As teachers become more skilled their ability to control the class, enliven the subject matter, use teaching resources to maximum advantage and complete the curriculum on schedule for the GCSE’s becomes more pronounced. But the length of service commensurate with this achievement ironically can do the teachers and their students a huge disservice. Increased length of service inevitably means they can become disconnected with the dynamics of the commercial and engineering market in which their charges will move into.
This phenomenon is especially relevant in science, engineering, technology and maths STEM disciplines. In the past children leaving secondary school tended to be employed locally. The needs of industry in the vicinity being well known by the local schools and teachers. But advances in technology, expanding world markets and a greater tendency to attend university have introduced a vastly changed employment and educational scenario. Those children aiming for a career at the leading edge of a trade or profession may not have the required depth and relevance of education to give them an ideal start. Competition from overseas students and employers adds a further dimension. Already our secondary school education is slipping in the world league tables. The preparation for university degree courses, according to university dons, is showing signs of inadequate depth and relevance.
Good exam results may be achieved, as shown by the annual analysis, but the demands of employers may come as shock when children leaving secondary school discover the mismatch of their schooling with the needs and pace of commerce and industry. Many also struggle with the arduous of their degree courses. But the possible solution, to re-program the curriculum and match the teaching skill base with the state of the art needs in employment is no easy solution and has huge repercussions. Teachers do not gain teaching skills by taking time out of school but this is perhaps exactly what they must do. The predilection to hit exam targets needs to be tempered instead with the opportunity to keep pace with the operational developments and market demands. The solution also poses an even greater problem; the resources needed in both cost and manpower.
Teachers, especially good teachers in science and maths are in short supply. The concept of releasing this limited capacity to sabbaticals spent in industry and academia would be abhorrent to most head teachers. The school would lose front line teaching resources, funds to provide supply teacher cover would be severely stretched and exam targets threatened. Yet without this move to connect with the needs of universities, commerce and industry will continue to be misaligned and at an increasing rate.
The UK is suffering a decline in engineering manufacturing and design. Overseas producers may initially rely on British skills such as in the case of the design and manufacture of Jaguar cars. But as the Indian owners home base progresses they may abruptly decide to relocate the facility to India. The recent closure of the Pifizer pharmaceutical and medical research facility in the South East indicates our science base is being reviewed by overseas owners. Without the flow of bright recruits in the UK science, technology, engineering and maths disciplines we can do little to prevent this eventuality. We need to be at the leading edge in all areas of STEM. The question now is how we can rearrange our schooling to achieve this. It will take a brave new world approach that will require a strategic review by the government and all educational parties. The current tactical maneuvers by the DFE serving only to exacerbate the problem.