The question “What is education for?” should be discussed before accountability, says the CBI report First Steps
: “getting curriculum reform right is vital.” It recommends a core curriculum (Maths, English, Science, Computer Science) supported by no less important “enabler” subjects. It opposes an overly-prescriptive primary curriculum and warns against a return to rote learning.
The report argues that the present examination system is too much of a conveyor belt with a narrow definition of success - the system needs overhauling with less emphasis on exams at 16+. However, its suggestion that pupils make choices at 14 is out-of-step with other countries where upper secondary education begins at 16.
says it is difficult to deliver improvements through exam systems. It rightly claims that target setting can result in perverse incentives which do little to raise results. Successive governments have also made it difficult to track improvement by constantly moving goal posts, the report says. It recommends that schools should be judged on a range of factors which “go beyond the merely academic”.
Quoting the OECD, the report says that skills are the new “global currency”. These require investment and greater community involvement – “It is up to the wider community – including business – to step up to the mark and support schools where they need role models, advice or experience.” The sad thing about this statement is that similar calls were made 25 years ago when the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI) which raised the profile of vocational education was introduced. But vocational education is still viewed as second-best. And Michael Gove has removed the requirement on schools to offer work experience.
The early years are vital, argues the report, as is parental involvement. The report suggests ways whereby schools can increase the involvement of all parents including giving advice about how parents can support their child’s learning and establishing a welcoming atmosphere based on trust. However, it does not advocate Home School Agreements which it describes as “confrontational” and “toothless”.
is an important addition to the debate about education. What a pity, then, that the report is based on a contested premise that UK education is failing to deliver by citing a comparison with the flawed PISA 2000 results
and ignoring TIMSS which put English pupils at the top of the European tables
for Maths and Science. There are other errors. It contradicts the OECD
on early years education by suggesting pupil-staff ratio should be increased. It cites dodgy data: stating that the early years pupil-staff ratio is lower in UK than in most western European countries – it isn’t
. It confuses the level expected of pupils at the end of Key Stage 2 with the average
. And its reasoning is sometimes illogical – applauding Scotland’s carefully developed curriculum while at the same time approving the Coalition’s rushed policies, and praising US KIPP schools which have the type of mandatory Home School Agreements which the report condemns.
Nevertheless, the government should heed the report’s main recommendations about reforming the exam system and the importance of getting the curriculum right first before talking about accountability.