ARTICLE: A RELEVANT LEARNING EXPERIENCE – A CURRICULUM FOR LIFE BY NAPCE CHAIR PHIL JONES
A recent speech on education in the House of Commons called for “more emphasis on employability, communication skills and personal wellbeing”.
If you assume that this speech was by an innovative and forward-thinking Member of Parliament, you would be wrong because these words come from Izzy Garbutt who is a member of the youth parliament.
Izzy was speaking in a debate about the relevance of the education system to children and young people, in the 12th sitting of the UK Youth Parliament in the House of Commons on the 4th of November 2022.
In her speech Izzy shared her view that: “The education system is supposedly created for young people. So please listen when we say it is failing us”
The speech saw a huge response on social media including comments from Tom Bennet OBE, who is the DFE advisor on behaviour in schools.
He commented: “Oh my God this is terrible”.
His intervention probably had the impact of raising awareness about Izzy’s speech and the issues she raised and encouraged others to join the debate on social media.
These included representatives of teaching unions. Some of the issues that the discussion explored included, the place of examinations in the education system, the importance of life skills being taught in the curriculum and the right of young people to have a voice and share their thoughts and ideas about their educational experience.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School, and College Leaders, (ASCL) commented in his blog: “From where I sit her speech seems a heartfelt and pretty reasonable appraisal of the governments efforts to turn the education system into an exam factory.” He supported his argument with the comment that “employers… constantly talk about the needs for more emphasis on skills that equip young people for work and careers”. He explained the ASCL position.
“What concerns us is the extent to which preparations for exams now dominates education and the detrimental impact this can have on both curriculum breadth and depth and on student wellbeing.”
He argued that the current Government insist: “That all young people should sit a large set of 1950’s style academic exams in the name of rigour”
Mr Barton also suggested that: “Perhaps Ministers should listen to young people like Izzy. If some of our pupils and students feel that education isn’t working well for them, they might just have a point”.
In her speech Izzy pointed out the UK Youth Parliament have been calling for several years for a ‘curriculum for life’. She explained that this was.
“A curriculum that will see us leaving school with a greater understanding of the world around us”.
She called for an education system that created well rounded and well-informed young people who are ready for the future.
Whether you agree or disagree with the views and opinions of young people such as Izzy, if they raise concerns about the relevance of their educational experience in the modern world, then the issues raised deserved to be explored by educationalists.
Views and opinions are likely to be influenced by beliefs about the purpose of education. One belief is that the priority for the education system is to produce young people who can make a positive contribution to the future economy.
An alternative view is that the focus for education, should be on developing the skills and understanding that young people will need to thrive, in the rapidly changing technological world.
John Quicke, in his book ‘Curriculum for Life. Schools for a democratic learning society’, asked the question “What kind of curriculum do we need for life in the 21st century?”
A curriculum for life was proposed as an alternative to the National Curriculum with a focus on social development, thinking skills parenting, citizenship, and work-related learning. (Quicke 1999).
More recently Martin Illingworth has questioned the relevance of the current curriculum for meeting the needs of young people in the modern world.
He argues that schools are at a crossroads and either they respond to the real world of change, challenge and possibilities that face young people or they become irrelevant. His view, is that what is needed is an educational system that places less value on declarative knowledge (knowing and retaining information) and more on procedural knowledge (the capacity to make use of that information).
He argues that the learning experience must be more relevant to the needs of young people in the modern world.
He wrote: “The young need to network, they need to communicate effectively over digital mediums they need to manage money and they need to be alert to the world around them” (Illingworth 2020)
It seems appropriate that there is a serious debate about a relevant curriculum for young people and indeed about what is the purpose of education in a modern technological world.
Our understanding about how to provide young people with a relevant learning experience, can be enhanced by a clear understanding about, what does quality education look like in the 21st century.
The Sunday Times published the lists of ‘top schools’ on 11th December 2022. One of the schools that was placed in the top ten secondary schools, based on A level and GCSE results was found to be inadequate by Ofsted in an inspection in May 2021. This either suggests that Ofsted is not relevant or that the quality of education needs to be judged on more than examination results.
Many of the schools placed high in the league tables of secondary schools would also have excellent inspection reports. However, it questions the accuracy of judgements about how good a school, is when schools can be in the top ten for examination results but inadequate for behaviour and attitudes and personal development in an Ofsted Inspection report.
I have not named the school as this article is not about naming and shaming. There will, I am sure, be other schools that are seen as good by some criteria and not by others.
It does illustrate that there is a strong argument for a debate about how relevant learning is for young people.
In her speech Izzy comments that “the development of young people as individuals should be the aim of education and not examination results and the issues this raises should be a stimulus for discussion, about how to make learning more relevant for young people to prepare them for their lives in the modern world”.
NAPCE will be supporting this discussion in the New Year.
On March 11th NAPCE will be organising a conference in Worcester with the title “Is there a need for a new direction for pastoral care in education’?
Pastoral Care in schools can be planned to support young people in preparing for their future lives in society and in the workplace. The whole curriculum of the school which includes all the learning experiences provided for young people, can be used by staff in pastoral roles to provide relevant support and guidance.
The academic curriculum is already full of content, and there is unlikely to be time to add the learning opportunities that would make education more relevant. It is perhaps the whole curriculum and the pastoral support provided, that provides the best opportunities for addressing the issues raised by Izzy and other young people and make their learning experience relevant for the world that they will live in. Join NAPCE at the conference and contribute to the debate.
The National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (NAPCE)
Barton, Geoff. ASCL General Secretary, Blog for ASCL, 2nd December 2022. Found at ASCL – Minsters and their behaviour adviser should listen to Izzy
Garbutt, Izzy, MYP for Wigan and Leigh, Speech to UK Youth Parliament, November 4th, 2022, at https://twitter.com/IzzyGarbuttMYP
Illingworth, Martin, (2020) ‘Forget School’ Carmarthen, Independent Thinking Press.
Quicke, John. (1999) ‘A Curriculum for Life. Schools for a democratic learning society, Buckingham, Open University Press.
Sunday Times, (11th December 2022), ‘Parent power. The definitive guide to the UK’s top schools.