Why NOW is the time to re-shape education!

Education, Job Market, leadership, Life Skills, motivation, teaching

Since the government announced that this year’s A Level and GCSE exams will once again be scrapped I have heard numerous comments from students and staff along these lines…

  • “Well what’s the point in the rest of the year’s lessons then?” (student)
  • “What’s the point in all the work and learning I’ve already done if people aren’t going to take my grade seriously now?” (student)
  • “How are we going to get students to do any work now?” (teacher)
  • “Students will still need to work hard because the teacher assessed grade will need to be based on clear evidence.” (headteacher to parents)

All these comments have a common thread which is based on a lamentable false premise: that the point of education is to get a grade or set of grades or recognised qualification of some kind. AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM!

This is what is wrong with education. Surely this is not why we became teachers? Did we ever really believe that the reason we educate our children is so that they can have a piece of paper with a set of numbers or letters on it? Surely not. Yet why, then, are so many millions of students up and down the land unclear as to the purpose of the next six months in the absence of formal, standardised examinations?

I suggest that if our students think that this is the point of education then we have failed. Unequivocally and indisputably. We have failed to inspire them, failed to ignite their passion, failed to capture their imagination and failed to properly equip them for the lives they could have led. For education is about something altogether different, altogether better than passing exams. It’s about changing the world!

Arguably you are not to blame though. Well maybe a little, we are all complicit. But, admittedly, we are products of a system that we were employed to perpetuate. We were just doing our ‘jobs’ and being held accountable via a woefully inadequate measuring mechanism that constrained our imagination and killed our passion.

BUT NOW IS A CHANCE FOR CHANGE. Seriously… let’s take this opportunity to redefine our aims and determine to transform the ethos of our schools; to bin for good the exam factory model and establish instead an education fit for the 21st century that holds true to its inherent value and affirms  the uniqueness and worth of each and every child.

So what are the aims of education? Or rather what should they be? Below are the five tenets that I believe are central.  They are my D.R.E.A.M. for what education should be and can be. They are not new and you may express them differently or want to expand upon them. Either way… this question of what education is for is what we need to be talking about in our remote SLT meetings and department meetings up and down the land. The follow up question to discuss is how can we deliver this education better than ever before? So two questions: 1) What are we here for? and 2) How can we make it happen?

The educational D.R.E.A.M. – what I believe education is for:

  1. DISCOVERY: To discover the truth… how the world works and who we are as humans; and then to make further discoveries standing on the shoulders of those explorers who have gone before. This is why we pass on the knowledge and deliver the spec: this knowledge will drive further discovery.
  2. RESPECT & COLLABORATION: To further human flourishing in balance with the planet we inhabit… to learn how to continue to live together in peace and develop as a human race without treading on the dreams of others or destroying our planet. This is about understanding human rights, the world around us and valuing diversity as well as the skills to work effectively with others.
  3. EQUIPPING: To prepare and equip our children to succeed in life and work… with all its ups and downs and challenges; to enable them to live and flourish in society by providing them with the tools and knowledge to succeed in life and in the workplace. This is about making sure education translates into actual jobs in a job market that is rapidly evolving. But it’s also about providing the life skills, character education and mindset that will enable students to navigate life.
  4. ARTISTIC EXPRESSION: To help each child to find their voice, their self-expression and to empower them to use it to be creative with their lives… to help them find themselves, and live authentic lives. This is about the process of becoming comfortable and confident in their own skin, as well as developing the right brain skills of imagination, empathy and creativity so that every child realises that they have something of value to offer the world and they find a way to express it.
  5. MASTERY: To grow and develop our children’s skills and abilities and thereby help them identify how they can make their best contributions to this world and impact others’ lives… to help each one realise what he or she has to offer to build a better world. This is about the process of guiding students to find their specialisms, developing the skills and abilities in those areas, as well as the other areas that will be necessary in order to master those specialisms.

Right now we are being asked by government to teach subjects which will not be formally assessed by one standardised mechanism. How are you going to keep your students engaged and motivated? By the threat of internal gradings? No, please! Instead please tell them that what you are teaching them matters! Matters… not because it will provide them with a grade, but because what you are teaching matters.

How about discussing this in your next team meeting and determining to utilise this unprecedented time in our schools to re-evaluate and reset?


  1. REPLY
    comment Julian Gee says

    You are so right Peter – its got to be about more than exams! I am pleased to have read your article and to see there are an increasing number of people who ‘get it’!
    Pretty much everyone knows that a large chunk of the effort made in school (by both staff and students) is wasted – learning things that are never used after the student leaves the examination room. There has to be a better way – and its good to read your contribution to this vital debate.

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