Dear Mr Michael Gove,
I am writing to add my name to the 23,000 other UK citizens who have already asked you to re-examine your proposal for a move from the current UK GCSE and A-Level examination and curriculum system to a new Ebacc system.
A system that chooses to examine only stem subjects – maths, sciences, languages and humanities. Ignoring, demoting and in time, due to the current teach-to-test and league-table centred culture, eroding the teaching of other subjects such as sport, technology and the arts. In-turn creating less opportunity for students to engage in and excel at these subjects (for which the UK is known and respected), and creating second-class identities for those who excel at such subjects.
A system that wishes to return to final examination testing, ignoring the vocational and modular forms of assessment that enable those with a more practical leaning, less keen memory skills, or learning difficulties (or as I prefer, learning differences) a more equal chance of competing. Such assessment changes can not fail to add to the teach-to-test culture and spoon-feeding methods that are creating a swathe of school-leavers less able to think for themselves, work as part of a team, and lacking in social skills and common sense.
A system that would re-introduce bell-curve marking to remove the ‘problem’ of grade inflation, causing tensions, dissuading collaboration and removing the hope and motivation that excellence is possible for all with hard work and persistence.
A system that reverts to the sink or swim, wheat or chaff, left over right brain, and academic over other forms of intelligence biases of the past.
Having raised the above concerns with the proposed new system. I do, however, see merit in the idea of pairing contrasting but complementary humanities with sciences or mathematics subjects for study at A-Level standard. As education history; current successful multidisciplinary courses like the Stanford d-School; and trends such as biomimicry (the appliance of nature observed solutions to design and manufacturing) illustrate; the convergence of disciplines and skills allows for the cross-pollination of ideas, creating enhanced solutions to problems and developing industry fit ‘T-shaped’ personalities with an in-depth skills plus a breadth of knowledge.
However, I strongly believe that ignoring and eroding the arts in this balance both at A-level and GCSE level shows a lack of understanding of the value and need for creativity in industry fit education leavers. So, let me outline some of the merits of these excluded subjects:
Firstly, creative analytical and problem-solving skills (the ability to probe a brief and identify the right question to answer; to constantly ask how we might do something differently; to look at problems, systems and organisations in isolation and as part of a system; and to continually observe human behaviour to find and meet unmet needs) are extremely valuable in industry. Needed for innovation and resilience, they can be used by all professionals to, create competitive advantage for their organisations, enhance strategic decision-making and to tackle growing societal and environmental challenges in many fields.
Secondly, creative pursuits lead to improved soft skills, a skill-set that many organisations find lacking in education leavers and current employees. In increasingly complex times the ability to listen, to communicate well, to analyse, to see things differently and through the eyes of others, to question, to be self-confident and motivated, and to generate novel and useful solutions to problems are valuable for the workforce and for enlightened and active members of the community.
And, thirdly, the curiosity driven and autonomy fuelled pursuit of sports, technology and the arts give individuals the confidence and ability to question and challenge the status quo, and the belief that they can make an impact and create change in the world around them, allowing them to be a part of the solution.
In conclusion, as Sir Ken Robinson stresses, the UK has moved on from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy – an economy whose businesses require the additional skills of innovation and creativity. However, our education system has failed to move-on too.
In this time of continual change, of low-job security, rapid technology innovation, booming populations, reduced resources, financial crisis, global tensions, and increasing social and environmental problems; we must find a way to produce education leavers fit for purpose. We need individuals who can enter our workforce able to adapt to change, to fail fast and bounce back even faster, to empathise and collaborate, to seek out challenges and needs, to problem-solve, to challenge the status-quo, and to imagine a strive for a better tomorrow.
Is the suggested education reform going to produce such individuals? To me the answer is no.
So, Mr Gove, I implore you to re-think this new system. And, if all else fails to read Sir Ken Robinson’s 1999 white paper ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’. A paper commissioned by the UK government, which highlighted the need for creativity in the education system for our future economic (and I would add societal and environmental) prosperity.