Conservative Fringe - What do You Think Makes a Good Education?

05 October 2010

The Government will be making an announcement tomorrow on improving how functional skills are taught in schools to better provide business with employees with good office skills, Education Secretary Michael Gove confirmed today. 

Report written by DeHavilland, Monday, 4 October 2010 

He was speaking at an event titled ‘What do You Think Makes a Good Education?’ hosted by ASCL, AoC and Cambridge Assessment.

Also speaking at the event were Chris Morecroft, AoC President, Brian Lightman ASCL General Secretary and Simon Lebus, Cambridge Assessment Group Chief Executive.

Education Secretary Michael Gove opened that the government needs to take up the challenges in education.

Broadly speaking, he said, good education puts people in charge of their own future. People’s futures can be determined by both their cultural and economic backgrounds. Education can overcome this, he hoped.

People need to be able to choose how and where they want to live. Education gives us independence, Mr Gove stated.

He agreed that education needs to provide knowledge and skills. History, for example, teaches the weighing up of sources but you also need knowledge of when the events in question occurred.

Equally, rote learning does not allow the application of knowledge to tasks, he claimed.

When people are being taught this it should be in the way best suited to the teacher as well. This engages teachers and pupils, Mr Gove suggested.

Capita and Ofsted have been far too prescriptive to teachers. Teachers are forced, he explained, to create lesson plans that have a particular structure and need to tick boxes in the lessons they teach.

Making education better required the setting of larger targets for example on literacy and numeracy but each school will get there in a different way and be assessed differently. This will attract more people into the discipline, Mr Gove expected.

Selection at 11 still effects education policy but Mr Gove believed all children should have a broad academic education by the time they are 16. This will include English literature and a foreign language.

Technical colleges will still teach GCSEs until the age of 16 to ensure this occurs, he decreed.

Speaking first Chris Morecroft, AoC President, addressed the question directly describing the need for ambition support and independence.

Good education, he noted, is about pushing oneself further but colleges need support. We need flexibility of education pattern as the majority of people do not take the same path.

Colleges provide a large number of higher education entrants. Also many higher education entrants are older people, he cited to support this argument.

Further education colleges provide higher education as well and colleges need to be more ambitious to do more. Part-time students need more support and he hopes the Browne review will bear this in mind.

Colleges also provide vocational qualifications in partnership with business, he said.

Non academic students are often dismissed as unambitious and vocational qualifications can be dismissed as lower quality, he warned. We need to cater to those who don’t want to attend university.

On student support, Mr Morecroft described EMAs as a vital source of this as they have improved student attendance retention and performance. This is achieved, he confirmed due to the withholding of payment if these are not done.

Pastoral support needs to be provided in colleges referring particularly to young carers.

Mr Morecroft suggested that people with learning difficulties can be helped by the flexibility of a college education. Self esteem leads to social mobility, he remarked.

Independence is not new as colleges have always had this freedom and this allows them to be flexible to deliver what their students require. Some students need more independence in a non schools environment and colleges can deliver this, Mr Morecroft remarked.

He concluded by calling for good independent education and careers advice in schools and Ofsted should monitor that this advice is being provided.

Speaking next Simon Lebus, Cambridge Assessment Group Chief Executive, defined a good education as having achieved social and intellectual skills to take the next step in their education or careers.

He spoke of the need for students to have well recognised qualifications. He believed that we weren’t succeeding at the moment.

Schools, it has been suggested, have become exam factories but this is not the case, he responded.

Exams these days are much more intrusive however as modularisation has spread out assessment. Retakes have also led to this opinion, Mr Lebus believed.

Different teachers and students need different qualifications to reflect their learning and teaching styles, he said. He wanted to remove the focus on parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications.

The Diploma was developed badly he suggested and became therefore over complex. Higher education has withdrawn from influencing schools directly and the coalition will remedy this, he believed.

The International Baccalaureate maintains standards by having feedback from all the users of those exams. The provision of diverse exams will not in themselves improve education, he concluded.

Brian Lightman, ASCL General Secretary, spoke next that people are always trying to plan education for the future and this can be difficult.

Turning to the curriculum, he welcomed the planned review. The national curriculum is currently very popular though due to its flexibility.

Knowledge should not be separated from skills, Mr Lightman warned. Flexibility allows the needs of students to be met.

The best learning integrate knowledge with skills. Academic and vocational elements need to be part of a curriculum, Mr Lightman stated. The qualifications therefore need to be easily understandable.

Finishing he described how excellent teachers can then deliver this. You can’t have learning without assessment however you don’t always need exams and tests.

League tables, Mr Lightman determined, need to be moved away from but schools need to remain accountable. No child should leave school without qualifications, he cited. Schools can then evaluate themselves to be validated by Ofsted.

The Panel then took questions from the floor.

Responding to a question from Brooke, Mr Moorcroft suggested that the curriculum has not been developed to teach business skills. This has been called for by the CBI but there is no funding or provision for this.

Mr Lebus discussed functional skills, he believed social issues were holding back people’s business skills. He welcomed the freeing up of the national curriculum so more of these skills can be taught.

Mr Gove stated he will be making an announcement tomorrow on this issue.

Replying to a question by Jo Campion from the NDCS, on raising the expectation of deaf children, Mr Morecroft desired that effort is put in earlier and schools should be recognising all learning difficulties before these young people go to colleges.

Mr Gove described how deaf people have no cognitive impairment and therefore with good education planning they will be just as able to succeed as their fellow students.

Answering a question on technical skills, Mr Morecroft suggested there were a large number of jobs in engineering requiring these skills and pupils should be being encouraged to learn these skills.

The current league table system is making schools make bad decisions on academic against vocational qualifications. The government should not be decreeing what schools should do they should simply provide them with the information they need to make good decision, Mr Gove explained.

Mr Lightman added that the increase in STEM subject take up was due to politicians speaking more about the need for these subjects. He wished that employers would also help to give young people the skills that they want them to have. These could be achieved through employer school visits. Addressing SEN, he believed that schools need additional help to learn in the same way as all their fellow pupils.

Mr Lebus responded to the question of the lack of contact in syllabuses this is down to the much wider take up of these exams. Failing exams is demotivating and exams need to set people up for the next stage of their career, he explained.

Mr Gove describes how the expectations of society have changed. If the A  Level is the main route to higher education then as entrants to university increase so will A Level success rates.

There is a tension between widening participation and maintaining standards, he conceded. Ofqual is now benchmarking British exams against other countries’ comparable exams. Mr Gove also wanted to see more university input into qualifications.

A representative from Prospects asked a question on advice and guidance. Mr Morecroft wanted all information sent direct to students’ homes to prevent bias in the careers advice provided by schools.

Mr Lightman called for professional people providing this guidance as teachers are not always qualified to provide this.

Toni Fazaeli from the Institute for Learning asked for a description of a brilliant teacher. They cater for the individual and inspire their students, Mr Morecroft.

The teacher will take the opportunity to have great relationships with their students and will share their passions with the students, Mr Lebus remarked. The chair declared that they needed charisma and passion.

Mr Lightman wanted knowledgeable professionals who are not afraid to go beyond the subject.

They need to like children, be open to continued development and learning and involve every child in their lessons. They set high standards and enjoy themselves, Mr Gove believed.

Related materials

Research Matters

Research Matters is our free biannual publication which allows us to share our assessment research, in a range of fields, with the wider assessment community.

Research Matters 32 promo image

Media contacts

Contact our press and Public Affairs office

Tel:  +44 (0)1223 556018