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The Start of a A New Year In Education

Have we ever started an educational year with more uncertainty than in 2010? It is true that people who work in education are seasoned campaigners in coping with change and new initiatives but this year it feels worse than usual. One example was two articles recently published in the national media. One in the Times Educational Supplement reported that Head teachers were planning on reducing MFL lessons to cope with the economic cutbacks and another article the same weekend reported that the new government had plans for an English Baccalaureate with MFL as a core subject. Secondary numbers are currently going down with schools across the country facing closure and primary numbers are increasing with a growing concern about how the extra places can be found. The policy of encouraging young people into Higher education in recent years seems to be being replaced with the view that many young people do not need to go into Higher Education. What doesn’t change is that there are young people who need an education and guidance on how to prepare for their future lives and this is probably more important in the 21st century than ever before.

New Technology means that young people are living and will be working in a rapidly changing world. This makes it more important that schools provide young people with learning activities that prepare them to take their place in society and make a contribution where they can feel valued. The drive for results and the pressure on schools to demonstrate performance makes it difficult for schools to allocate time for activities that develop personal skills and prepare learners for the demands that they will face in the future. One example of a learning activity that develops personal skills in my school is Leadership Day. Students in Year Ten are taken off timetable for a day and they attend school in smart business wear. The rationale for the event is that it is developing the attitudes and personal skills that young people need in their final years at school and when they go into the world of work. They spend the day engaged in activities in groups led by businesses and management training companies.

Another example is the High Achievers Conference. This takes place every year for students in year 11 who want to achieve at the highest level. It is not elitist because students nominate themselves to participate and have to justify how they qualify to be a High Achiever. In recent years the conference has taken place at Surrey University and has included students from 4 state schools and 1 independent school. The young people spend the three days working in teams with students form the other schools on problem solving and thinking skills activities. They learn how to approach problems and challenges and this helps them with their preparation for the final examinations and they learn how to work with people in teams that they have not met before which is good preparation for the world of work. The Young people are treated as University students for the three days which raises their aspirations and interest in entering Higher Education.

These learning activities provided by schools need to be valued. They give learners the confidence and self belief to prepare themselves for the working world of the 21st century. It ensures that young people can apply the knowledge, skills and understanding that they have developed from the school curriculum after they leave school. This is our countries best guarantee that we can compete in a global economy and are not left with a underclass of young people who cannot see a purpose in their lives because they performed below the national average at school. It is true that there is a need for a process in education where young people can demonstrate their ability. This is best achieved by a rigorous examination system where there is confidence that the standard for a grade is the same on all courses.

Alongside the examination system, in my view, there needs to be opportunities for young people to develop and have valued their personal skills and positive attitudes. This will give future employers and Universities a more accurate view about the potential for each young person to achieve in the future and make a positive contribution in the world of work. This I believe could be achieved by a standard ‘National School Reference’ that is completed for all young people when they leave school. This would recognise personal qualities in young people such as leadership, teamwork and problem solving.

Phil Jones

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