Tuesday, 26 January 2010

False hope from 'soft' qualifications!

Last week the head teacher at Harrow public school, Barnaby Lenon announced that pupils from deprived backgrounds were being conned into thinking that they could progress through life by a system that hands out, in his words 'worthless qualifications'. He then came out with a line that amused me when he said:

State schools risk producing students like "those girls in the first round of the X Factor" who tell the judges they want to be the next Britney Spears but cannot sing a note.

I think the point he's trying to make is definitely true, but it doesn't just apply to kids from deprived backgrounds, but all children going through the education system. It's as if kids leave school and university these days and expect to achieve any job or career they want just because they have a few qualifications. Qualifications which may or may not even be that relevant in the job market.

It's almost 20 years since I completed my GCSEs, yet it only seems like yesterday. I do feel as if the education system in this country is completely different to what I experienced growing up.

I get the impression that everything is very target driven, with Sats, GCSEs and school league tables being the root cause. Together they've clearly put more pressure on schools to demonstrate to parents how well they're performing. This obviously has a knock on affect for those schools performing poorly or with more disadvantaged children, as it makes greater sense to encourage their pupils to do 'softer' subjects in the hope of pushing up exam grades.

This might be good for the schools but echoing Lenon's point, it does put many kids at a disadvantage, as they're being denied the opportunity of doing harder GSCE subjects that potentially will get them into more academically minded 6th Form colleges and more prestigious universities.

There's a lot of children who regardless of how bright they are, might as well right off the prospect of doing challenging A-Levels and getting into a decent university the day they start at the 'wrong type' of Secondary school.

My cousin is a teacher at a London Academy, and when we chat I get the chance to find out what's going on in our Education system. I don't know the exact figures, but at his school the amount of kids achieving GCSEs between A-C grade are quite low, at least below 30%. I had a look at his school's prospectus and you can do BTECs in subjects like leisure and tourism from year 9 onwards and these count as GCSE exam passes.

This is where I start to become a bit sceptical about things. Ambitious academically minded parents are not going to allow their kids to do a BTEC in Leisure and Tourism at GCSE as it doesn't mean anything. Decent 6th colleges and top universities aren't going to be interested! I feel a bit sorry for kids who do these types of subjects expecting that it will really impress future employers or universities.

At my cousin's school they do a general science GSCE rather than individual sciences like Physics, Chemistry and Biology. You know for a fact that private and Independent schools will retain the individual sciences and therefore give their kids a distinct advantage.

Leading on from this, people talk about the lack of social mobility in this country, which I think has ground to a halt. It's never going to improve when kids from disadvantaged backgrounds aren't given the chance to study the same subjects as children from more middle class homes.

Young people have passed more exams and have more qualifications then ever before, but university academics and employers still complain about levels of numeracy and literacy of school leavers and graduates.

For me I don't know what the point is in having 10 GCSE A* grades, Diplomas, BTECs if you then struggle with things like basic grammar or you can't even write a letter properly! It's the basics that younger people seem to be struggling with, and which ultimately prove to be truly valuable during a person's life.

I can't say that I have any answers to the problems raised. But I think there needs to be more honesty within the education system. More honesty to children from all backgrounds as to the value of qualifications. Having a decent education isn't just about how many exams you've passed, and a person's success in any job or career isn't determined purely on exam grades.

I'm glad that I went to school during the time that I did. A time where I could go to my local comprehensive, and where kids from both working and middle class backgrounds could get a well rounded education, studying a range of subjects that gave them a proper grounding to make a success in their lives. Unfortunately there are many kids who aren't getting this chance.

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