In order to shape for the future we need to start with the people who are the future. These people are school pupils. Secondary school is the place in which majority of us gain our first steps of independence from our parents, where most of us begin to learn the things which will help form our opinions and our lives. As a socialist, I want to see a fair society but in order to achieve a fair society we must look at every issue facing the country and I for one believe tackling the education issue is an important one that must be done sooner rather than later.
As it stands the education system is failing our young people every single day. Their futures hang in the balance due to societies failure to stand up and sort out the mess. Can we allow lives to be thrown on the scrapheap just because some never succeeded in passing tests made up by someone in a room somewhere when they were 16? No, we cannot. It is immoral and must be changed.
1st and 2nd year of Secondary School are used as teaser years as such. They are used to give pupils a taster of all subjects before they go onto choosing their subjects and sitting exams, in essence splitting Secondary School into two parts. Recently education in Scotland went under a slight change. The Curriculum of Excellence has scrapped the use of Intermediate and Standard Grade leading to Highers and replaced them with Nationals which then lead on to Highers. While Highers are one level, Nationals are of multiple levels (I.e National 4, National 5) which may be taken at different times depending on the ability of the pupil. Nationals have attempted to move away from the strict exam system that was in place under Intermediates and Standard Grades. While undertaking National 4, there is no end of year exam as there are tests throughout the year and graded on coursework. National 5 and Highers though are still concentrated around the final end of year exam. National 4 is a step forward though it is not nearly enough.
The end of year exam is futile as - rather than ability - it measures how well someone can remember information and spew it up onto a page. There is also the fact pupils understand that these final exams could be make or break for the rest of their lives which has adverse effects for many. Just as before though, there is a strict curriculum in which pupils must follow with coursework that rarely differs year-to-year. This is set up in order for them to "Learn" the information required for the final exam. The problem with this though is that there is very little room for creativity and pupils learn from textbooks rather than from entertaining ways and using their own initiative. It must be remembered, the blame cannot lay at the feet of teachers as they must try to get their pupils through the exams meaning uninspiring, strict coursework is the only method of doing so most of the time.
Pressure on teachers result in pressure on pupils. Since the formation of School Tables – Measuring how well a school is performing based on exam results – there has been more pressure put on teachers and pupils than ever before. It has not helped improve the education system at all. It has resulted in teachers feeling that they must try to get as many pupils to pass the exams as possible so that they look like they are succeeding in their job. Both Conservatives and Labour have touted the idea of performance related pay for teachers which will then just inflate the problem. It effects pupils as schools will not put pupils through the exam who may not pass as they want to get the highest pass percentage possible, meaning many pupils do not even get the chance to sit exams which are so important to their futures. The idea behind this is that schools compete against each other and so will inspire each to improve. First of all, schools which are located in areas of worst poverty tend to perform "Badly" despite the best efforts of teachers. We also know from experience that competition more often than not harms progress particularly in the public sector, look no further than the setting up of NHS Trusts.
There is a basic failure to understand the needs of pupils. Education is very much academic orientated. This has resulted in many pupils who are not great academically falling through the cracks and leaving school with little or no qualifications. There has been an attempt to combat this through the use of Vocational courses which result in pupils undertaking the courses in which they learn skills that can be applied to hands on jobs such as construction. While this is a positive step, it still fails to meet the needs of the pupils as they still rely on achieving good results in their exams. Employers even for apprenticeships such as joinery ask for a good Maths and English qualification even though the exam proves little of what skills the applicant may have in either of these subjects due to the nature of the exams. Pupils are being churned out to be obedient workers rather than knowledgable people ready to take on the world.
"Each according to their ability, to each according to their need"
This quote from Marx is the perfect way to sum up how education should be based. In order to make the most out of education we must tailor it to pupils not tailor it to how "experts" believe it should be. Firstly, we must change the age pupils can leave school from 16 to 17. This will not only benefit pupils of having an extra year to mature and develop. It may also ease unemployment meaning that there are not so many people leaving school and going hunting for full-time work. The school years should also be increased from 6 years to 7. One of the reasons behind this is that many people leave school at the end of their time and still do not know what they would like to do career wise. It will not totally solve that problem but it will help. Secondary school holds the key to the future and we must ensure to act like it does. I believe that secondary school itself should be split into three parts; Junior, Academic and Vocational. There must also be a complete dumping of the School Tables.
The Junior years of school are compulsory for all beginning at 1st year and continuing until the end of 3rd year similar to that of the teaser years (1-2) currently. During these years pupils will undertake a range of subjects with the main aim being not only to educate in all areas useful in everyday life but also to help them develop their own ideas and use their own initiative and to be creative. It is very important that we bring creativity back into schools as it is through this that people come up with world changing ideas and where young people become individuals rather than an army of workers. Stimulating the minds of young people pays off rather than boring them in tedious lessons. If we make lessons more exciting for pupils then they will be more likely to engage in class which will be of massive benefit to those many pupils who find it hard to concentrate or are easily distracted in school. In the figure below you can see an example timetable made up which shows what an average school week may consist of between the years of 1-3.
The first thing you will notice is that the length of the school day is roughly the same as it is now in most schools but the difference is that each class last 2 hours. Having classes for 2 hours is the perfect way of engaging with pupils and having exciting lessons. Pupils will have the time and space to be creative and come up with their own ideas. During these years pupils will be graded although it will be through the use of small tests throughout the year and more importantly, on coursework. The idea that someone cannot remember a handful of quotes to analyse a poem they aren't even interested in during a 2 hour exam should make or break their future is ludicrous. Home Economics classes will help pupils learn about how it is like to take care of themselves and prepare them for the outside world rather than leaving school not knowing how to cook etc. Computing Skills are a vital part of the world today while it is important to learn of politics, ethics and the likes in both Modern Studies and RMPS. Creative Studies will be the class in which pupils can choose to do art, woodwork, music or other creative classes such as that. They will not be graded in this class as the idea of it is to let them free to express themselves and have a bit of fun while doing so. Maths at this early age should be concentrated around dealing with problems that you may run into during your everyday life such as wages etc. although Advanced Maths will also be a subject available to take after 3rd year but I will come to that later. Physical Education is important for every pupil, particularly with the obesity problem facing the population now so there should be 4 hours of PE per week. Having the ability to communicate in more than one Language is becoming all the more important so that too should be undertook compulsory. History and Geography are among the most valuable subjects someone can be knowledgable in and so both should be compulsory and looked into at great depth. Science will cover all the sciences and give pupils an insight into everything from Tesla and Ohms law to the human body and Zinc.
Once Junior years are completed there will be two options facing pupils. They can either choose to go down a more Academic path or a Vocational one. In these years you will choose subjects that you wish to undertake in more depth and that will be your speciality. The subjects will be very much as they are now which include things such as Biology, Physics and Chemistry - rather than just Science - Advanced Mathematics and many others. These subjects taken should have 2 exams per year with both together contributing to 30% of the pupils final grade with the rest made up from coursework. The subjects mentioned above would be taken by those going through the Academic Path although they are not totally limited to those pupils. Academic pupils will choose their subjects when they first start the pathway and it will take them 2 years to complete the subjects. After the 2 years they will have options available; to take more subjects that they wish to do and never did the previous 2 years, to take the subjects they have done previously but at a higher level if possible, to go to college and study for an entrance level certificate, to change over to Vocational 1-2.
If a pupil decides to do Vocational then they would have the ability to do the likes of Advanced Maths should they wish. There would be room in the timetable for this to ensure that they do not miss out on academic studies. They would also be encouraged to take academic classes that would compliment their Vocational Studies (They may look to be becoming a Civil Engineer in which Vocational along with Advanced Maths would suit them for example). During their time in Vocational the pupils would undertake a range of activities in the first 2 years such as construction, bricklaying, plumbing, forestry and other subjects. Every school would have good working links with their local colleges so that in the pupils final 2 years they would be able to have spells of doing beginner level certificates in specialised subjects at college (Civil Engineering, Welding etc) which would mean they would not need to leave school and have achieved good exam results to get into college. The schools should build up relations with local businesses so that during the final 2 years pupils could also do work experience with local tradesmen. Also, during these final 2 years they should be coming back to the school to continue with studies that will only be done within the school. Together this would see a three pronged approach in the final 2 years of the Vocational path which will give pupils a good knowledge and understanding of a trade etc. they may wish to make a career in. If desired, pupils could also move from Vocational to Academic once they have completed the first 2 years and although this would mean a wide ranging knowledge, it would mean that it would not be so in depth. This could help pupils who are still unsure of what they would like to do as a career path as it will leave more doors open when looking to go to college/university when they have finished school.
In the figure below you can see the pathways available to pupils
Schools have been under funded and mismanaged for too long. While to some this idea may seen far fetched and not possible, I believe that it is very much possible. It just takes time, effort and the confidence to make such change. We have failed to see change in the class room for so long because politicians are too scared in case a mess is made of it and they do not wish to direct more funds that they feel is necessary. You cannot put a price on the future and so we shouldn't try. Anything spent over what the current education budget currently is could be repaid double if it is done correctly and the pupils are given the chance to reach their full potential. Schools cannot be behind new trends. Classes must be created in order to meet the demands of new jobs and careers. Coding for example is fast becoming an important part of our world yet schools are still to have Coding and Programming as subjects to take in.
While not perfect, I have set out what I believe will give pupils more options and help mould them into the people that they want to be without putting needless obstacles their way. As someone who only left secondary school a few years ago, I have experienced first hand how the modern education system works and believe me, it does not work. There is much work needed though it is this basic idea which could hold the key to improving the lives of thousands which if works, will also improve the country in many, many more areas. One of my key arguements behind this is that keeping secondary school so academically orientated not only damages pupils but infact our society and economy. If pupils who are better with their hands than with their minds do not get the change to use them, we will have thousands of possible joiners, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers etc sitting either on their couches at home, a till in a shopping market or at a phone in a call centre. Lets open up the future.
P.s Apologies for the figures above, my skills on Paint leave a lot to be desired!