Blog: The election debate wakes up, whilst some students get a lie-in - Simon Lebus

Blog: The election debate wakes up, whilst some students get a lie-in - Simon Lebus

Early election skirmishes are focusing on health and the economy, with education barely mentioned. Indeed, the North of England Education Conference – which dates back to 1903 – has had to be cancelled, ostensibly due to the fact that no government speaker had been billed to appear.

There has however been quite a lot of discussion about the lack of capacity in the school system to cope with forecast increases in pupil numbers. It’s interesting in this context to reflect on what has happened to the education budget over the last 25 years, a period in which it has doubled from approximately £45bn a year to £90bn. Has there been a commensurate improvement in educational standards? That is of course where much of the debate about exam results and their capacity to measure improvement in the system comes into play, and is one of the reasons why it is so contentious.

It’s something that Michael Gove’s former policy adviser Sam Freedman discussed in a recent blog. He claimed that unfortunately our main measuring tools in education – national exams – are useless for answering the question of whether standards have improved, because they’re changed so often and because they’re also used for school accountability, which introduces distortion.

We were offered an interesting perspective on the impact of raised education expenditure levels at our conference on International Education last year. One of our keynote speakers, Marc S Tucker from the National Center on Education and the Economy, gave a fascinating talk about the correlation (or in fact complete absence) between expenditure and improvement in attainment in the USA.

It is uncertain what application all these discussions might have in policy making in the UK, but they are a good example of the sort of evidence that politicians should be basing their arguments on in the next five months. That’s the sort of informed debate that I hope we’ll see.

Moving from Policy to people, the second Longitudinal Study of Young People in England has just been published by the Department for Education. It describes the current generation of young people as sober and responsible and reports that they enjoy school and work as hard as they can.

It is published at the same time as the head master of Hampton Court House Independent School in Surrey embarks on a bold experiment to allow sixth formers to start their school day at 1.30pm (and finish at 7pm). This is on the grounds that teenagers “live in a different time zone” and are not able to rev up until the early afternoon.

Many adults (myself included) have the opposite problem ). For us, 1.30 in the afternoon (ie just after lunch) is the period in the day when the metabolism is at its slowest. . However, there is little prospect in the world of work of being able to make similar adjustments to working hours in order to accommodate this!

Simon Lebus
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

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