Education Minister for a day - what would you do?
What is the point of the education system?
Bilbo Baggins | 12 December 2016

What is the point of the education system? What is it here for? Who is it here for? Knowing the right answers to these questions is the first step to initiating educational reform in this country. The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, quite clearly has failed to do his revision, and has unfortunately failed this particular test: he thinks the point of the education system is to create attractive statistics; it is here for grades and grades alone; and it's only role in the real world is to prove to everyone else that we are subjecting our students to the same dull and senseless programme of study as last century's students were.

 

Michael Gove's proposed education reforms are the opposite of what Britain's students need. His suggestion to return to the 1960s-style O-Level has been openly criticised by the exams regulator, the headmaster of Eton College, and even our very own Politics Editor, Rosie Toms. Not only is it rather old-fashioned to even have a major exam cycle at the age of sixteen (with most leading education systems, like that of Finland, leaving exams until eighteen -- it seems to work for them, so why not us?) but the new system will be a conveyer belt of conformism. Quantifying success into neat little exam grades which measure how much you can memorise from two years of teaching and regurgitate in two hours.

 

But, funnily enough, I do not agree that a one hour essay on a topic you may or may not have covered in fifteen minutes eighteen months prior to this exam is an accurate portrayal of our nation's achievements and potential. Two whole years of hard graft should not all come down to a very Victorian-esque three hours in an exam hall. And that is the first thing I would change about the education system: less exams, more sustained assessment.

 

The point of the education system is to enable a young generation to reach their potential, and to go out into the working world with the greatest possible prospects. How our statistics measure up on the international stage is important, but the most crucial thing of all should be to produce a hard-working, versatile and motivated generation, with the ingenuity and breadth of knowledge to get our economy rolling again.

 

So, do we want future employees to be able to memorise hopeless quantities of information and facts and churn it back out in a comfortable 2,000 words? Or do we want a workforce that is capable of performing at consistently high-levels, with a range of skills including independent research, prolonged time-keeping and lateral thinking? I think the second option would be more beneficial, whereas working to an exam means the development of these skills falls to the way-side. The tick-box nature of the examination means that the artistic, the lateral thinkers, the independent workers are never allowed to shine.

 

In fact, I would abolish the exam altogether. It is completely unrepresentative of true intelligence. Who needs an employee who just absorbs everything you say for twenty-four months, and then for a random ninety minutes, recites back to you the entire company manifesto? Extended projects, controlled coursework, independent learning. These are the things which should dictate your job prospects for the rest of your life. These are the things which dictate whether or not you can actually do a job.

 

And finally, Mr Gove, how do you feel about your U in Education Reforms? Rather discouraging, is it not? The fact is that most of the time these exam grades only act as a boundary, holding back students who, from the outset, have been consistently let down by a system that only values the exam-smart. Gove's re-hashed O-Level style 'E-Bac' will kill the creative, innovative spirit that has defined all of our country's greatest feats. Would Brunel have laid the foundations for our famous railway if he had received a C in Maths, after forgetting to turn over the last page? Our students are not failing their exams. The exam is failing our students.

James Routledge 2016