Bacc-ward thinking

Yesterday’s announcement about the proposed new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBaccs) fell with a thud of doom across my heart. The familiar reprise of raising standards, ringing in my ears.  I’ve written about education before and I’ll keep doing so. For those of us in the world of work need to pay attention to the world of education with a keen eye. This is our supply chain and we should be as interested and as vocal about it as we can be about any other aspect of work.

The proposed replacement of the often criticised GCSE exams has been long coming, but where there was an opportunity to really consider reform of the pre 16 education system, instead we have remained focussed on an outdated and depressingly archaic view of performance and attainment firmly shifting the dial from education to teaching.

Those that complain that the current system is about monkeys being taught tricks have merely changed the tricks.

Two years ago I was visiting prospective secondary schools with my son. In one, highly regarded, rather grand establishment we were treated to the Headmaster strutting from side to side on the stage telling us how they intended to “turn your young men into leaders” and the value they placed on “academic attainment”. In another the Headmaster explained that they “don’t place targets on the grades they expect to get and position in league tables, but instead on ensuring that every child fulfils their potential”.

In this, we highlight the difference the former is teaching, the latter is educating. And as UK plc we need to be educating our children, not teaching them to tick boxes.

In the same way that you don’t drive a performance culture by changing the competency rating system, you don’t drive educational performance by changing the exam system. Much is broken within our education system, teachers and head teachers are demoralised to the point that recruiting head teachers is becoming harder and harder and existing heads are being asked to take on more than one school. OFSTED is once again positioning itself as the Pythonesque Spanish Inquisition and the funding of individual schools is becoming increasingly complex and yet fragile in equal measure.

Educational reform should be focussed on ensuring that EVERY child fulfils their potential, that there is an educational offering that is engaging and exciting whatever your aptitude and interest. Educational reform should be focussed on ensuring that the very best talents are drawn into the profession and that we are entrusting the future success of our children and of the country as a whole with the most able people. Educational reform should be focussed education, on developing independent learners, not on teaching the performance of tricks – however hard those tricks are.

The EBacc is not the future for progressive education in the UK. The EBacc is not new thinking, is not radical, nor – in the long run – will it be effective in raising educational standards in comparison to other countries. A radical rethink would have seen the consideration of aptitude and interest assessments at say 14 and formal exams only at 18 (the end of compulsory education), a focus on both tailored vocational and academic learning, on teachers terms and conditions and on the structure of educational establishments.

With a resonance of depressing familiarity to the HR profession, these proposals try to change the culture and performance by tinkering with the shiny controllables at the end of the process, not the really hard, thorny issues that sit in the slightly grey opaque middle but that really make a difference. We’ve missed the latest opportunity to really rethink education and we will be poorer as a country and as individual businesses for it.

PS. if you want to know, my son goes to the second school. And the thing the Headmaster went on to explain, was that their focus on individual learning and performance was the reason that they were top of the exam tables for the county…..well ahead of the other school.