Education White Paper: Our Thoughts

Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP

Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP

Michael Gove presented his White PaperThe Importance of Teaching to Parliament last week. We briefly highlighted the key points raised within the document, which you can read here. We’ve spent the last week digesting the contents to see what effect they might have on our business. We have published our thoughts below.

The first point of note is the emphasis on the importance of learning to read from a young age. The White Paper correctly identifies that this is the fundamental building block of learning, whilst illustrating the concerning figures of one in five pupils leaving primary school not achieving Level 4, which increases to one in three among those from deprived backgrounds.

The White Paper highlights the success that systematic phonics has had in teaching young children to read. We welcome the introduction of efforts to identify struggling readers from an early age, so that they can receive the help they need to achieve a rounded curriculum experience.

Also noted is how Britain falls behind our European partners in terms of the breadth and depth of the pre-16 curriculum, with other European states maintaining a much broader and rounded range of academic subjects until the age of 16. The English Baccalaureate will become available for pupils achieving good GCSE and iGCSE results in English, mathematics, the sciences, a modern or ancient language, and a humanity – a combination that only 15% of pupils achieve currently.

Critically, in our view, the number of children that study a modern language at GCSE has fallen from 79% in 2000, to just 44% in 2008 and 2009 (See Nothing Less than a “national language recovery process” will do – Baroness Coussins and UK Language Hours Half EU Rivals). The English Baccalaureate aims to allow every pupil to have the opportunity of studying a foreign language until the age of 16.

The learning of another language is an important part of education, as it helps to give an understanding of other cultures and encourages higher levels of communication skills.

We support Michael Gove’s view that the current national curriculum is over-prescriptive and support his moves to simplify it. Removing unnecessary clutter and focusing on core knowledge in strategic subjects, will enable teachers to have more freedom to innovate and inspire.

Putting emphasis on key subject areas, like mathematics and science is important given the most recent survey by The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which England fell from 4th to 14th in science, 7th to 17th in literacy, and 8th to 24th in mathematics. The government acknowledges the success of the best achieving pupils, but the increase in achievement inequity is deeply concerning.

To improve results at the age of 16, however, we believe that more emphasis needs to be put into literacy, mathematics, science and foreign languages in the primary curriculum. Our experience shows that learning languages at a young age improves long-term results in that field, and we believe the same to be true in other subject areas.

On the whole, the White Paper appears to be very good at identifying the problems in the education sector. Time will tell whether its reforms will be enough, but there’s reason to be hopeful.

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