Apprenticeships, the teaching crisis…and Donald Trump, of course (because education news is still news)
Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, has claimed that the result of the U.S. election is about education, not politics. Major cites the fact that over two thirds of white voters without a college degree voted Trump, and compared the result to Brexit, where 70% of those with no formal school qualifications voted leave, while 70% of those with postgraduate degrees voted remain. He also quotes Trump’s line ‘I love the poorly educated’ from one of his rallies. Major goes on to say that education – in Britain and in the states – has not offered enough social mobility to the most deprived areas, leading to electoral backlash against a perceived elite.
In the UK, this assessment is also borne out in the statistics. Poor white students from underprivileged areas are the worst performing of any ethnic group, with only 24% of boys and 32% of girls achieving the benchmark five good GCSEs. Chinese students from equivalent backgrounds are almost three times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs, while improvement at GCSE over the last ten years has also been very significant for students of Bangladeshi and black African descent. Improvement rates have remained stubbornly low among poor white students in the same period, even while the national average has improved 13.5%. Although a multitude of reasons have been suggested for this discrepancy, the benefits of private tuition – less prevalent among poor white students than their counterparts of different ethnicities – was cited among them.
Nick Gibb, the government’s schools minister, has described a ‘tutor-proof’ 11-plus exam as the ‘holy grail’ of selective education, proving categorically once and for all that the current government has absolutely no idea how education works. Gibb does acknowledge that producing such an exam is near impossible, while also raising the issue of selective (grammar) schools invariably favouring those who are able/willing to pay the money for additional academic support. By a similar token, Lisa Nandy, a former Labour shadow education minister, has claimed the plans to open new grammars were ‘backwards looking’ and based on ‘precisely no evidence.’
The workload of teachers in Britain is becoming critical, and now potentially damaging their ability to teach and maintain involvement with students, with a fifth of teachers working 60+ hours per week. A recent survey of over 4,000 teachers said they can’t carry on in the current conditions, with 82% supporting the claim their workload is unmanageable, and 73% saying the demands of the job had affected their health. Children do not benefit from overworked teachers, and a 1% pay rise this year can only serve to make them feel increasingly undervalued.
On a related note, schools in Surrey have closed at the beginning of a two-day strike from teaching assistants, who stand to lose 20% of their pay under a proposed move where they are only paid during term time. 37 of the county’s 243 schools were closed – the majority being nurseries and special schools – with 76 seeing interruptions to regular classes.
Research by the IPPR has revealed that apprenticeships are not adequately preparing teenagers to start a career, or pursue further training in their chosen field. Current apprenticeship courses have been criticised as too job specific to their field with little off the job training, and not sufficient to help young people with low-levels of education get on the career ladder. They are more suitable for older learners who already have some skills/experience, and are looking to ‘top up’ their skills, in fields such as nursing, construction, health care science, cybersecurity and early years teaching. The research suggests the current system amounts to wasting the talent of young people on apprenticeship programmes, and suggests a pre-apprenticeship qualification, which will specifically address the needs of younger learners, and include more general education and off the job training.
In keeping with its stellar reputation for education, Finland has taken yet another bold step forward to reform and improve their already excellent system…by scrapping all subjects. Traditional subject titles such as maths, physics, geography and history will be scrapped, in favour of a more interdisciplinary approach, where ‘topics’ will be taught – or rather, co-taught by several teachers. The aim is to better prepare students for working life in the modern world, allowing them to choose what to focus on later, such that more creative, practical or intellectual individuals can find their niche, and excel. So far, the results have been generally positive.
Jeremy Paxman was left ‘baffled’ after University Challenge, the long-running show he currently presents, was boycotted by Reading University student union over a comment he made – even though it was over a year and a half ago. The seemingly innocuous remark relates to a knitted doll of Paxman himself, that Reading had brought with them as mascot.
For more information:
American election result about education, not politics – Times Education Supplement (TES)
Finland overhauls education system – for the better – Independent
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.