Major Rethink Needed In Degree Education

The what to do dilemma facing students with ‘A’ levels spreads well beyond the UK. Whilst most still consider a university degree as the optimum, the costs involved are becoming increasingly burdensome.

The thought process whereby a degree is assumed the best option to enhance career and life style is under review. Resulting from the proportion of graduates who struggle to capitalise on their degree and end up working in lower order jobs, many are reconsidering whether there was a tangible benefit to the university slog – although the lifestyle may have good! Comparing their lot with a non graduate is not easy. The graduate is saddled with tuition fees, a student loan and may discover employment opportunities in their degree discipline non existent. In the meantime their compatriot may have found erstwhile employment, earning an income and having gained three years of productive experience.

But we are not alone. Hailed as one of the best educational systems in the world, Singapore is also facing issues over the extent of qualifications a student should attain. Whereas Singaporean students would naturally ebb towards a degree as a given the government educational department is urging a rethink. Four keys issues have emerged:

    1. The future for employment will be based on skills not paper qualifications
    2. There needs to be a re-emergence of polytechnic colleges and apprenticeships
    3. Best qualifications do not mean the best jobs. Employers need to adjust their employment criteria
    4. Degree courses should  become more sophisticated.

Crucial to this rethink are the economic forces that will affect Singapore and the global markets in the future. Put simply there are not enough jobs in the world to meet the demands of an increasing population. This situation is delaying global recovery. The World Bank said recently that 600m additional jobs are needed by 2030 to meet population growth.

In Japan economic restrictions have reduced spending in Japans schools. Predicted shortfalls in teaching resources are now being met by parents paying for expensive private tuitional support to fill the learning gap.

Around 30 per cent of money spent on educational comes from private sources in Japan to maintain standards, this compares with the 3 per cent funded by the private sector in Sweden.

Keen 2 Learn Takes On New Role

After nine years trading on line keen2learn is changing direction. Renown for the supply of a range of educational games, toys and teaching resources, keen2learn is now focusing on its educational forum and blog operation.

The newly streamlined Keen2learn website  will focus on facts, option, news and views on educational matters.  This will include hints and tips on say maths and other key subjects areas in the national curriculum. It will also be a platform for teachers, parents  and we hope pupils to air their thoughts and ideas on the educational process.






Calm Before the Storm As Students Complete Educational Exams

As students enter that delightful but short-lived period of exam relief how many students have mixed emotions? Did they perform well; give their best, glad that finally it is all over! Buried amongst the range of emotions is one that should be shouted by all students from the rooftops. Did I receive the best education I deserve?

The educational journey is around 10 years long, from primary to GCSE at secondary level, 15 years if you add “A” levels and a degree. During this formative era of a young persons life there can be massive changes in the economy, society, commerce and technology. Diseases can be eradicated and new ones emerge. It is possible to endure three completely different government manifestos and personalities. The last 15 years has seen the shape, size and fortunes of the European Economic Community evolve dramatically. Equally the recriminations over its size and wasteful spending overshadow much of the work achieved. We are lost in a maelstrom of good and bad PR over the EU. Possibly no one living has the true measure of the complexity of the organisation. As our ex students enter employment they will now need to operate within the endless laws and boundaries developed by the EU whilst they’ve been at school.

The political landscape has evolved. Educational budgets have waxed and waned. Money earmarked to support a brave new world of educational initiatives has been spent, wasted, withdrawn or absorbed by other superseding initiatives. Currently budgets for  maths teaching resources are to be  “stolen” by primary schools to pay for the free infant school meals programme.

Whilst we can applaud the free school meals initiative, aimed at providing nourishment to improve the attention and attainment in infant school, the champion driving the initiative in the government looks extremely unlikely to survive the 2015 general election. This leaves the possibility the initiative, like so many of its predecessors, will be consigned to the history books.

The average tenure of an educational secretary is 18 months. Michael Gove is the exception with four years under his belt, and before that three years as opposition “Education Secretary”. Instead of instigating a strategic approach based on this experience his tenure is beset with whims and U-turns. The rank and file of Headteachers and teaching staff are loggerheads with the Department For Education. Edicts remain unopened and sit forlornly on the school office shelves awaiting their inevitable replacement. E-mails from the educational secretary remain unopened in the inbox. This standoff is not just a fight between doctrine and pedagogy it results in devastating collateral damage to students passing through the system.

The ultimate measure of the success of the educational system is the suitability of students and graduates in employment. After years of despondency during the recession when graduates struggled to find fitting employment, topical feedback reveals employers are now struggling to find graduates of the right calibre.

This must be a flaw in the suitability of an educational system that fails to match a students’ ability with the needs of employment. A lamentable situation that requires prompt redress if we are to produce employees able to support the UK in world markets. The key issue is where within a government’s transitory structure lies a strategist able to design a system that can have the desired outcome at the end of a gestation period of 15 years.

Recent criticism from employer’s HR departments who bemoan the poor quality of graduate applications is rather hypocritical. Many employers complain application forms contain mistakes caused by inadvertent cut-and-paste that includes a previous company name. Do they think they are the only employer the candidate has applied to?  Yet most HR departments fail to acknowledge candidates who have invested possibly three hours completing unique application forms. At best the candidate may receive advice of the status of application by text or e-mail or the ultimate crass cop out – “if you have not heard from us within six weeks you can assume your applications been unsuccessful”. Both parties are guilty of slipping standards but is this indicative of poor preparation and a lack of understanding in the work ethic due to a gap in their education.

Change is here to stay, so says the maxim, but we must also identify the next generation educational programme that is fit for purpose allowing students to emerge in 2030, after 15 years, with an education they can be proud of. The real problem is commiserating with those students who emerge in the meantime who spot the flaw in the present system.

Teaching Resources Raided To Support Free School Meals Policy.

The latest educational initiative to provide all infant schoolchildren with a free school meal will have a huge impact on most primary  schools operational budget. Essentially no school had budgeted for such a project and its significant cost will rob other projects.

In biblical parlance this is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Educational budgets set to provide key elements of operational equipment and teaching resources are constantly being raided to fund un-budgeted educational initiatives. It appears the hard work and financial prudence maintained by school head teachers is to their disadvantage. Any cash left in the kitty is being reallocated to pay for the latest fad adopted by the government. The best policy is to set the school capital  expenditure budget for expenditure during the first quarter. Then spend the lot. Not as easy as it sounds as the project management needed to effect the purchase of all the equipment needed would absorb a huge amount of teachers time, but the alternative to delay holds risks of budget reallocation.

The basis of the free school meals programme is laudable. Research proves the attentiveness and academic progress of infant school children is enhanced through effective nourishment. This should pose no great shock but the dietary habits and running costs of a family with young children during a recession has given for concern. But this initiative holds a  Catch22. The government plan provides additional support to cover the material cost of free school meal but the costs of staff, storage and preparation of the meals have to met by the school. This poses a dilemma. If the teaching resources  budget is to be raided to pay for free meals to improve academic performance how will this be offset by the  reduction in budgeted teaching resources.

The government plans to support the cost of the food, but the provision of facilities to support the service in school is to be met from existing school budgets. This includes staffing, storage and serving equipment which amounts to a tidy sum for the average primary school. Adopting a cold sandwich policy rather than hot food ( the governments original plan) will reduce the cost  but still at around £60k for some primary schools the hit on teaching resources is colossal.

School head teachers are already critical of the policy. They claim the money would have been better spent on improving teaching resources proven to provide a better chance of improving performance than possibly the effect from free meals. Once again a government educational policy is running into severe criticism immediately it had been launched. The feedback from head teachers should have been assessed during the planning stage. As the introduction date looms – just over a month away, around 2,500 primary schools have indicated that do not have the cash to provide the service and will therefore become illegal. This will place a hidden load on the teaching team as they attempt the teaming and ladling approach defend themselves. The sad truth is that any teacher worth their salt would grab any opportunity to improve the academic ability of their children. But this meal policy may follow the one foot forward two steps back syndrome.

Student Debt Could Cause Catastrophic Damage To Universities

Academic qualifications prove an individuals ability to learn and achieve. Decades ago gaining a good job relied on experience and a good education at secondary or higher levels. Those going to university were the exception. In the past 20 years this has spun around with the majority of graduates at University claiming their degree was fundamental to applying for a good job. But this is no longer the case. Graduates are now discovering the shear number of graduates on the job market has undermined the relevance of their degree. The de facto standard of a 2:1 has become so commonplace as to hold little differentiation over non-graduates.

Only a nominal 15 per cent of degrees are used vocationally proving the primary subject worth of the remaining 75 per cent is suspect. Although they have become a right of passage trophy it is becoming increasingly expensive to obtain and arguably impossible to recover the financial tuition fee investment. Clayton Christianson, Harvard University Professor and an expert on disruptive change, predicts that over half of the colleges and universities in the U.S. will fail within the next 15 years because they are not offering a useful product. The £9,000 per annum tuition fee cost could be reviewed under the law of contract. What value does a degree provide, and has the tuition actually been maintained at an acceptable standard. Reports of some universities providing minimal lecturer support or the occurrence of reading weeks indicates universities are suffering from a cost imbalance and desperate to reduce (tuition) costs. Should under graduates therefore be considering legal action to pursue a claim of breach of contract in the service and market relevance of the course they are supplying.

The enthusiasm to model our educational system on that of the USA has thrown up some huge issues that could seriously affect our educational structure in the UK. Unpaid student debt in the USA, where tuition fees have been applied for decades has reached a mind-boggling total of $833billion. The UK government’s clamour to pursue students to complete a degree based on the premise that graduates get paid an average of £100,000 more than a non graduate throughout their working life is also falling into disrepute. The financial equation assumes gainful employment is achieved for the graduate on leaving university. This is often not the case, and the fact graduates also have a student debt averaging £44,000 will absorb half the supposed benefit. If this financial outcome is scrutinised a number of potential graduates could abandon their quest for degree status.

The repayment of tuition fees will displace cash that could otherwise enter the revenue stream. A £44,000 average graduate debt will take some time to repay and the chances of repayment issues from defaulting repayments, similar to the USA, could stifle the investment needed to maintain standards and course relevance in our universities.

This will hold severe repercussions for the UK and our universities. The standard of qualification of recruits entering employment will fall although time will tell if this is no bad thing with a degree of little use being replaced by more relevant market driven experience. Comparing the practical experience of non-graduates gained from their direct entry into the workplace rather than seeking a degree could well displace the academic alternative.

The conundrum is substantial with no easy resolution but without some form of review; potentially having to wait until the next general election, we could see an unwelcome decay in the relevance our higher education establishments are providing.

Teacher Qualifications Matched To The Class Actual Needs

The teaching unions are aghast at the appearance of unqualified teachers in the school classroom. Whilst the union’s position is vital to maintain some form of control and prevent backdoor structural changes, there has to be some give-and-take. The ails of the national health service illustrates what can go wrong if effective control is lost in the clamor to recruit staff. The current concern is the revelation that many doctors recruited outside the European Union do not have the comparable skills of UK and EU doctors. Equally the teaching unions believe a significant number of teachers active in our schools are similarly under qualified. But maybe they just in the wrong teaching roles.

The qualifications issue presents a conundrum. The best-qualified person imaginable in any subject area may be an extremely poor teacher. Remember the TV experiment set by Jamie Oliver a few years ago.  Accepting the theatrical need for controversy to make good TV, he demonstrated that eminent “teachers” selected to present to a selected class of children demonstrated how significant qualifications in the subject did not a teacher make.

Conversely many teachers with the required qualifications in pedagogy may get to teach in a discipline where they have no subject qualification. The vogue comparisons with overseas teaching area of excellence abound. Singapore authorities insist on a master’s degree being held by teachers in the subject area in which they involved. Our approach is about face. Teachers are required to be qualified to teach but not necessarily know anything about the subject area.

Being a good teacher requires ability in both camps. Training in how to teach (and control the class) and what to teach is the challenge. Just as many entrepreneurs who developed a fantastic product  realise they are incapable of running a company. The trick is knowing where your limitations lie. A solution, at some expensive perhaps is to buddy up the teaching team. Classes can be merged and taught by one well-qualified teacher in the subject area, whilst the class attention is monitored by disciplinarian teachers  able to control the class. Ex-army regimental sergeant majors (RSM) would be ideal, being armed perhaps less so. This could be the corridor to regional classes managed over the TV networks.

In the meantime if there were a balance to be gained I would opt to be taught by teachers with skills in the subject area. But accept mayhem could emerge in the classroom and therefore  the teacher should be freely allowed to exclude miscreants who could be then taught in central class by a fully qualified teacher, maybe lacking in subject knowledge but able to control disinterested students who would otherwise delay the learning curve of those students anxious to learn. Could have an interesting positive effect on all those targets and give those willing to learn the best opportunity.

Time Schoolchildren Were Heard Above Teachers Strikes

The world of education is never static. The dynamics induced by the Department of education initiatives that are quickly followed by teaching union reaction, generally negative, creates a state of educational flax that induces stress and a huge loss of teaching time. The losers; the schoolchildren are stuck firmly in the middle.

Despite a realisation that the recession took a long, deep bite out of the economy there are a plethora of new demands being placed on educational budgets. The government, keen to pump up the feel-good factor based on the recovery (anyone would think that was a general election looming) fail to emphasis the recovery is primarily focused on the service sector in London and Southeast. There is a massive gap still to fill in most other geographical regions and industries before the recovery can be fully accepted.

The ability to pay improved wages and increase educational budgets regrettably lays yet a way off. Strikes by teachers seeking better terms and conditions create a tidal wave of disruption. Schools loose time and energy developing plans to cope with the downside of a strike, not least the negative effect of lost teaching time on children and the possible impact on their achievement targets. However, there is little compensation for any disruption on children’s academic achievement at Primary, GCSE, or A-level. Children, as yet, with no union or central mouth, remain an unheard cry in the wilderness. The teacher’s strike planned during week commencing 23rd June will once again muddy the waters.

Free School and Academy Educational Programme Wobbles.

A couple of years into the programme and a few cracks have appeared in the structure and  educational performance of free schools and academies. The much heralded foray into this new concept was crucial to the educational ministers strategy of rebuilding schools for the future.

Severed from the operational control by local government the Academy and free schools enjoy additional financial support from the transfer of fees previously payable to local councils. But they needed to develop and manage a fiscal plan that was fit for purpose, inexperience has proved to be major hurdle in this objective.   The large academy groups soon appeared to over dominate schooling in their respective geographical areas. They had the cash but not the quality.  Similarly the initial  enthusiasm shown by teams setting up free schools became overwhelmed by the logistics involved in establishing and operating  a school. Premises became difficult to source, budgets became oversubscribed and pupil numbers fell short of operational targets as parents became concerned over delivery promises.

But the king pin providing the strength behind an academy, free school, state or independent school are the teaching resources; everything else is downstream. Without a dynamic head teacher with the essential  leadership qualities needed to support both pupils and the teaching team any school will fail. Academies and free schools are even more vulnerable as the quality of these schools will be under the spotlight for many years to come. Any deviation in promise or performance will be seen in commercial terms with parents talking with their feet.

The number of good head teachers able to operate in the heat of this level of commercial and educational scrutiny is desperately small. All too often the lack of ability is revealed in pressured management and bullying tactics that can never win. Teachers will leave, children will be transferred and the viscous circle starts to overwhelm.

If the educational programme for the future is to survive it perhaps needs to be modeled on the Independent sector. The structure, although suffering from reduced attendance numbers due to recessionary pressure, is well proven. Critical is the quality of the teaching team, without them the commercial quality of the service would not be sustainable. If free schools and academies reflected this successful structure they would stand a chance in the wide world. Until then we need to concentrate on supplying the market with the quality of teaching staff and head teachers that can operate the system for the long term, something we do not seem to have addressed at the moment.

The chicken and egg scenario would show that if you are to sell a quality product you first need a great design team. Having the best manufacturing facilities that supplies a flawed product does not make any sense.

Educational Secretary Battles with Teachers Again

In the midst of the turmoil that constantly surrounds teachers, schools, teaching resources and league tables we have a further teachers strike.

Parents who have striven  to get their children into the best school and thereby the best education are now faced with industrial action that will see hundreds of schools close today Wednesday 26th March.  But this is the tip of the iceberg. The resentment, stress and anxiety this action will cause is systematic of a troubled industry where teaching resources are in open conflict. Behind the scenes there is all consuming anguish that will divert energy away from teaching. Education in the closed schools will cease for the day. But even in the schools that remain open the energy sink that surrounds the problems will affect a high proportion of all teachers.

Although only one trade union, the NUT  is involved, unlike previous strikes on the same issue where a united approach was taken, there is some disharmony. The NASUWT have decided not to support today’s strike although it has announced it may review this stance in the future.

Not a happy situation least of all for the children involved and their anxious parents. As exam results indicate all is far from well in our educational programme. Having teachers go on strike certainly will serve to exacerbate the problem. Yet the quality of the educational programme is not the prime issue. Terms and conditions, pay scales and work load feature in the strike manifesto. Our continuing slide down the international educational league tables does not.

Michael Gove’s position as Educational Secretary of State has been surrounded by controversial decisions throughout his tenure. There is precious little time to achieve any resolve before the next election unless the cabinet focus on some vote winning initiatives that will have the full support of teachers. But should we really have to wait for an election to eek out some resolution to what is a crucially important issue that has festered for the whole of this government.

Teaching is vital to the well-being of the nation but with circa 48k teachers leaving the profession each year there is a wealth of skill voting with its feet. Hardly a sustainable outcome, requiring Mr Gove to come up with the answers our schooling system deserves rather than playing political silly beggars in the playground.

We Need A Tim Berners-Lee In Education

One of the themes that constantly haunt the world of education is despite our teaching resources being around for millennia we still have not perfected an educational system that fit for purpose in 2014.

Children have been born and educated in the UK since the year dot. Times and techniques have changed but somehow we have failed to maintain a consistent standard that have progressed with the times. It is a concern that in 2014 we continue to slip down the OECD international educational league table. Languishing in a position now in the mid twenties we have lost pace and initiative.

Although the OECD may seem a distant measure and the UK school league table would be a better gauge we are now operating in a global market and need to readjust our sights to match what is happening overseas. It presents sad reading.

In the time since 1990 when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web this far-reaching development has revolutionised the world of communications. Entire industries have emerged with the www. at its core. Over the same timescale a succession of Secretaries of State For Education have been, meddled and gone. Education appears to have been gasping for air as it desperately tried to hold its head above water.

There have been many educational initiatives, some good, some bad. Most attract abject criticism from the very teaching resources destined to implement them. This has led to frustration and stress amongst the teaching profession that is a major concern for any of us looking in. Children pass through the system over the 10 years of their normal schooling journey from five to 15 years old. Those who attend the better schools stand a good change of thriving in the outside world. But the majority will suffer the fate of an indifferent education that pitches up in the middle twenties position in the OECD league.

We have seen comparisons with Scandinavia and the Far East who are leading the international league table and have taken measures to adopt their systems and procedures. Maths teachers from the Far East are being invited to teach in the UK to improve our standards. This follows a trend for overseas excellence to be imported to control UK entities. Some of our railways systems are to be potentially run by companies from Hong Kong, Germany and France; our utility providers are predominately foreign based. And German or Indian companies own the best names in car manufacture. This may create efficiency but is an indictment of our UK based facilities.

Time we emulated the success of Tim Berners-Lee in the world of education. We need focal investment to produce an entirely new form of education that will provide the opportunity for our children to learn in a fundamentally new way, because the current system is very broken.

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