Published by Nick Gibb MP on 25 February 2015
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The current school system is failing a large number of children in England. The inequity of the grammar school system has been replaced by a school system that still fails to give a good education to the majority of children. The grammar school/secondary modern divide has been replaced by a divide between independent schools, grammar schools and a few high achieving comprehensives and the rest of the maintained school system.
The attempts to move away from the problems with the comprehensive school model have led to a plethora of new schools, of which this reports identifies 19. The multiplicity of school-types and the varying philosophies driving them are confusing, wasteful of resources and so scatter-gun in their approach as to reduce seriously their impact on our society. The system is disunited, lacking any coherent central philosophy, and devoid of any genuinely radical or new initiatives.
The debate over selection is immaterial: selection already exists. We have de facto selection in our maintained schools. Students aspiring to a place to read A-level in a 6th form college are usually required to have achieved at least C grade in the subject they wish to study at GCSE, and sometimes more. This immediately places them in the top half of the ability band. A number will drop out after AS-level, a further example of selection.
The places at top universities are still monopolised by students from a minority of schools. At both Oxford and Cambridge nearly 50 per cent of students still come from the independent sector. A close examination of one Oxbridge college found that out of the entire science entry only one student came from a true comprehensive school, with the mass of the maintained school entry coming either from grammar schools or 6th form colleges.
The centralisation and privatisation of the examination industry, has had detrimental effects on exam standards. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Government. In effect this means that a branch of government decides the qualifications and the curriculum available to the very great majority of young people in England. The second problem relates to competition between the exam boards, of which England has six in comparison to two in the United States. They are competing for business, introducing an undesirable commercial element into the examinations industry. No one examination board can afford for their examination in any given subject to be seen to be significantly harder than that of another board, leading to an overall decline in standards.
We have an exam system that neither challenges the most academically able, nor meets the needs of those who wish to take a route more focused on vocational learning. Exam results have improved over time with 24 per cent of exams at A level obtaining an A grade compared to 16 per cent in 1996. However, there is considerable evidence that standards have declined. A system that is now designed to get 50 per cent of students into university opposed to 10 per cent has had to change to remain fit for purpose. Dissatisfaction with this system has led to increasing numbers of schools opting for alternatives, such as the International Baccalaureate. The bewildering range of qualifications in the vocational stream considerably weakens this area.
Teacher supply is one of the most crucial factors in improving the quality of teaching. The growth of generalism in teaching is another worrying trend. The figures for those teaching who have an actual degree in their chosen subject are worrying. In 2002 only 41 per cent of mathematics teachers to Years 7-13 had a degree in the subject. A second blow to the all-graduate concept was delivered by the creation of the B.Ed (Bachelor of Education) degree, whose first students graduated in 1968. Partly though not only because of this, the concept of someone being a teacher of English, mathematics or whatever has increasingly been replaced by someone being simply a teacher.
There are also a number of other barriers to entry into the teaching profession. Rising costs of becoming a teacher, including student debt and the cost of housing, may dissuade many from entering the profession. One of the greatest disincentives to entering the teaching profession is bad, abusive or violent behaviour towards teachers from pupils and, increasingly, from their parents.
The implementation of the following recommendations, could deliver a better education system capable of meeting the needs of all children.
Practical steps to improve the quality of teaching include: