Opinion: Why our education system needs a reshuffle

The system used in the UK to educate young people encourages a narrow mindset of what education should provide. We often refer to GCSEs and A Levels as mere stepping stones, but we ought to ask ourselves what we want to achieve through these young years of schooling. It is my belief that the education system as it currently stands needs a reshuffle, because the purpose to ‘memorise’ and ‘recite’ is unimaginative and does not promote or allow meaningful engagement between pupils and teachers. 

As a university student, I do not believe that school prepares young people for life beyond the classroom, and most of us are not taught the basics of adult life. It is considered normal that university is an overwhelming time for many, and yet most of us are not taught how to adequately prepare. In my years of schooling, I did not hear one of my teachers talk about mortgages, paying bills, or how to manage your finances efficiently. School simply should be more than academia – it should teach young people about the challenges they will face, whether this be in the workplace or in their personal lives. The main measure of success that schools currently look for is a series of straight As, but in doing so they are ignoring a promotion of welfare and essential life skills. This is not to say that the ambition to maintain high academic standards shouldn’t remain – this being integral for both A Levels and entry to university courses – but we should not alienate those who decide to opt for a different path by defining success in purely academic terms. 

Furthermore, politicians masquerade productive changes in the education system through alterations to GCSEs and A Levels, yet there is too little attention given to what students are learning and where this will lead them in their lifetime. We have become far too focused on grade attainment as the singular measure of success and thus produced a concept of intelligence which is fundamentally flawed. Teachers are both encouraged and tend to be fond of the ‘brightest’ students, though this typically runs the risk of alienating young people who don’t fit into the current model of learning. The focus should be shifted to the value of what pupils are learning, rather than being taught to recite facts. Put simply, the purpose of education should be diverse: to encourage both academic success and personal growth. The education system as it currently stands lacks the ability to encourage independent thought and prepare young people for their future. 

In this regard, the success of the Netflix series Sex Education is telling, as it provides an idealistic vision of a school which is not to be found in the current system. It is an educational setting in which all needs are met, whether they be academic or personal, reflecting beliefs that our education system should be a place where learning is varied and tailored to the individuals’ needs. Our journey through school should encompass both academic learning and provide an opportunity for personal growth. 

Although there have been some attempts to offer classes such as Citizenship, these lessons avoid equipping young people with foundational knowledge such as one of their fundamental rights: the right to vote. There is an expectation and stereotype that young people are politically apathetic, but I would argue that this is the consequence of the passivity of government in encouraging political awareness among young people. In recent UK elections, both at the local and national level, social media has been harnessed among young people to increase voter turnout. The foundational opposition to providing political education is a concern that young people would be taught to vote in favour of one party. Political education, however, should and could go beyond the limits of party politics, and provide an opportunity for young people to learn more about the world in which they live. Education about taxation, for instance, would be a productive use of school time and would prepare us for adult life. We should expect more of the education system beyond preparing us for exams. 

Furthermore, there has been increasing awareness of the inequalities within the education system, which Sammy Wright (Social Mobility Commissioner for Schools and Higher Education and vice principal of Southmoor Academy in Sunderland) argues to be a “deep problem” which demonstrates the growing economic and social inequality in Britain. After this year’s A Level results were released, Sean Coughlan reporting at the BBC stated that: “For independent school pupils in England, 70% of A-level results were A* or A, compared with 39% for comprehensive pupils.” The Times Educational Supplement, (TES), reports that “A*s rise by 3x more at private schools” in the academic year 2020-21. This growing inequality demonstrates an apathy to social mobility, with Sammy Wright arguing that the individual’s academic “potential” is being ignored, demonstrating that the system is fundamentally at fault. According the World Economic Forum, the UK ranks 21st in Global Social Mobility Index (2020) which demonstrates that the UK is not doing enough to promote ‘upward’ social mobility. This widening gap in grade attainment highlights yet another way in which the UK’s education system is not fit for purpose. It begs the question: what meaning do GCSE and A-Level grades possess if the highest grades are more likely to be achieved by private school pupils? 

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