The Times Education Commission by Professor Barnaby Lenon

The Times Education Commission, 15th June 2022

They propose:

1) A British Baccalaureate, o­ffering broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18, with parity in funding per pupil in both routes, and a slimmed-down set of exams at 16 to bring out the best in every child.

Score out of 10:  3

The Government has only just launched T-levels as the vocational option for 18-year-olds.  T-levels are aimed at specific careers. So any proposal to move away from this is YET ANOTHER decision to devise a new vocational route before an existing one has got underway. It is this grotesque indecision which has bedevilled English attempts to create a decent vocational system since at least World War 2.

As for a broader curriculum in the sixth form, there are several issues:

*the best schools already do this – three A-levels plus extended project, sport, arts, community service and societies. 

*adding compulsory subjects will reduce motivation, because the great strength of the English A-level system is the opportunity for pupils to focus on subjects they enjoy and can do well.  Motivation matters more than anything else.  More than learning more maths.

*adding extra subjects means that pupils will know less of the subjects studied now. That is dumbing-down. 

As for fewer GCSEs, how feeble we are. Eight to ten GCSEs is quite manageable and other countries have a wide range of subjects. The countries of East Asia will be laughing at us as we unwind the progress made in the past twelve years.

There is no other country in the developed world that has so many high-stakes tests at both 16 and 18. The old lie. See Tim Oates on Cambridge Assessment who has shown that this statement is simply untrue.

2) An “electives premium” for all schools to be spent on activities including drama, music, dance and sport and a National Citizen Service experience for every pupil, with volunteering and outdoor pursuits expeditions to ensure that the co-curricular activities enjoyed by the most advantaged become available to all.

Score out of 10:  7  

Good idea, although the National Citizen Service is less good than the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

3) A new cadre of Career Academies — elite technical and vocational sixth forms with close links to industry — mirroring the academic sixth forms that are being established and a new focus on creativity and entrepreneurialism in education to unleash the economic potential of Britain.

Score out of 10: 4 

Well, University Technical Colleges an Studio Schools do this and they have not been a great success.

4) A significant boost to early years funding targeted at the most vulnerable and a unique pupil number from birth, to level the playing field before children get to school. A library in every primary school.

Score out of 10: 8 

Clearly a good idea, if the money can be found.

5) An army of undergraduate tutors earning credit towards their degree by helping pupils who fall behind to catch up.

Score out of 10:

Tutoring is a good idea. But only some undergraduates can do this well. 

6) A laptop or tablet for every child and a greater use of artificial intelligence in schools, colleges and universities to personalise learning, reduce teacher workload and prepare young people better for future employment.

Score out of 10: 8.5 

A computer for every child above the age of 10 seems very desirable. But their homes need internet connectivity if this is to work. 

The section about AI is something we might have believed before Covid, but we have seen for ourselves the limits of screen-based teaching. The pupils who need catch-up most, younger children, are taught much better by people than computer programs.

7) Wellbeing should be at the heart of education, with a counsellor in every school and an annual wellbeing survey of pupils to encourage schools to actively build resilience rather than just support students once problems have arisen.

Score out of 10: 5   

Mental health matters, but there is plenty of evidence that poor mental health among teenagers is caused by social media. And there is a danger of regarding every ‘problem’ as being an indication of mental ill-health. Building resilience is a good idea.

8) Bring out the best in teaching by enhancing its status and appeal with better career development, revalidation every five years and a new category of consultant teachers, promoted within the classroom, as well as a new teaching apprenticeship.

Score out of 10: 6 

A bundle of points here. Consultant teachers, or better, ‘master teachers’, is a good idea.  There is already a good teaching apprenticeship.

9) A reformed Ofsted that works collaboratively with schools to secure sustained improvement, rather than operating through fear, and a new “school report card” with a wider range of metrics including wellbeing, school culture, inclusion and attendance to unleash the potential of schools.

Score out of 10: 10 

Completely agree. Ofsted currently drives a very great deal of behaviour and its judgements are often wrong.

10) Better training for teachers to identify children who have special educational needs, give a greater focus on inclusion and put a duty on schools to remain accountable for the pupils they exclude to draw out the talent in every child.

Score out of 10: 5   

SEND training is already quite good. No doubt it could be better. Head teachers get blamed for excluding pupils, but in most cases they do this to protect teachers and other pupils. 

11) New university campuses in fifty higher education “cold spots”, including satellite wings in further education colleges, improved pay and conditions in the FE sector and a transferable credit system between universities and colleges to boost stalled British productivity.

Score out of 10: 6   

Those universities who have already set up in ‘cold spots’ have struggled. Pay and conditions in FE must improve. Productivity is a huge issue but depends on us attracting good companies and using technology to improve output per person. Education alone will not improve productivity. 

12) A 15-year strategy for education, drawn up in consultation with business leaders, scientists, local mayors, civic leaders and cultural figures, putting education above short-term party politics and bringing out the best in our schools, colleges and universities.

Score out of 10: 2  

Never going to happen.  Education is highly politicised.

By Professor Barnaby Lenon, Dean of Education, The University of Buckingham

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