Why today’s education system is failing our pupils…..
and what to do about it


There can be no doubt that we are all shaped, for better or for worse, by our experience of school. For many, our
school days represent the best of our lives. For an increasingly growing, substantive minority, school life can
be painful, irrelevant and increasingly out of touch with a world that has moved so much faster forward than a system
modelled at the time of the industrial revolution.

Many observers are questioning the modus operandi and processes of the current education system in the UK and are
finding it wanting. The seismic shock of the global pandemic to an already flawed system has now bought
matters to a head. The enforced school closures, due to the global pandemic, has provided us with ample time to reflect
on the current situation and consider reflectively how we can turn a negative situation into a positive outcome.

COVID 19 – the great disruptor

Many modern commentators have been unsure about the inequalities and ineffectiveness of the current system.
There is widespread agreement about the need to make up for the delay factor imposed on their knowledge and skills
that has been the consequence of the past five months. This rush to get children back into school buildings camouflages
a much greater systemic failure that has got to be addressed.

On a global level educational access, equity and quality must be improved to solve the crisis that currently exists.
Around the world, many children of primary age should be in school but are not, to the tune of 72 million pupils of
primary age (UNICEF).

Closer to home in the UK, the fault line in the current system runs from the top to the bottom of the system. Our exam
systems are in meltdown. We are creating a generation of learners who are unready for the world of work and the
possibility of creating long term economic value, an inability to compete against smart machines and ill equipped to
create long term economic value. We are confused about the purposes of our education system. It is time to broaden
horizons and usher in a renaissance.

The confusion is our educational establishment has come about partly by a persistence in an outmoded, summative
assessment system that is fatally flawed through its reliance on factual memorization and speed replication, in exam
situations, as a main test of learning.

The current public exam debacle in 2020 has shaken faith in the system to the core. There has been an under estimation
of the influence of technology (especially AI) on the core activities of teaching and learning. In fact, most will accept
that current attempts at delivering a digitized curriculum throughout lock down has been patchy, at best. In a recent
survey by the UC Institute of Education we found that, at a very conservative estimate, 20% of pupils did no homeschool work at all during lock down. Attendance at virtual lessons has not been high.

Those responsible for strategy and direction have been impervious to the rapid movement to self-employment,
skills shortage in other industries as well as teaching and the collapse of ‘middle skill’ jobs, unrespondent to the
demographic changes in the population and unaffected by the increasingly differentiated society and school system.

What employers are looking for today are divergent thinkers, talented personalities who display determination.
What we seem to be getting at the moment, are straight line thinkers who are often untrained in the ability to
collaborate or cooperate with others, in order to resolve real world problems collectively.

“Our children need a fresh start.
They need the chance simply to
learn. Thy don’t need a year that
ends in a large hall trying to
remember what they have learnt”.

Lord Baker

A modern problem demands a modern solution

Our entire education system marches inexorably to a drum beat that validates our pupils through the narrow medium
of paper qualifications. It has always been the case in schools that whatever gets measured gets done. This is a
fundamental flaw, not helped in any way by narrow government measures such as the delivery of “Progress 8”
GCSE subjects.

Added to this systemic failure are the inadequacies of a flawed systems that have led to unprecedented stress and
grade confusion in 2020.

We are arguing here that what the learners of today need to escape the silos of narrow subject structures by blending in
a new combination of skills that eclipses mere memorisation and speed writing. These include the ability to reason deductively and inductively, the fluent expression ideas, the demonstration of adaptability, cooperation, initiative and leadership.

We need a much better blend of EQ (emotional intelligence) as well as IQ. This should also be enhanced by what we
could call RQ or a resilience quotient.

It all starts with the training of teachers

The work should begin in the nurturing and training of a new breed of teachers who demonstrate a vastly different
skill set than those formulated via the current narrowness of age group / subject specialisation requirements.
Simply put, in order to serve the best interests of the students and indeed the country, we will need to create a
new skills agenda in the training of our teachers. In addition to expert oral and written communication skills,
they will need to be good at collaboration, teamwork and collective envisioning, critical thinking and problem solving,
flexible and adaptable professional practice, informed by global and cultural awareness. Our teachers will need to be
advanced in technological literacy, leadership theory and practice, civic literacy, and social responsibility.


The Prime Minister is right to put the emphasis on opening our schools again in September, but as celebrated author
Stephen Covey has reminded us in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” smart people start with the end in mind.
We have successfully postponed the formal exam system for 2020 and are not really in a position to deliver GCSE or A
level exams at the end of the coming academic year. Exams should no longer be the markers of academic success
at the expense of design technology, drama, dance, music and art, subjects that also provide authentic routes to

As former Secretary of State for Education Lord Baker confirmed in the Sunday Times on 9th August

“Our children need a fresh start. They need the chance simply to learn. Thy don’t need a year that ends in a
large hall trying to remember what they have learnt”.

It is Time For Change.

Dr Trevor Lee