pupils with special educational needs, according to the commission’s report (Danny Lawson/PA)

He notes that only 75 “family homes” have been set up by the government while around 1,000 Sure Start centers have closed.

The Commission says that while the pandemic has been a “catastrophe” for young people, both in terms of mental health and widening the disadvantage gap, “the flaws in our education system predate the pandemic”.

The year-long project, chaired by Times columnist Rachel Sylvester and backed by 22 commissioners from various fields, as well as two former prime ministers and 13 former education secretaries, calls for a ‘British Baccalaureate’ offering a wider range range of university degrees. and vocational qualifications at 18, with a set of ‘lite’ exams at 16 as opposed to GCSEs.

The Commission is also calling for a ‘choice bonus’ for all schools to fund drama, music, dance and sport, as well as a national citizenship service experience for every pupil to ensure that the most poor can access outdoor expeditions and volunteering.

Undergraduates should be able to earn credit for their degrees through student tutoring to help them catch up, as this would be ‘better and cheaper’ than the current model of the national tutoring program.

“For the gap between rich and poor to be closed, tutoring will have to become a permanent fixture,” the report says.

“The government has recognized this, but the £5billion national tutoring scheme, set up after the coronavirus crisis, has been expensive, mismanaged and fails to help the most disadvantaged.”

The Commission says a new cadre of elite technical and vocational sixth graders with links to industry should be created, in line with government plans to open academically selective sixth graders under the upgrading scheme. level.

And it calls for increased early years funding, with unique pupil numbers linked to each child from birth to ensure they receive the targeted support they need.

The report also recommends that every child should have access to a laptop or tablet and that counselors be employed in every school.

Teachers should have more training on how to identify students with special educational needs, while schools should remain responsible for the students they exclude.

The report argues that the Ofsted school inspectorate should be reformed to work more collaboratively with schools, while a new ‘school report card’ should be introduced to assess school performance across a wider range of parameters, including the school inclusiveness and student well-being.

Fifty new universities are expected to be established in higher education “cold spots” and poorer parts of the country, with satellite wings in higher education colleges and a system of transferable credits between universities and colleges. , recommends the commission.

He adds that a 15-year education strategy would prevent every education secretary from starting from scratch to put schools “above short-term partisan politics”.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair told the commission: “We must refocus on education as a key priority to build a better, more prosperous and more united country over the next decade.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have a good education system that works very well for many students and is delivered by extremely talented teachers and leaders in our schools and colleges. .

“However, the current system is not working as well for about a third of our young people, many of whom are disadvantaged or have special educational needs, and whose results do not offer them the best chance in life.

“The government’s emphasis on highly academic, high-stakes exams has created a cliff edge for too many young people.

“It must be reformed alongside improved funding for schools and colleges to support the children who need extra help the most, investment in crucial early childhood education and action to tackle against the scourge of child poverty.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: ‘We thank the Times Education Commission for its report and always welcome new ideas and opinions from industry and education experts.

“Our Schools White Paper sets out a clear roadmap for improving education in England, including targeted support both for individual pupils who are falling behind and for whole areas of the country where standards are highest. weak, as well as ambitious targets to improve the standard of pupils by the end of primary school and GCSEs.

“Our ambitious Education Recovery Program is already getting children back on track after the pandemic, with the groundbreaking National Tutoring Program delivering nearly two million high-quality lessons to children and young people who need them most, as well as additional funding for schools. to be used to provide additional personalized support to students.

Jeremy S. McLain