Time For Change is a team of experienced, knowledgeable and visionary School Leaders who passionately believe that our current education system urgently needs to be reviewed. Time For Change has the support and momentum to make significant beneficial recommendations to the Government in order to implement effective and necessary change to our educational system.
What is the alternative – HOW will the changes be implemented?
For too long, our education system has been held back by a lack of clear long term vision and strategy. Inequality and injustice have prevailed in our nurseries, schools and colleges for many years but the fickleness of the postcode where you live should NOT determine the type and quality of education that children receive in this country. Many young people are not “employment ready” when they leave school.
Within the teaching profession, never has morale been so low and recruitment and retention so poor in this country. The pressures and stresses on the shoulders of brilliant experienced, capable and caring teachers and teaching assistants who for too long have been over worked, under paid and undervalued. Last August highlighted the latter; in a year of a world pandemic where many children and students had not been in a formal educational setting since March, the final outcome of the 2020 A-levels grades relied on algorithms and were not initially determined by ‘teacher assessments’. Lessons must be learnt!
The future success of our country is dependent on an effective and successful education system and the benefits to the country, and the world, are clearly highlighted in other documents in other sections of this website. Systemic change is required and professionals with educational knowledge and experience must assist the decision makers and influencers of the Government to make real changes – and make them soon – to improve the hopes and aspirations of young people before it is too late.
Some solutions may include consideration and further discussion of the following:
Length of the School Year
It is believed children learn best in 5-6 week periods, divided by short 1-2 week breaks.
Young people learn best when their curiosity is engaged, when matters are relevant to them and when they perceive there is a purpose to what they are doing; there has to be a motivation and a stimulus. They learn best when they are engaged with the material, work alongside others and seek rewards which value them, their endeavours and outcomes. They love the ipsative and largely despise the examination/assessment model. Discovery is paramount, understanding essential, application necessary and growth and development reinforced.
Effective learning takes place when young people are empowered by teachers who give them the freedom to explore, unfettered by subject boundaries, a lack of time or ‘it is not in the syllabus’…which hinders thought and creativity!
At school, learning usually takes place in ‘subject silos’, rarely experiencing ‘interconnectivity’. As adults, we know learning is inseparable. Why do we not teach in a manner of consilience where flow and progression are essential if learning is to be effective?
For today’s and tomorrow’s world, our young people will need the skills to access information, apply it and develop it to relevant meaningful outcomes.
Young people will need, in an ever increasing exponential digital world, to focus on the human-condition; the soft-skills, individually and collectively with the application of reasoning, debate, discussion, values, ethics, morals and philosophy. They will need to understand and develop self awareness and awareness of others – locally, regionally, nationally and globally. They will need to respect the planet, be resourceful, resilient, persistent, adaptable, flexible. They will need to know how to rise to a task, to grasp an opportunity and take calculated risks and decisions for the greater good of all and without the fear of failure. No man can any longer be an island. We are inseparably bound, we must have synergy, we are a team, wedded together each needing to help the other to be content, healthy and happy, in mind and body on a united planet of global interconnectivity.
In a child focused, skills-based curriculum will we need to learn in ‘traditional’ rectangular boxes? Specialist science labs, theatres, art studios, sporting facilities and a variety of learning spaces will still be needed. For debating, discussing, personal learning and discovery, collaborative engagement, the creative use of break out spaces would be more appropriate. Places conducive to study with noise not silence. Places for project work should optimise the use of indoor and outdoor spaces and reflect our learning.
The Digital Classroom
Teacher training needs to be both professional and vocational, freeing up the teacher to explore, celebrate and nurture individuality. Further training should be meaningful, continuous and on-going, which models the teacher into being a life-long-learner themselves.
Teacher training therefore has to be redesigned to ensure an open mindedness, liberal creativity, consilience and facilitation. We will move from a system focused on the teacher to one which is focused on the child, their background, their emotions, their circumstances, their environment, their world.
A time in which national examinations have been cancelled is as good as any to raise some fundamental questions concerning how assessment, teaching and learning inter-relate.
Whilst there is no question that there is a place for testing students, the research literature shows clearly that beneficial testing occurs when it is able to inform future learning. Assessment for learning is a valuable tool in the teacher’s toolkit.
Conversely, we know all too well that assessment methods can come to dominate teaching, with the process of learning being too readily reduced to a matter of test preparation. The dreaded question ‘do we need to know this for the exam?’ is an understandable reaction on the part of students to the relentless quest to quantify performance at every stage but it is also a sign that all is not well with the relationship between teaching and assessment.
There are alternative possibilities. Some twenty years ago a group of like-minded educators set out to explore what could be done to put together a course that, whilst still rigorously assessed as part of the qualifications framework (as an AS Level), would allow scope for deeper learning, exploration of the student’s own questions, and investigation of the many fascinating questions that lie at the point where one discipline overlaps with another. The result was a pilot course in the history, philosophy and ethics of science which was assessed solely by means of a research project and oral presentation.
This course (‘Perspectives on Science’) served as a prototype for a subsequent, wider development, namely the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). The EPQ allows students to take a question of their own choosing, or a practical challenge, and follow a process of research, development and review, working with a teacher who acts in the role of a research supervisor. Its origins represent the deliberate creation of an alternative to the ‘learn the right answers for the next test’ model of learning. The best projects stem from open-ended questions or challenges and thus call for inquiry, critical thinking and creative exploration of a range of alternative possible responses to the central question or challenge.
Modelling as it does a mode of learning which had traditionally been more associated with higher education, it has come as no surprise that the EPQ has proven its value as a gateway qualification, recognised for its potential to help students progress to the next stage of their studies. Nor is the value of project-based learning solely to be found in its capacity for promoting independent research into academic subjects; projects have long had a significant association with vocational or technical learning, enabling school learning to come closer to workplace learning, and so facilitating the development of valuable skills for employability.
Where, then, do we stand, as we ask important questions about the future of assessment? A reflective response will recognise what is valuable in our current systems, whilst also taking cognisance of points for improvement, not least as a consequence of changes in the world, the most obvious one of which is the glaring exposure of an assessment system that is premised on the assumption that examinations during a brief synoptic assessment window can carry the majority of the weight of the grading process.
We should celebrate, then, our strengths. UK examinations are a strong brand, such that schools operating across the world may well choose them, or comparable international versions of them, for their own assessment purposes. Moreover, there has been a tradition of curriculum and qualifications innovation in the UK which has led to the successful creation and implementation of new models for teaching, learning and assessment, such as EPQ.
But we should also reflect on what we could do to counter-balance deficits. The issue is perhaps not so much one of ‘should we test?’ but rather: ‘are the assessment stakes too high?’ If we value the opportunity for deeper learning that stems from allowing scope for open-ended inquiry-based approaches, and consider that the skills developed in this setting are the very ones that young people will need to flourish in life and work in the modern world, we should look seriously at steps to reduce the weighting that attaches to examinations, and expand provision of alternative assessment models.
Obvious steps worth exploring here include a critical examination of the accountability matrix that schools labour under, an inquiry into whether alternative modes of learning and assessment, such as projects, can better equip learners with skills for the future, and reflection on the question of how best to engage learners who are simply not reached by a curriculum that focuses heavily on a small range of academic subjects.
We should also engage in a conversation with international partners. There is a growing sense, across the world, that ‘deeper learning’ now needs to be a priority. Future generations will not be well-served by a system that treats examination success as the be-all-and-end-all. We need a richer vision of the creative possibilities of alternative models of learning, teaching and assessment, coupled with serious thought about how to take these to scale at the national level. Now is as good a time as any for thoughtful re-assessment of assessment.
Dr John L. Taylor
Director of Learning, Teaching and Innovation
The young people will determine their direction of travel and make considered decisions at every junction – destinations will be self-determined with the adults as the facilitators and the sign posts. Young people are remarkably capable; the glass ceilings need to be removed; young people can achieve so much when inspired and in control of their own learning outcomes.
A change of mind set is required; consider not what society can do for you but what you can do for society!