From 1st – 5th June I was at Northern College studying for the Level 3 Education and Training qualification (formerly PTLLS) thanks to the lovely folks at CILIP Information Literacy Group http://www.cilip.org.uk/about/special-interest-groups/information-literacy-group
Before I get to the focal point of this post I simply have to say if you ever get the chance to study at Northern College then grab it with both hands. It is part of Wenworth Castle near Barnsley which is a beautiful former stately house and gardens. The course was excellent, the content was interesting and the sessions were engaging. Jill Wilkens was our teacher and is probably one of the best teachers I have ever met, her enthusiasm for the course and in her teaching style was very inspiring. What was really useful about the week was that myself and the other students now have our own little network which we can draw upon for support and advice.
Central to the course was the concept of “Social Purpose in Education” broadly speaking it means that education needs to be based on more than just passing exams and getting qualifications. Education should develop well-rounded members of society not just CVs with skin.
Education for me was a series of stepping stones to the next qualification, and another and another. I was actually quite aware of this from about the age of 11 or 12 when our end of year 7 exams determined what sets we would be in for the following years. I was put in set one (top set) for most things but set two (middle set) for Maths; this never bothered me I had never ‘got on’ with numbers.
However, when I entered year 10 I was told that because I was in set two I could only be entered into the intermediate paper for my Maths GCSE which would cap my score at a B. At the time that was fine by me – I never expected to get any better, I was only aiming for a C. But looking back it seems strange that examination boards would ‘cap’ anyone’s potential. I do vaguely recollect a teacher saying to me that “it’s easier to get a B in the intermediate paper than it is a C in the higher paper’! Which seems very strange to me, but that’s our odd education system. FYI – I got a B in Maths in the end! I got 96% in my coursework but this was also capped at a B!
The stepping stone analogy really has underpinned my education. I can remember thinking “just get through these exams/coursework/essays so you can do A Levels/ go to uni/do your MA” – I think it’s the same for a lot of young people today. No wonder there are so many panicked graduates looking for work in these difficult times. If you have been told for most of your life that you just need to pass these exams etc and you’ll get a good job and then there isn’t one immediately available it causes you to doubt yourself.
Society at the moment is full of people working in jobs that they are over qualified for, they have achieved very highly in education but what does that actually mean in the context of the working world? I know a lot of people who were duped by the promise of a bright future if they got good grades, some purposefully didn’t get part time jobs growing up so they could focus on their studies. Needlessly to say they did excellently in their exams etc but they struggled to find work because of their lack of experience.
I grew up in a working class family and I still consider myself working class, both my parents are very intelligent despite only having what is considered to be a “basic education” i.e. they have O Levels. One of my dads favourite phrases is “education doesn’t mean intelligence” and he is right. If you look at today’s students (from secondary education up) they are trained to be exam and coursework clever, if you ask them to think outside the box they struggle. I think this is one of the reasons why there are so many unemployed graduates (or graduates working in non-graduate jobs) they have focused for so long on exams etc that they forgot (or didn’t have time) to expand their horizons; there is more to the world than what is on your exam paper.
Our education systems needs to focus on breeding inquisitive creative thought not exam passing robots. Although I still believe students should have to complete some form of examinations – I do not think they all have to be formal exams and coursework.Yes, this is a rather Utopian view on the matter but I am OK with that. One can dream. Also I know the government is trying to focus on employability, skills and work placements but in my opinion it is a half-arsed attempt; because they are currently in the process of removing assessment by coursework from GCSEs and A Levels – how can you demonstrate skills in a silent exam hall?
Our education system’s reliance on league tablets has crippled us, I do believe there is a need for monitoring schools and maintaining educational standards but it leaves teachers little scope for imaginative teaching practices or new topics because they have to stick so rigidly to the curriculum. I can’t remember where I read it but I think the attrition rate in teaching is one of the highest for any profession, having spoken to friends in teaching they often say they don’t enjoy it because they have no freedom. I don’t understand why the government won’t listen to the teaching unions and organisations – when the professionals say something needs to change then it needs to change.
The education system in the UK is seen as one of the best in the world, sometimes I struggle to see why. There is disparity between what the government thinks the education does and what the education system can actually achieve in the shackles the government has placed upon it…
Sorry, rant over.