The Times Education Commission has published its final report on proposed reforms to the British education system. This is the result of a year's work, interviewing and consulting with hundreds of academics, heads, teachers, parents and pupils.
The commission’s report has been welcomed by Sir Tony Blair and Sir John Major, along with ten former education secretaries.
The core of the report is a remarkably strong recommendation that all British schools adopt a system modelled explicitly on the International Baccalaureate programmes:
The commission proposes the introduction of a British Baccalaureate at 18, an equally rigorous but broader qualification than A-levels with academic and vocational options under the same umbrella. It would be based on the tried and tested International Baccalaureate (IB), which is widely respected by employers and universities, but would be customised for the UK.
At 16, pupils would take a slimmed-down set of exams in five core subjects, with continuous assessment as well as online tests contributing to their grade. This would allow children to progress to the next level and provide accountability for schools, but lower the stakes and reduce the amount of time spent on preparing for and taking exams. It mirrors the IB Middle School Programme and other European systems such as the French brevet.
It is difficult to imagine a stronger recommendation for the education model which we offer at Wotton House and have been developing and running for the past five years. This report confirms our deeply-held belief that the MYP is genuinely a better educational programme than that provided by GCSEs. But, amazingly, there are still only 26 schools in the UK offering the MYP.
The full report of the Commission is a detailed read but the last section summarises each chapter. From this summary we have extracted what we consider to be the most important points. Not all of them apply to us, of course, and some are controversial, but most of them describe exactly what we offer.
“11 A more rounded curriculum for the 21st century that engages young people and empowers teachers, based on knowledge, skills and character, and with more regional variation, with input from metro mayors, civic leaders and employers. There should be more interdisciplinary learning and less early specialisation. The curriculum should be widened and made relevant to the most racially diverse generation in British history without ignoring the classics or politicising history.
14 Sport, music, drama, art, debating and dance should be an integral part of the timetable for all children, not an optional “extracurricular” add on.
15 Schools should be responsible for “bucket- lists” of outings and activities — ten by ten and seventeen by seventeen.
16 A British Baccalaureate at 18, an equally rigorous but broader qualification than A-levels with academic and vocational options under the same umbrella. All pupils would do an extended project, community service and some literacy and numeracy through to 18. Digital skills would be woven through the whole curriculum.
17 At 16, pupils should take a slimmed-down set of exams in five core subjects, with continuous assessment as well as online tests contributing to their grade. This would allow children to progress to the next level and provide accountability for schools but lower the stakes and reduce the amount of time spent on preparing for and taking exams. Everybody would be expected to pass English and maths at a basic level necessary to be able to participate fully in life.
25 Every child should have a data-enabled device, provided free to those who cannot afford their own.
27 Schools should be encouraged to capitalise on the most effective innovations to personalise learning for their pupils and reduce teacher workload. Exams must very rapidly evolve to use adaptive testing and AI could be used for more accurate continuous assessment. Digital skills must be woven through the whole education system just as technology is integrated into our lives.
28 There should be a counsellor, physical or virtual, in every school to help pupils before they reach crisis point.
30 There must be a shift towards prevention rather than cure, with more emphasis placed on developing the emotional resilience of young people.
32 A universal National Citizen Service programme should be established for all pupils at 14 to foster community cohesion. It would involve a two- week residential course, an expedition, a Dragon’s Den-style team project and volunteering.
33 Schools must have more to do with the businesses in their community and high- quality careers guidance should be an integral part of education. All secondary pupils should get the chance of work experience.
34 Many more private schools should join multi- academy trusts, sharing assets and expertise across the group.
35 More could be done to make mainstream education a realistic option for more Send pupils. All teachers must be trained to identify and help children with Send.
36 There should be more smaller schools, which are more suitable for some autistic children, and more specialist teachers. “
“Several of the former education secretaries interviewed by the commission said that their greatest regret was not reforming assessment. Lord Blunkett, Labour education secretary between 1997 and 2001, hoped that exams at 16 were “pretty well dead” in their present form, adding: “I would like a broad qualification that gave young people the chance to demonstrate the level of learning they’d reached.” Charles Clarke, who held the position between 2002 and 2004, described the failure to transform the assessment system as “Labour’s biggest failure during its period in office”.
David Miliband, the former Labour schools minister, called GCSEs a “relic which dull down schooling, disempower educators and compound inequalities” and backed the British Baccalaureate. The former prime minister Sir John Major worried about the “stress and strain” imposed on students by GCSEs. Lord Young of Graffham, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite businessman, criticised the education system as 19th century and called for exams to be replaced by continuous assessment. “People come out of school completely unaware of the world they are going to be moving into,” he said.
Over the past 20 years both Labour and Conservative governments have commissioned independent experts to review the assessment system. The Tomlinson review, set up by the Blair government in 2003 amid accusations of grade inflation, proposed moving to a Baccalaureate system. The Sykes review, commissioned by Michael Gove in 2010, advocated sweeping changes including scrapping GCSEs. Yet in both cases the findings were ignored by the politicians.”
Why wait for things to change? We are already doing it, and doing it well – please come and see how it works in practice.