Jayne Dowle: A mother’s GCSE reflections. Education must respond to society’s speed of change

What does the future hold for this year's GCSE students?
What does the future hold for this year's GCSE students?
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THE results are in, the day of reckoning has passed and the congratulatory posts on social media have quietened down. A new generation of 16-year-olds are facing the world ready to learn how to become adults.

My son Jack is one of them. Let’s just say that the GCSE results he achieved underline the importance of a broad education encompassing the arts and creative subjects. He’s excelled in photography and drama and has decided to go to further education college to study creative media production.

Naturally, I’m delighted. And also intrigued at what he will learn and how. His opportunities barely resemble those I faced at his age when we still wrote stories on typewriters and the internet was unimaginable. Now media means words and pictures crossing over each other and stories moving online as fast as they happen. It’s said that 85 per cent of jobs in 2030 have not yet been invented. In 12 years’ time, I’d like Jack to be doing one of these visionary jobs, exploring horizons I can’t even countenance.

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Surely this will be much more exciting than angsting over mark boundaries and grade inflation. What’s left after all the stress are stories of personal triumph and challenges to face. For instance, Jack will retake his GCSE maths and English language at college.

I’m not ashamed to admit this, and neither is he. The results he did achieve represent a massive personal trajectory for a boy who always struggled to keep pace academically and benefited from four years of literacy support at secondary school. Jack has learned resilience and determination. He’s also been forced to consider himself as a whole person rather than a GCSE machine. His skills in empathy, patience and communication are excellent; he passed his childcare exams by the way.

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Despite the better-than-expected outcomes from these new GCSEs nationally – and for Jack, personally –there are still hurdles to be faced overall. In Yorkshire, although achievement is on the up, too many young people are leaving school without a thorough grounding in the basics.

If we’re to compete on an equal footing with other parts of the country, this must be addressed by Ministers in terms of directed funding and incentives to encourage the very best teachers to work in our schools. The Northern Powerhouse will not run without fuel in its tank – would-be engineers, electricians, builders and plumbers all need those passes to secure an apprenticeship.

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Also, education should not be seen as a bolt-on. Raising aspirations should be a partnership between teachers and parents, not a woolly ideal. Ministers and local leaders might be interested to know that some of the most outstanding results amongst Jack’s classmates were achieved by youngsters from very modest backgrounds. With the correct teachers in place and parents actively engaged, the kind of children once written off by dint of where they lived – or their social background – are trotting out of school with strings of 6s and 7s.

I know it’s not all about the results, but still. It gives lie to the popular misconception that ambition and a desire to succeed does not exist in some of our more challenged communities. That plasterer’s son with a clutch of exam passes in his hand proves that it does.

Personally, I can’t wait to see Jack on camera fronting a video report, hear his voice hosting a podcast and see how he approaches a photography project to rebrand a local company. I’m prepared to defend his “media” choice against anyone who says learning how to tell a story is a waste of time.

I’ll ask them to explain why they choose a particular breakfast cereal that morning or drove to work in certain car. Then I’ll inquire just how they inform themselves about Brexit, the weather and the football scores and when they last went a day without switching on the television or social media.

I’ll enquire how they received the news that even Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, fears that millions of jobs are about to be overtaken by robots, leading to unemployment, wage stagnation and the rebirth of Marxism. If you haven’t read a job advertisement for a chatbot scriptwriter, as I did the other week on LinkedIn, you’re not yet qualified to comment.

And in case you’re wondering where that 85 per cent figure comes from, it’s Dell Technologies. The multi-national company brought together 20 leading business, tech and academic experts to cast forward hopes and expectations. Their conclusion? In future, it says, the “ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself”.

That’s just one reason why GCSEs should not be seen as full-stop in education. They are the start of a personal journey in learning, and not just in the academic sense. This is a lesson we should all take on board, whether we’re 16 or 60. If we want to live long and prosper, we must embrace new skills, accept new ways of learning and develop new ways of working. Those in charge of delivering education must respond to this speed of change, and fast.