Chris McGovern: New Year resolutions for UK education

How can schools ensure that more students make the grade in 2016?
How can schools ensure that more students make the grade in 2016?
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DOES Education Secretary Nicky Morgan make new year resolutions?

If so, here are five she should consider.

1 Improve the quality of teaching

For too long teaching methodology in Britain has been addicted to the dogma of so-called ‘child-centred learning’. In contrast, the world’s most successful education systems, those of the Asia Pacific region, use the ‘whole-class’ teaching methods we ditched long ago. This means pupils sit facing the teacher and they are taught as a unit. All of the children are involved in the lesson all of the time. By the age of 15 these Asia Pacific pupils are up to three years ahead of ours.

In Ofsted reports here, it is mostly only ‘child-centred’ teaching, not ‘whole-class’ teaching, that is praised and rated as “good” or “outstanding”. Inspections are rather less about what children learn than about the ‘process’ by which they are taught.

This can be well illustrated by a report from June 2105 that I have in front of me. Ofsted rates the school concerned as “outstanding” in all areas. It notes: “The school’s preferred approach is for teachers to work as partners with their students, as ‘first amongst equals’.” The GCSE results that followed shortly after the inspection provide a different perspective – an eight per cent pass rate at grades A* to C! According to the OECD we are the only country in the developed world in which grandparents outperform their grandchildren in terms of literacy and numeracy. It is not easy to work out why. They were in school at a time when ‘whole class’ teaching was the norm in Britain, too.

2 Raise the attainment of the lowest attaining pupils, especially the white working class

Too many schools are letting down their pupils and the white working class, especially the poorest, are being let down most of all. Only 28 per cent of white working class boys on free school meals achieve 5 GCSE passes at A* to C grade.

Being allocated to a sub-standard school can be the educational equivalent of being placed on death row. Too many pupils at these schools walk the green mile to no worthwhile qualifications, no employment and no future. We are storing up problems for the future if we do not address the issue.

3 Provide a choice of educational pathways for teenagers

Children need to be educated in line with their ability and general aptitude. By the age of 14 we should not be chaining all of our youngsters to a purely academic curriculum leading to a single public examination at age 16 – the GCSE.

Many youngsters would be much better served by a vocational curriculum that focuses on specific employment skills – building, nursing, catering, engineering, farming and so on.

This needs to be part of a re-structuring of education that is in line with the new requirement for all youngsters to be in education or training until the age of 18. Public exams for 16 year-olds will become redundant and should be scrapped. For 18-year-olds, ‘gold standard’ vocational qualifications must have equal status with academic qualifications.

4 Restore better order and discipline in our classrooms

We must never ‘give up’ on any child but, equally, we must protect the majority. Exclusion units for seriously disruptive pupils need to be expanded both within schools and separate from them. They need to employ high quality staff and to work towards rehabilitation and reintegration back into mainstream schooling. However, the rights of the majority to learn must come ahead of rights of the minority to disrupt.

5 Ditch the damaging requirement for teachers to promote bogus “British Values”:

“Give three good reasons for joining Isis. Seen from the point of view of a victim, of course, it is atrocious. 
But how do you think it is when seen from the point of view of a soldier of the faith?”

This ‘learning task’ for pupils comes from the “Resources” section of The Times Educational Supplement website. It meets the “British Values” requirement placed on schools to promote “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faith and belief”.

The “British Values” agenda is a vehicle for promoting ‘value relativism’ – the notion that all views are of equal value. It is as likely to radicalise as to de-radicalise and should be scrapped in its current form.

These five reforms should all be priorities in 2016.

Chris McGovern is chairman of the Campaign for Real Education and a retired headteacher.