Britain trailing in OECD education rankings, AQA scraps more subjects and a funding crisis in West Sussex schools
Along with History of Art, this week has also seen AQA – one of the main A-level exam boards – scrap both Archaeology and Classical Civilisation, suggesting their main reason for doing so concerns standardising marking across various papers. This has met with shock and condemnation across with academic world, with teachers, school heads, university academics and public figures (including Tony Robinson and Simon Schama) coming out to criticise the plans as a short-sighted attack on the arts that narrows the curriculum, and will cause students who want to get into these fields to miss a crucial step in their cultural education. Ogilvy and Mather worldwide chief creative officer Tham Khai Meng also criticised the move, saying every modern industry needs more creative thinkers, and that it is the job of schools to encourage their students towards these subjects, not eliminate them as possible options. Minerva’s response to the scrapping of History of Art can be accessed here.
Despite Oxford recently topping global university rankings, England has fared far worse in the table of top-performing graduates from universities in OECD countries, coming in eighth (with the US ninth). Japan and Finland were first and second in the table ranking graduate abilities, suggesting that they are countries where it is much harder to run a ‘bad’ university. The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, New Zealand and Australia also all finished above the UK. The UK and America have some of the best universities in the world, as well as a good proportion of the worst. This polarisation could be as a result of the school system, where many students arrive at universities far less prepared for it. Spain, Greece and Italy were lowly ranked in the table, possibly even suggesting that tertiary education in these countries may only be equivalently valuable to secondary education in Japan/Finland.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the outgoing chief inspector of schools, has criticised some regional police forces over their handling of cases related to child protection. Wilshaw claims certain police forces have not taken child protection responsibilities ‘seriously’, including a lack of involvement with children who may have been at significant risk, a delay in sharing crucial information with the authorities and social workers, and failing to investigate when there is strong evidence of children suffering ‘non-accidental injuries.’ Sir Thomas Winsor, the chief inspector of Constabulary, hit back, saying local authorities and statutory agencies were also at fault for these issues, and that the police was still involved in investigating ‘a very substantial body of work’ connected to child abuse.
Head teachers of over 250 schools in West Sussex have written to the prime minister requesting £20 million in emergency funding, saying they will otherwise need to reduce hours, stop teaching certain subjects or lay off staff. They say the lack of progress on funding is crippling their education infrastructure, and believe Theresa May’s grammar school plans are overshadowing the massive funding issues and practical necessities currently facing hundreds of schools across the country.
Speaking of which, revolts against May’s plans for a new generation of schools are getting louder, with former education secretary Nicky Morgan, as well Sir Michael Wilshaw, adding their voices to the fray. Morgan has called plans ‘a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards’, while Wilshaw believes they will ‘put the clock back’ and halt progress in the state system. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are also against May’s plans, as was former Conservative leader David Cameron. This comes at the same time as research from the BBC revealing that fewer than half of grammar schools prioritise poorer pupils when allocating places, challenging May’s claim that introducing more would make Britain a more meritocratic nation. Whether or not a child is on free school meals – the traditional measure of a child’s socio-economic background – is not taken into account by 90 out of 163 grammar schools, suggesting that for many of these schools, widening access is not currently at the forefront of their agenda.
An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has said PE needs to be taken more seriously in schools, in order to challenge rising obesity levels in young people, and give students a better chance of developing a lifelong passion for physical activity. The APPG says the current system has an overemphasis on competitive sports and risks alienating girls in particular – they argue for a wider range of activities to be available, catering to different tastes and abilities, with less emphasis on competitiveness, as well as more and better trained PE staff.
Government-led plans for children who fail exams at the end of primary school to resit them in year 7 have been abandoned , after outrage and criticism from parents and teachers. Teachers worried children would be labelled failures upon arriving at senior school if they had to take resits, however, the new plans will instead give children the opportunity to take extra classes and catch up on what they struggled with. This marks another tricky moment in a tough year for the Department for Education, which has repeatedly come under fire for the continuous chopping and changing to A-levels, GCSEs, tests for seven year olds and trying to bring the UK level with the best education systems in the world despite repeated protests from parents and teachers over their strategies.
Sir Anthony Seldon, a leading former headmaster at Wellington College, has suggested that the government should produce a school league table that measures student wellbeing, to tackle the mental health crisis in schools. Seldon, who is currently the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckinghamshire, believes much of the damage has been done by the time pupils leave school, and believes the government has been ‘criminally negligent’, describing the current situation as ‘urgent’. Seldon cited the alarming increase in teenage suicides – up 48% in the last three years – while adding that overall character strength and wellbeing is as important for future employment prospects as good exam results (adding that the former is likely to positively impact the latter). Seldon believes that while many schools have attempted to address student mental health in the last few years, only a league table, released at the same time as GCSE and A-level results, will adequately recognise their positive work, while encouraging other schools to address their issues.
And finally… a maths charity has launched a new mobile gaming app that they are hoping will help improve numeracy among 16-25 year olds. Star Dash Studios requires users to use maths to solve everyday problems. The game’s creators, National Numeracy, believe young people are alienated from maths, and want to encourage them towards the subject by proving its value and application in everyday situations.
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By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about creative writing and everything that’s trending in education.