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:
- The future for employment will be based on skills not paper qualifications
- There needs to be a re-emergence of polytechnic colleges and apprenticeships
- Best qualifications do not mean the best jobs. Employers need to adjust their employment criteria
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Student debt is running at £36bn in the UK. A couple of years ago we commented on the level of student debt that remains unpaid in the USA. Student tuition fee debt in the USA in 2012 stood at $833bn and at the time exceeded the prevailing credit card debt.
Worryingly still is the fact that 3.4m students in the USA are repaying their debt but 238,000 students are defaulting and a further 22 per cent had to negotiate deferment terms. Where this was nit granted students were forced to take out further a loan from high-risk loan agencies who charged exorbitant interest rates. And so the viscous cycle begins.
In the UK the unpaid debt is running at about twice the level predicted by the government. They claim they had no financial model on which to base their calculations yet the USA situation has been running for decades. In the meantime students fell they are having to pay the student loan twice; once as they repay their own loan, and a second time, as tax payers when they have to fund the defaulting loans of others. Once again the government’s financial calculations appear to gone AWOL, next perhaps we may learn that the police commissioner scheme has cost more that anticipated.
One of the greatest concerns to any parent is the need to provide the very best education for their children. This can prove to be a nightmare involving gaining admission to an ideal school and an educational programme provided by the best teachers. Unfortunately this can prove to be a tortuous path and many parents feel they have failed their children.
The schooling journey from the start of primary to GCSE at secondary school lasts 15 years. This places children vulnerably to a multitude of educational initiatives introduced by the government and Department for Education. History has shown most initiatives will fail, to be replaced by another. Not only is this a huge waste of government funds there is a much bigger hidden cost. Teachers, beset with the need to hit OFSTED standards become fixated with the need to hit targets. This will also include the recent move to introduce tests for four years olds. Ostensibly to assess ability the test automatically measures the start point of a child’s educational journey and therefore the level of improvement made by the next test. Could this then be reformatted as another target?
In the midst of the target furore children suffer a depleted education programme whilst teachers meddle in the need to adopt new educational initiatives and hit targets. In all probability their efforts will be reversed in six months through the next initiative. Michael Gove recently insisted state schools could perform at the same level as Independent schools. The huge misfit in this claim is that Independent schools do not suffer the same interruptions from short-term educational initiatives as their state school equivalents. Independent get on with the job of teaching and recruit and retain the best teachers, those that don’t fail and disappear.
History often repeats itself, as the saying goes, and this also includes the world of education. Our teaching resources are again met with a significant change this time in the exam pass grading structure of the GCSE. The proposal to revert back to a numerical system to denote the pass grade gives a greater indication of the quality of the pass. This new process takes me back some 30 years to when the number system was previously associated with the then GCE’s.
The change over will induce a degree of confusion as a loose comparison is made between the old alphabetical grade and the new numerical equivalent. But the relationship will not be that straightforward. The old alphabetical grades A-E (six grades) are to be replaced by grades 1-9 (nine grades) Thus the existing A may come in at a grade 3. It is seen as a positive way to give greater emphasis and clarity to top achievers but may be a tad confusing to employers who will have to judge just how good the grade A candidate was. We seem to be in a world of change in education, the majority of which appears to be reintroducing old schemes abandoned 20- 30 years ago. This appears to prove the old maxim of what goes round comes around. In the world of teaching and education the merry-go-round spins incredibly slowly and leaves one wondering what would have been the result if we had done nothing and let the old systems carry on. We may have the opportunity to maybe see the result as the old procedures are reintroduced. Time to dig out the chalk and slate maybe….
Students in secondary school learn about hearing and the structure of the ear in science and biology lessons. But common with all our senses we can take then for granted later in life – until they start to fail. Whilst we may recognised the need for sight tests most of us overlook what life can be like through reduced hearing. The following link shows what hearing loss can be like if we don’t look out to protect or check our hearing. Listen to the sounds of the most liked sounds and the least favoured sounds. Imagine if we could no longer hear these sounds….
“Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.
The next general election is now 18 months away in 2015. Round about now the cabinet focuses on how to win. Ministers are charged with vote winning exercises rather than long-term strategies. We wait to see if the educational minister will be playing some positive educational games with our schooling process during this era.
Come September there will be some grinding of gears as secondary schools return to start the run-up to the curriculum changes scheduled for introduction in 2014. Although these major changes are a year away some further updates in the primary school curriculum are being implemented this year. Although planned to improve the standard of education there are bound to be some teething problems. Teaching resources, like the majority of people regard change as abhorrent. But these changes are essential. Existing standards in education has slipped badly over the last decade.
During a period of rapid technological growth which has seen the introduction of the World Wide Web, social networks, tablet computers and smartphones our education prowess has stood by the wayside in comparison. We’ve lost the initiative to synchronise students with the real world. Instead we have been congratulatory on exam results that have ultimately been proven suspect.
The analysis of what went wrong could itself last decades. Many changes effected through educational initiatives have been seen as transitory. A common reaction by teaching resources to harsh initiatives launched by the Secretary of State for education is to wait six months and it will inevitably be replaced. Whether the change is reason, cost or hostile reaction by teaching unions this wait-and-see technique has been proven many times.
We can’t place all the blame on the department of education initiatives. Teachers have become either battle scarred or canny in the unending quest to achieve targets. A factor progressively being unearthed by OFSTED has led the head of OFSTED Sir Michael Wilshaw to knock over fences with a firm and often disliked hand. The outcome is bewildering, schools previously classed as outstanding have been downgraded to satisfactory. The benchmark for many schools previously classed as a quality schools has been decimated. The whole school grading system is perhaps operating on one level above reality. Not something parents and children expect all deserve.
Behind the scenes there are various entities that could make a difference. But any review to formulate this level of change needs to be strategic whereas the government, in education matters, thinks tactically. What is required is an educational secretary thoroughly experienced in the role at the onset of a new government. This is the year of courageous and considered proposals. They may cause upset but will be governed by an incumbent educational secretary keen to induce substantial change to the curriculum and provide the ideal teaching resources to effect the plan.
If we do nothing we will continue to slide down the educational league tables with the consequential impact on our children’s prowess. Further, we run the risk that the education initiatives will not be controlled by the Department of Education, instead passing to commercial operations. The curriculum could emerge through the likes of Apple, Microsoft and social networks. Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable. The problem is we don’t seem to have a reliable alternative.
Changes to the national curriculum are to be introduced next year in order to bring the UK educational system up to date and improve its international relevance.
Behind the scenes in the department of education has been studying the curriculum used in the world’s leading educational systems. These include Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore, which have long been the focus of UK educationalists as they have been moving steadily ahead with the quality of their schooling. It is encouraging on one hand to see that the UK is recognising the depleted relevance of the UK but a concern that it has taken so long to achieve. Even David Cameron’s bold announcement that this these changes are “a revolution in education” has already received a rebuff by school leaders concerned the new curriculum to be introduced in 2014 makes still not be fit for the 21st century.
This is the third attempt by Mike Michael Gove, Secretary of State for education, who has been heavily criticised over these the first two attempts at introducing the new curriculum. Although developed by the Department of Education it would seem that there is a huge miss-fit between the output from this department and what is seen as practical by the teaching resources destined to implement the changes. The logical approach that assumed the Department of Education would liaise with the frontline troops to develop a system that would work seems to have been completely overlooked. This has resulted in significant delays and needless conflict as the rejected curriculum is then reworked. Rather like sending an essay back to be rewritten as the authors have have missed the point!
The new curriculum will introduce significant changes to maths, history, geography, English and science. It will also place renewed emphasis on design and technology, now seen as a critical strength that will make employment more feasible in the future. This subject area has ebbed and flowed in prominence over the years but now destined to capture one key element of the British psyche; that of our ability to design superb products. Regrettably these may well be manufactured overseas but we could still capitalise on a recognised international skill in design and innovation.
Whilst the new curriculum is designed to improve our educational system it only applies to state schools. Free schools and academies that are able to set their own curriculum will not adopt the new syllabus. This apparent gap in the logic of the Department of Education is yet to be tested. If the government see the curriculum changes as fundamental to close the gap on overseas educational standards it would seem odd to exclude the academies from this activity. Alternatively if the initiative fails the academies will have been spared the retrograde step. Time will tell. But this fragmented approach to schooling standards does imply some muddled policy behind the scenes.
The need to fix something is paramount. We have long suffered the annual concern over exam standards and can only look forward to the onslaught that is bound to emerge as the summer exam results are published. Our teaching repsurces than have a year to prepare to the next wave of curriculum changes. The results of these changes won’t be known for five years; long after the government may have been replaced.