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UK education; what is the REAL problem?

120 replies

Isitmebut · 07/02/2014 12:00

First of all let us first establish that there is a problem, despite a huge investment by the State that more than doubled the education budget from 1997 and borrowed huge amounts of money on ‘the never, never’, to build/improve schools via he Private Finance Initiative (PFI), that will annually eat into the Education budget for decades to come.

England’s young adults trail the world in literacy and maths”.

"Young adults in England have scored among the lowest results in the industrialised world in international literacy and numeracy tests.

A major study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows how England's 16 to 24-year-olds are falling behind their Asian and European counterparts".

England is 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries.

And just to confirm that our school leavers international test results are not a statistical quirk, and that they are indeed NOT ready to go out in the world to make their mark, for year after year the CBI (and even supermarkets) having been pleading with the government to ensure that our children leave full time education, fit for employment purpose.

More than four in 10 employers are being forced to provide remedial training in English, maths and IT amid concerns teenagers are leaving school lacking basic skills, it emerged today.”

Now while I kind of understood the pro EU Labour’s motives in relaxing the teaching of foreign languages, as it both boosted school leave tables and their objective was to boost inward economic migration, not give our children opportunities to work abroad – but how can we allow millions of children, go out to a world needing an ever more semi skilled and skilled workforce, without even the basics in English and Maths?

The Unemployment figures of under 24 year olds from 2004 on highlight two major points; using the May to July quarters in each year, we can see that in 2004 we already had 580,000 under 24’s unemployed. But during what we was told was an economic boom, by the pre crash 2007 high, that figure had reached 711,000 – and by the 2010 general election, a few years into the recession, Labour passed over to the coalition 921,000 under 24-year olds unemployed – a national scandal.

And by putting the CBI reports, employer anecdotal reports on migrant education skills/motivation, and the international literacy and numeracy league table evidence TOGETHER, we have a failed a whole generation of our children.

And don’t take my word for it, when a troubling report discloses many of our young feel ‘they have nothing to live for’.

“As many as three quarters of a million young people in the UK may feel that they have nothing to live for, a study for the Prince's Trust charity claims.”

So what ARE the problems, nature, nurture and/or the wrong teaching methods – where the combination of a Labour government and Left Wing educationalist were a toxic mix?

This article a while back by the respected Max Hastings on a report by Miriam Gross, published by the Centre for Policy Studies, makes interesting reading.

I may not agree with everything Michael Gove suggests, but what is clear is that for the time spent in full time education, those under 24-year olds education was not working for them and the facts, figures and results PROVES that – so Gove has to both challenge and make changes to the ideological bent of the educational establishment. IMO.

OP posts:
TheHammaconda · 07/02/2014 15:47

UK education: what is the REAL problem?

Answer: Michael Gove

Piscivorus · 07/02/2014 15:53

People don't value anything they see as free and schools and medical treatment are free at the point of delivery so many people either don't pay or don't realise they pay for them.
We are now at a point where education or healthcare being a privilege is out of living memory. Consequently people don't value our schools or NHS and won't realise what we've got till it's gone.

In schools young people don't realise what a chance they are being given because too many parents never tell them that so they take it for granted

Isitmebut · 07/02/2014 15:57

TheHammaconda...all the above FACTS virtually cover the New Labour administration - credit where credits due, HOW can that be Gove's fault????

Clearly this country has failed a generation, and similar to our busted economy, 'more of the same' should not be the 'default' option.

Maybe people in the know can read/discuss Miriam Gross's comments on here, rather than automatically blame Gove, Cameron, the Conservatives, for inheriting a New Labour problem?

OP posts:
Isitmebut · 07/02/2014 16:02

Piscivorus...I totally agree on children not understanding the importance of education, and I will not forgive my three for not making the most of a great State school until my dying day.

But several years apart, and able to take the I.B., I saw at first hand how as time went on, better GCSE grades were needed to be able to attempt the I.B., which is known as a qualification throughout Europe, whose standards are constant.

OP posts:
SirChenjin · 07/02/2014 16:03

Gove has nothing to do with UK wide education - get your facts straight.

Successive Govts across the UK have lowered standards in a desperate attempt to get everyone and their dog to university. That is not to say that teaching standards have fallen, but I think that a return to basics and an emphasis on raising attainment, together with the recognition that vocational qualifications are just as valuable as a degree (and in many cases more useful than some of the silly degrees universities charge for)is long overdue. Less paperwork would also be very welcome by my teacher friends.

SirChenjin · 07/02/2014 16:13

Very much welcomed even

holmessweetholmes · 07/02/2014 16:22

Much as I hate Gove, things have been going wrong with our education system for a much longer time than that. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately as I am considering leaving teaching for the first time, after 20 years.
Part of the problem is that nobody seems to really dare to ask the question you have asked in your OP. I have started to wonder: If you could invent a whole country's education system from scratch, what would you actually want it to be like? Not like it is now, that's for sure.
It's been broken over the years by many things. And the problem is that many of these things probably arose from ideas which genuinely seemed good to begin with... make teachers more accountable, give parents the choice of where to send their kids to school, track the progress of every pupil at all times, amass tons of data so you can analyse everything about every aspect of a school, make public league tables, get rid of setting, be inclusive in all ways possible, teach skills not knowledge, get Ofsted to judge lessons on the basis of measurable progress being made in every lesson by every pupil... etc etc
It's all too complex, unmanageable and data-driven. Schools are stressful and depressing places to be atm, in my opinion. Both for kids and teachers. I've had enough... I'm sure there will be many who disagree with me though.

slug · 07/02/2014 16:48

The two tier system is partly to blame. Private school charge thousands per term yet are registered charities which allow them to operate with far smaller classes. To replicate this advantage, the govt would have to invest heavily in schools both in terms of hiring and training teaching staff and in accommodation to house all these small classes.

Private schools also don't innovate anywhere near aas often as state schools. New teaching techniques are devised, tested and refined in state schools then, once they have been proven to be effective, filter through to the private sector who have far more money to implement them effectively.

State schools are subject to repeated interference from govt. This is not confined to the Tories, labout have been doing it for years as well, though in my experience the endless labour 'initiatives' at least tried to address the issues with inequalities and disaffected students, the Tories on the other hand appear to want to return to the mythical golden age where only the priviliged or extremely bright succeed. Trying to force a bright but unacdemic student into a narrow 'A Levels are the only true measure of success' format is set to fail. Far far better that we accept that 'success' means different things to different students and that technical or practical skills can be as equally valuable to both students and to the workforce. Several of the brightest and most successful people I know have no qualifications and would be labelled by Gove as failures. But they run multimillion pound companies because when they were at school they were identified as having flair for their particular area and were encouraged to focus there rather than on exams. In state schools nowadays, if we did this to students, we dwould be considered to be failing them and the school would be peanalised in OFSTEAD inspections. How many GCSEs does Alan Sugar or Richard Branson have?

Twirlymooostache · 07/02/2014 17:01

I think there are many reasons for education not being what it should and could. They are many good things that are being done in individual classes and schools but it can vary too.

One problem I see is that children can see if they are "failing" earlier than they used to. They are encouraged to know what level they are, what their targets are etc. which is a good idea to have ownership over their learning but instead of enjoying learning without knowing they are learning, the awe and wonder of the world has been brought down to serious education for 7 year olds. Head teachers, governors, staff, parents and children are all aware of what they should be achieving at an earlier age and how that can pan out for them over ten years because data has been punched into a computer that doesn't allow for differences. There is too much pressure on them to achieve within the confines of a testing system. How often are they told how well they are done without then being given a new target?
When are they able to just enjoy PE without having a learning objective? Or year 6 having literacy and maths until may and then the rest of the curriculum after that.

My next issue is that it is too political. Timescales are linked into the political time table rather than a long term educational one. I was in the year who took the first National Curriculum GCSEs. Nc introduced in 1988 and we took the GCSE exams in 1994. We followed the change through. As far as I am aware, in 1990, pupils didn't take nc exams. Now it seems that a change occurs and it has to be made within a couple of years. There are children who are 16 who have gone though so many different changes to their learning with regard to teaching styles and new initiatives. It fits the political aims but what about impact on children and staff? Sure, make big changes but start them at year 7 to play out as they grow. This won't happen though. MPs don't benefit from this.

Society has changed. Education can be seen by some as not important. Some who have had bad experience who then have little respect for system and pass this on. Lack of support for their children in school. Not preparing their children for school socially and practically. Not supporting rules and way the school is run. Not encouraging informal learning and play at home. Poor communication skills at home. Chaotic family life. Poverty.

School leaders and people in authority who forget they are preparing children for the world. It can slip into figures and results and league tables instead of real life little people. People who make the decisions can be out of touch and rely on what others tell them. Hts and ofsted and advisors who have been out of the classroom for too long.

Funding should change. The pupil premium I'm sure helps but I think that schools who are serving the deprived areas should receive more money, not relying on who has free school meals. Not everyone claims and lots more are not well off but can't claim. I think the schools that need it should have way more money than those whose children will do well pretty much where ever they are.

I think league tables can be unhelpful too. I can't be bothers to say why right now as I'm knackered and feel ill. Links in with political stuff though.

I don't like Gove though have to say the last 20 years isn't his fault but I worry about the next 20.

holmessweetholmes · 07/02/2014 17:11

Yy to everything Twirly said, especially the bits about awe and wonder and learning without targets. I think the target and data driven nature of education has taken the awe and wonder out of the teachers too. It's hard to pass on your enthusiasm if you've had it all wrung out of you...

Fibreopticangel · 07/02/2014 17:31

We don't have Gove running education in Wales, and it's even worse here!

Lack of ambition for children and teachers who haven't attained well enough themselves are some of the problems ime.

We've overcome it personally by spending a fortune on tutors and not letting the dc adopt their school's 'mediocre is good enough' attitude - but we're lucky we had the income to do that. I was particularly peeved when they wanted dc2 (bright but needed pushing) to do lower tier science GCSEs, which would only have attained a C at most.

We got a tutor and she came out with Bs.

And don't get me started on the grammatical errors in written communication from the school!

Forago · 07/02/2014 17:36

The problem in my opinion is decades of under investment in state schools. So many areas, in the south east at least, have a chronic shortage of primary and secondary school places. Because you can now see league tables and Ofsted reports at the click of a button, this forces many people who would not otherwise have done so to send their children to private schools. This perpetuates the 2 tier systems, further highlights the shortcomings those state schools which are chronically underfunded and under-resourced and makes it even less likely that there will be a good mixture of children from diverse backgrounds at that school.

How many large new housing developments have there been in your area in that last 15 years? How many new schools?

morethanpotatoprints · 07/02/2014 17:41

I too don't like Gove, in fact he's an idiot.
However, being quite an old bird so at school a long time ago, having the system fail me, my parents, siblings, and dc.
Also having studied education, I can honestly say it has never been good.
Placing loads of kids of the same age into a classroom for however many years, expecting them all to turn out the same, with a one fit all system just doesn't work.

chosenone · 07/02/2014 18:00

Why does nobody look at society and how things have changed in our society. Many people take things like education for granted, along with having an enormous sense of entitlement. Many people display anti social or generally rude behaviour out and about in public. Shouting, swearing, interupting each other, being able to text/sit on your phone etc when ever and where ever. We have the highest rates of binge drinking and teenage pregnancies in Europe. Obviously these societal issues trickle down into schools.
Teachers can seem (god forbid) boring, lessona and working independently can seem too hard, shoutingout is normal, arguing back with authority figures 'cool'. Celebs, drinking at the weekend, fb, snapchat wtc are all infinitely more fun.
Despite teachers working harder than ever to 'edutain' students, incorporating different teaching styles, higher order questioning, differentiated tasks, sharing learning objectives, measuring progress, intervening when risk of failure is spotted and trying every new initiative going. Still despite this some kids are happy with mediocre, happy not to push themselves to the nth degree, and the ones that do, engage with the targets, extra classes are the kids that put is in the league tables for the nation with some of the unhappiest teenagers in the world!

CurlyhairedAssassin · 07/02/2014 18:06

Lack of effort from a lot of pupils who seem to think they will magically achieve in life without putting any graft in. I remember revising my notes till the last second we walked into the exam room. I am shocked at the laissez faire attitude towards exams at my school. Maybe it's because they do too many through the year; maybe pupils get sick of them so don't view them as that important; maybe their attitude is "oh well, it's only worth 30% of the marks anyway, I'll make it up in the next one." There is something to be said for doing just one lot of mocks for practice and then putting 100% effort into your summer exams.

Low expectations of the pupils on absolute basics like being properly equipped. When I was at school, you had to have a pencil case which had a list of items in and you were in trouble if you didn't have a particular thing. Where I work the pupils turn up to lesson expectig the teacher to give them pens etc to write with in lessons. And the teachers do it! You can't really blame them in some ways - the pressure on teachers for their pupils to achieve means that they have to nanny them every step of the way.

I know this is going to be controversial but I think that SOMETIMES bad behaviour/lack of concentration is accepted almost too easily by assuming there are SEN issues - ADHD/ non-specific learning disabilities/difficult social backgrounds. Well, more and more I see evidence of "difficult" pupils behaving perfectly well for teachers who have excellent classroom management skills and who will not stand for bad behaviour. These teachers simply EXPECT good behaviour and punish indiscipline hard. Whereas the same "difficult" pupils go into another class with a teacher who has low expectations of the class's ability to behave ("oh, they're bottom set - they're going to be a nightmare for me and they'll never achieve good gcses anyway so why bother expecting good behaviour and standards of work - let's just get through the hour."). While a TA wanders round after them constantly telling them to sit back down, don't argue with the other pupil etc etc.

Too many changes implemented by government.

Top and bottom sets not stretched as top sets will achieve the magic A*-C without too much effort and bottom sets are seen as unlikely to achieve that standard so why bother with them. It's the middle ability groups that schools focus on to get them to standard. The brightest don't achieve their full potential and the poor kids at the bottom just don't achieve at all. Very sad. Target-itis

ItsAllGoingToBeFine · 07/02/2014 18:09

Your title says UK education problems. Your OP refers exclusively to England.

As the product of a Scottish education I'd like to remind the OP that the UK is in fact made up of Wales, NI, Scotland and England. Not just England.

Bonsoir · 07/02/2014 18:10

"Lack of ambition for children and teachers who haven't attained well enough themselves are some of the problems ime."

I agree very strongly with this. Some of the English teachers (not the French teachers) at my DD's French-English bilingual school are idiots. There is no other word.

HollyHB · 07/02/2014 18:12

I'm not an education expert, not even slightly.

My personal experience, decades ago, was that traditional education failed me totally but the Open University fit me to a Tee and enabled me to earn a good living for many years as an author of safety and equipment operating manuals (which is a field typically dominated by men). I'm not saying OU good, others bad; I am saying horses for courses and there has to be variety. Traditional education worked fine for my peers while it failed me totally, and yet I had the talent.

I particularly note reports from secondary schools in California (where I have many friends) who have had great success with what they call an upside down approach. That means secondary school pupils (age 11 to 17) during the school day, supervised by teachers, do the kind of writing traditionally viewed as "homework". And at home they do the opposite kind of work (reading text books and sitting through lectures - typically delivered on DVDs).

Doing that, they found, makes it much easier for students to work at their own pace. The more talented, more motivated, students benefit especially, but even the poorest students do better than they did in a traditional system.

It has to be worth trying.

nonmifairidere · 07/02/2014 19:28

Parents, parents, parents.

SirChenjin · 07/02/2014 20:45

On the other hand, I don't think that there is an education system in the world which is perfect - and there are many more fantastic teachers doing an amazing job in the UK as a whole than there are poor ones.

HamletsSister · 07/02/2014 20:47

Salmond is fucking it up here in Scotland, OP. Also a part of the UK (for ever and ever, we hope) although all your examples are about England.

tattybogle · 07/02/2014 21:01

The news coming out of Wales is bad. My experience in Scotland is of lack of ambition in both the local schools and many parents. (Fibreoptic your post rang bells.)

It's not just England.

SirChenjin · 07/02/2014 21:02

Hear, hear Hamlet. I loathe Alex Salmond with a passion - and what he is trying to do to Scotland is heartbreaking Sad . Hopefully the polls at the moment are accurate and common sense will prevail.

tattybogle · 07/02/2014 21:13

And it seems to an outsider as though inner city London schools are getting better.

flatpackhamster · 07/02/2014 21:31


And it seems to an outsider as though inner city London schools are getting better.

That must explain why every single family buying a house near me has moved out of London so they can use the schools in Kent.

Oh, wait.

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